By Steven Norris

“I just don’t know what to do.” The young man sat across from my desk with his head in his hands. He had gone through a difficult season and the way before him was shrouded in deep uncertainty and a complete lack of clarity.

I would estimate that the most common reason that I meet with struggling individuals centers around knowing God’s will. Few other issues seem to perplex people more than discovering what God wants from them.

What if I could tell you with 100% certainty exactly what God’s will for your life is? Would you be interested? Would it even pass the sniff test? Might it tempt you to show up on Sunday morning? Honestly, I was very tempted to put something like that on social media to advertise this week’s sermon text.

In his first letter to the church at Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul writes, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (5:16-18). There it is, folks, in three straightforward steps. If you want to know God’s will for you, it is this:

Step one: Rejoice always! Read carefully here. Happiness is not the same thing as joy. Happiness is rooted in circumstances and positive conditions—a good job, good health, a happy family, and lots of presents under the Christmas tree. Joy, however, is something different. 

Elsewhere, Paul describes joy as a “fruit of the Spirit.” In so doing, he isn’t making a statement about circumstances but is declaring that joy is a gift—a tangible sense of the Spirit’s presence in one’s life, regardless of the circumstances.

Step two: Pray without ceasing! My experience as a pastor is that almost no one has unlocked the secret to praying non-stop, all day, everyday. It is a goal too lofty to attain. Even if I close myself up in a monastery for the rest of my life, distractions will inevitably happen.

Could the command to “pray without ceasing” be less about the duration of our prayers and more about their content? Bring everything to God—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Bring it all—the words of praise, the expressions of doubt, the anger at seemingly unanswered prayers, and the moments of divine ecstasy. Bring it all to God.

Step Three: Give thanks in all circumstances! Does he really mean that I should be thankful “for” everything? Even for tragedies? Cancer diagnoses? COVID? In short, no. That isn’t what it says. It says to give thanks “in” all circumstances. Thankfulness can be an act of resistance where people of faith look their circumstances in the ugly face and say, “I’m choosing to see through different eyes, adjust my vision, and focus on the many gifts I have today.”

This prescription isn’t a panacea for all ills and will not answer every question we may have about the will of God. However, it may provide a different perspective in how to relate to those circumstances and clear the fog just enough to take the next step.