A few weeks ago, my sister asked me, “What is faith?”
“Faith is trusting and obeying,” I said. “Trusting is the theoretical side of faith. Obeying is the practical. You need both to have a living faith. That’s why James criticizes Christians for only believing but not doing. Both are required.”
Faith doesn’t only exist in the absence of suffering, hardship, and sadness. It is not the absence of a negative, but the presence of a positive.
In every situation, we have a choice. We don’t deny our suffering, but we also don’t have to focus on it. We have the ability to “take our thoughts captive”  and submit them to the Lordship of Christ.
When we focus on pain or problems, they become larger and larger within our consciousness. It’s a matter of perspective. If I draw closer to a tree, it appears bigger. The tree hasn’t changed in size, but my spatial relationship to it has changed. The tree may be much larger than I am. It may be overwhelming to imagine climbing to its top—especially if it’s one of those massive sequoias!
That’s why, especially when hardship seems insurmountable, the Bible exhorts us to “fix our eyes on the author and perfector of our faith” .
The sequoia may be massive, but put it beside the CN Tower, and it’s minuscule. When we stubbornly fix our eyes on Jesus, suffering and hardship shrink to their proper place: minuscule compared to our great God.
He has given us all sorts of promises:
- “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it…” 
- “I do not consider the sufferings of this present time worthy to be compared to the glory to be revealed to us” 
- “I am with you always” 
- “Nothing can separate us from the love of God” 
A healthy faith requires us to trust—focussing on Jesus and His promises—and obey. Obedience is an outward expression of our trust in Him.
“Obedience” can be such a daunting term. Where do we begin? (That sequoia is looking pretty huge.)
The Bible gives us the answer.
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God‘s will for you in Christ Jesus.
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
“always… without ceasing… in everything”?!
By now, perhaps you’re staring at these verses and coming to the conclusion I’m sadistic. But please stick with me for just a minute more. If we switch around the order of these commands a little bit, following them becomes easier.
1. Pray (without ceasing)
Prayer is a way of expressing our dependence on God. It’s the foundation of our communication with Him, and vital to our relationship. But how can we do this “without ceasing”?
As a friend of mine once pointed out, we each have an ongoing conversation in our heads. It happens when we get up (“this is going to be a busy day today”), when we’re choosing lunch (“what should I eat?”), when we’ve made a mistake (“well, you really messed that up, didn’t you?”), and so on.
“Who are you talking to?“ my friend asked .
With that, my whole world shifted. Instead of carrying on a continual conversation with myself (can there be anything more boring?) I can adjust the walkie-talkie dial and talk with God. That’s praying without ceasing!
For deeper prayer, some people use reminders. As a missionary living in India, Amy Carmichael used the daily bells that rang in her community to remind her to pray at specific times. I tend to drink a lot of water during a typical day. Sometimes I’ll use this as a spiritual reminder to also drink living water, praying as I take a sip of the physical substance.
When we continually express our dependence on God, the next step becomes easier.
2. Give thanks (in everything)
No matter what suffering, tragedy, or trials we might encounter, there is always something we can be thankful for. This is a lesson I learned during the year I was bedridden with my back injury. Even in the midst of unrelenting pain, I could be grateful that my legs didn’t hurt, that I could be up from bed for long enough to take a shower (with help), that there was food on the table and water from the tap, and that I had a kind and loving husband to take care of me.
There is always something to be thankful for.
When I was in my early 20s, I created a life purpose statement. It said:
My desire is, at the end of my life, to have nothing that God has given me left which I have not used in His service in some way. To serve Him until I die, and to love Him to the abandonment of all other people and possessions: I can think of no greater joy.
God has honoured these desires. I delight to tell you that I can’t think of a single time of suffering in my life that God has not redeemed at some point down the road. Every single experience has been used at one point or another to help someone going through something similar. I’m now at the point where I am also thankful for hardship itself because I know that God can and will redeem it for much more good than the suffering it has cost.
There is always something to be thankful for.
Thanking God for a back injury, for a concussion, for a torn rotator cuff is a special offering of worship and faith that I think brings our Father in heaven deep joy.
3. Rejoice (always)
This may seem like the most onerous command, but when we start by praying without ceasing, and giving thanks in everything, always rejoicing becomes a little easier.
A few months ago, I preached a sermon on joy, a fruit which springs from faith’s fertile soil, and is planted, watered, and nurtured by the Holy Spirit.
Joy’s foundations are built on God‘s promises. They are its strength, its sustenance, and its focus.
That’s why we can have joy that transcends hardship—because God is more powerful than our circumstances. He never tells us to deny that hardship brings sadness and grief, but He shows us that even while we are experiencing the most painful situations, the Spirit of God can fill our souls with hope and our hearts with joy. 
Joy should be our hallmark characteristic because Jesus’ promises mean we always have hope. And we know that Jesus always keeps His promises.
I like to remember 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 using an acronym:
These three commands are to be repeated over and over, throughout our Christian lives. They help fertilize our trust and obedience in a beautiful cycle. Our obedience and answered prayers serve to increase our trust, and our trust, in turn, increases the amount we are willing to obey. So trust and obedience feed each other, growing bigger and bigger. Without this cycle, the plant of faith has no food, and is left to shrivel and die. Not only this, but our view of God begins to shrink, and we begin to place him on the shelf of our own convenience. 
An unwillingness to obey robs us of the joy of seeing God at work, answering our prayers and blasting our pitiful dreams and expectations out of the water to something beyond good. What joy to realize the greatness of God, the Creator of the universe, who cannot be contained by the imagination of any man!
Let us not be people unwilling to obey, walking around as faint shadows of who they could be. May we, instead, step out in faith and allow our God to amaze and delight us!
 2 Corinthians 10:5.
 Hebrews 12:2.
 Philippians 1:6.
 Romans 8:18.
 Matthew 28:20.
 Romans 8:38-39.
 Manfred Koehler, sermon at Hope Community Church, 2008.
 Pillar New Testament Commentary, 15 volume set (Eerdmans, 2017), 1 Thessalonians 5:16.
 See Valerie Limmer, On the Potter’s Wheel (Mustang: Tate Publishing, 2016), p. 273-4. The original text talks about “faith” and “risk” instead of “trust” and “obedience”, but these principles hold true for both sets of terms.