Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

What exactly does it look like to rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances? In 2022?

I have been turning these verses over in my heart and my mind a great deal these last few months. They are good words, but what exactly does it look like to rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances? In 2022?

I found an answer to this question during some summer holiday reading. In his book God Took Me by the Hand, Jerry Bridges wrote this about God’s providence:

Oftentimes when we speak of the providence of God we have in mind some unusual event, but the fact is all of life is lived under the providence of God. Suppose I drive to the grocery store, and on returning, I am spared in a rather unusual way from a life-shattering accident. I gladly speak then of the providence of God in sparing me. But suppose my drive home is uneventful. This too is under the providence of God. (p. 22)

Jerry Bridges’ words about the car trip reminded me of an embarrassing but eminently teachable moment from about 25 years ago. 

I had been asked to give a testimony at a church event with the aim of being an encouragement to my church family and maybe sparking some interest in the things of God for those who came as guests. I decided to talk about how God was working in my life at that time—rather than describing how I became a Christian—but on the morning of the event, I still had no idea what I was going to say. As I drove to work, I prayed earnestly that God would give me some direction. I was running out of time and things were becoming more than urgent! And almost immediately, it seemed that prayer was answered. 

As I sat at the traffic lights waiting for the green light, I heard the screech of brakes, the sound of metal hitting metal, the tinkling of smashing glass. Once, twice, three times. A four-car pile-up. Had there been sufficient momentum, I would have been the fifth but by God’s grace, my car remained untouched. The lights turned green, I drove off (that sounds completely irresponsible as I write it now … I wonder if I should have stayed at the scene?) and praised God that he had spared me from being involved in a traffic accident, I’d get to work on time and I had the launchpad for my talk that evening.

And so I spoke of the morning’s traffic accident and used the phrases, “God was good” and “God was gracious with me.” I testified with sincere thankfulness to God’s kindness that morning.

At the end of the evening, as I walked back to my undamaged car, a dear and wise woman approached me and said, “Meredith, that was a great talk. But I have a question for you. If your car had been hit this morning, would God still be good? Would God still have been with you?”

If I had been injured or even killed that day—God is good.

I still wince at that oh so gentle rebuke, but she was right. God is good. If my car had been the fifth car in that pile-up, or even the first to be hit and so sustaining the greatest amount of damage—if I had been injured or even killed that day—God is good.

For those who love him, God’s constant, unchanging goodness is found in the sure truth that he will bring his people home to himself through the saving work of his Son on the cross. As we await that day and take the care to notice, we see his ongoing, continuous goodness through his loving providence in, through and despite our circumstances – even as the days seem so full of fear, grief, trepidation, discouragement and uncertainty. And so I can always rejoice because of Jesus. I can pray continuously and give thanks in all circumstances—not only in the unusual and extraordinary but right there in the usual and the ordinary. I can have confidence in his goodness in real and metaphorical four-car pile-ups—as well as in their absence.

God is always good—abundantly more than we often notice.