Discovering Spiritual Truths & Celebrating God's Grace in the Every Day Happenings of Life.
FULL DISCLOSURE… this blog is a bit longer today. But it’s something, I believe, many need to hear. If nothing else, I’m writing this to myself. You’re more than welcome to join me for the ride and the reflection.
I’ve been thinking a lot about our epistle reading from church this past Sunday. Primarily, it is these words, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” We know these words from the Apostle Paul. I’ve seen many a wall plagues, Sunday School posters, kitchen magnets, and travel coffee mugs with this verse emblazoned upon them. It’s a happy verse. It encourages. We really don’t mind it, most of the time. As life is chugging along, things are good, and we count our blessings we have no problem putting it into practice... rejoicing.
But let’s be honest, with all due respect to the Apostle Paul, sometimes joy is hard to come by. There are moments when joy seems so very unrealistic. There are many circumstances in life that can make us feel this way: grief over the loss of a loved one, failures in our endeavors, responsibilities in the workplace, battling loneliness, lacking relationships, or simply the constant background anxiety of living in a world under sin’s curse. There are times, when even the most faithful believer, is barely hanging on. Have you been there? I suspect we all have. We may put on our Sunday best facade and proclaim to the world that we are peachy-keen; but there are burdensome and melancholy moments, often kept hidden from reality, when the last thing we feel like doing is rejoicing.
On any given day, there are a billion things that can steal our joy, but only one source from which we can receive it. This is the point. Joy is not found in the circumstance; but it is in knowing that Christ is present in whatever circumstances you are in. Joy is not found in the particular moments; but it is in knowing that Christ is present in every moment. Joy is not found in impressive success nor is it lacking in depressing frustrations or embarrassing failures; but it is in genuinely believing that the “Lord is at hand.” It is found in knowing that Christ is present whether you’re riding high or barely hanging on.
Paul strongly emphasizes that such an attitude should be constant, not temporary. Rejoice in the Lord always, Paul writes from his prison cell in Rome. Paul is an inmate, a jailbird. That’s important to remember – that he writes these words while being imprisoned because of his Christian faith. So, when Paul tells us that we can rejoice in the Lord always, he really means, always. He is not writing these words from his high horse or a sheltered place of abundance. Rejoice. Always. To be sure, this is not easy—and we desperately need that gentle, constant prompting of the Spirt to remember these words. Always rejoice, because God is always faithful. Grounded in this unshakable truth, we won’t be destroyed by the sufferings of this world. In fact, we can thumb our nose at the hardships of this world and tell the Devil to go right back where he came from. Why? Because our joy in the Lord is not for sale, it cannot be polluted, it will not be seized. God is always faithful to His beloved. Isaiah 46:4 says, “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made you, and I will bear you; I will carry you and will save you.” That’s what we need to hear. When we are frustrated, sorrowful, filled with doubts… God is always faithful. He will carry us. Full of love and grace and mercy, the Lord promises that He is always there for you, always here with us.
Back to the imprisoned Paul, instead of focusing on himself and his situation, Paul focuses on this Gospel and on how God is at work. He is especially focused on the idea that rejoicing is to take place at all times. This from the man who is a prisoner in Rome. He had been wrongfully arrested for some time, shipwrecked on the way there, bitten by a snake, and left under house arrest for two years. Paul had every reason to complain, yet focused on rejoicing. He rejoices in the opportunities he has to talk about his faith with the palace guard, he delights in the boldness with which other believers are speaking out, and, as for those who are preaching with false motives – as long as they are telling people about Jesus, Paul chooses to find joy in that. Even in chains, he trusted that the Lord was with him and caring for him.
No matter what is happening in your life – no matter how bad it might seem – you have a God who loves you, a Savior who died for you, and a promise from our God to be with you always. Don’t look for your ability or desire to rejoice internally. Instead look up and look outward; look to God. C.S. Lewis once wrote, “I had hoped that the heart of reality might be of such a kind that we can best symbolize joy as a place. Instead, I found it to be a Person.” And that’s why you and I can always rejoice. Because we are rejoicing in a person, Jesus Christ the Lord.
God’s blessings my friends and may the joy of the Lord be your strength!
“Such is the rejoicing of which Paul speaks—a rejoicing where there is no fear of death or hell, but rather a glad and all-powerful confidence in God and his kindness. Hence the expression, "Rejoice in the Lord"; not rejoice in silver or gold, not in eating or drinking, not in mechanical chanting, not in strength or health, not in skill or wisdom, not in power or honor, not in good works or holiness even. For these are deceptive joys, false joys, which never stir the depths of the heart. They are never even felt. When they are present we may well say the individual rejoices superficially. To rejoice in the Lord—to trust, confide, glory and have pride in the Lord as in a gracious Father—this is a joy which rejects all else but the Lord…” (Martin Luther)
Then Nehemiah… said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep. Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:9-10)
Pastor Steve Vera