Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
THE ENCOURAGEMENT PROJECT
Rejoice always. I Thessalonians 5:16
Good morning Prayer Team!
These verses from I Thessalonians are really challenging. They are not challenging to comprehend. We know the meaning of the word “rejoice”. It means “to celebrate.” And “always” means “all the time.” But what does that really mean in the context of our lives? Is this idea even possible?
The original Greek translation of this verse is “pantote hairete”. For those who don’t know Greek, “pantote” means “always” and “hairete” means “rejoice.” “Hairete” has an etymological connection with the word “hara” which means “joy” and “haris” which means “grace.” So, if the word “rejoice” is connected with both “joy” and “grace,” it is certainly possible at any moment in time to experience God’s grace, even in moments when we are not having human joy.
Is it possible to rejoice at all times? In human terms, this is not possible. No one rejoices when they are sick, or when they have failed, or when they are scared. There is no joy in losing a job, or getting in a car accident, or finding out that your child is failing a class. Yet in all these moments, there can be “haris” or grace.
In II Corinthians 12:1-10, St. Paul writes to us about a struggle he was having. He writes that he had “visions and revelations of the Lord.” (12:1) This abundance of revelations brought joy to St. Paul, just as positive things bring joy to our lives. However, this joy was tempered. St. Paul writes in 12:7 “and to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated.” We can all relate to the “thorn in the flesh.” How many times life is going well, only for us to be hamstrung by something or someone that keeps a situation from being what it could be. Saint Paul even had the human reaction of complaining to the Lord about it: “Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me.” (12:8)
The answer of the Lord to Saint Paul is profound, and provides the answer to our challenge to “rejoice always.” In 12:9-10, we read:
But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
We may not always be able to rejoice. We may not always feel joy. But God’s grace is something that is accessible at all times. When we have the grace of God, when we feel God’s grace through prayer and through the sacraments, then we can feel joy even in the midst of sorrow. We can feel strong even when we are weak.
If “every good and perfect gift is from Above” (James 1:17) and encouragement is a good thing, then grace can come upon us from the encouragement of others. If being a Christian is all about loving both God and our neighbor, then God’s grace shines not only through His love, but through the loving gestures of our neighbors. Thus, encouragement helps us experience grace, which brings joy even in times of struggle. Think for a moment how your spirits are lifted by the encouragement of someone else. Even their mere presence can be encouraging. For instance, when we are sick and someone comes for a visit. Their visit doesn’t bring healing but it brings encouragement, which leads to joy, and is made possible by the mystical grace of God that often come through other people.
So, can we rejoice always? The answer is, we can experience “haris” (grace) at all times and “haris,” whether it comes directly from God or through someone else leads us to “hara” (joy). Grace makes it possible to rejoice even in times of sadness. And encouragement from others is a key ingredient.
Lord, thank You for the gift of grace which is poured out upon us in so many ways. Thank You for putting people in my life who encourage and lift me up, especially when my spirits are down. Help me also to be someone who lifts up and encourages others. As You allow Your grace to come into me through the encouragement of others, allow Your grace to flow through me so that I may encourage others as well. Amen.
Lift someone’s spirits today!
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