Rejoice in the Lord always, even though you’re having a really bad day.
Rejoice in the Lord, even when you’re in pain, when you’re suffering, or when you’re sick.
Rejoice in the Lord always, even when you’re getting old and frail.”
“Be reasonable to everyone, even though family and friends attack you, criticise you and abandon you. Be gentle with all people, even though they are not gentle with you and backstab you. Be gentle with people even though they lie to your face.”
“Don’t be anxious, even though you probably haven’t finished your Christmas shopping yet. Don’t be anxious about your crops and the lack of rain, or your limited finances, your wayward children, your selfish spouse, or your destructive community. Don’t be overly concerned about anything, even though you worry what the future might bring.”
“Be joyful, be reasonable with others, and don’t be anxious.”
Well, some people can live like this, but some of us find it hard to be always joyful, to be gentle at all times, and not worry about so many things.
In fact, even when things go right, we sometimes find it hard to rejoice. We struggle to be gentle or reasonable at home, let alone to others in our community. We worry about the smallest things that seem to blow out of all proportion in our minds.
Was Paul one of these annoying people that seem to always be happy, gentle and have no worries about anything? Is he expecting us to change our nature and be like him?
Sure, Paul was writing this letter from prison; sure he had been whipped and beaten to within an inch of his life; sure he was criticised by many people, including synagogue leaders; and sure he had close friends and family abandon him in times of need, but we all have problems of our own!
He may have been able to keep his chin up and keep smiling in all circumstances, but we can’t!
Why is it that we struggle with these things? Is there something wrong with Paul’s expectations, or is there something wrong with us?
Part of the problem is that we’re often focused on ourselves. We think we’re only truly happy when we get what we want. We can only be gentle with those who are first gentle with us. We’re only free of worries if everything goes our own way. Our sin makes us selfish and self-serving.
Our sinfulness blinds us so that we don’t see the blessings God gives us, even in the times of trouble and suffering. Perhaps we want revenge against people who treat us badly, instead of practicing peacemaking through forgiveness and gentleness. Maybe we don’t trust God will help us in our times of need and we figure it’s all up to us, so therefore we worry about how WE can fix things.
What can possibly help us get out of our gloomy outlooks, our selfish dealings with others, and our fretful lives?
Paul gives us a hint: we can always rejoice, be gentle, and not be anxious, because the Lord is near.
Because the Lord is near, we can rejoice even in the worst circumstances. Because the Lord is near, we can be gentle even with our enemies. Because the Lord is near, we have no need to be anxious.
It’s like we have been running a marathon. Our bodies ache and our minds have been telling us to give up for ages. Our vision has been blurred so that all we see is the few steps in front of us. But despite our aches and pains, we know the finish line is just up ahead. Where we come in the race doesn’t matter, but we’re filled with joy to know the race is almost finished. Relief and rescue is in sight.
But it’s more than that.
This isn’t just the relief from knowing the end is in sight, but that our Saviour and rescuer is near. Sure the end is coming, that time when the Lord will come again to judge the living and the dead, but we also know Jesus promises to always be near us.
He’s the one who’s been jogging alongside us the whole marathon, going through the same temptations, and the same pain. He’s the one who picks us up when we fall. He’s the one who bore the abuse against us, and took the worst scars. He’s the one who heals our wounds. When we’ve mistakenly gone down the wrong path, he’s followed us and called us to turn around and join the race again. When we’ve felt like giving up, he’s the one who encouraged us with his words and his refreshing provisions. He’s the one who constantly reminded us to keep calling on him and telling him our needs, to let him shoulder our pain, our frustrations, our sicknesses and our worries.
When we’re overly concerned about our problems, about people around us, or about our situation in life, he encourages us to take our needs to him in prayer. If we keep all our problems and worries to ourselves, they grow and multiply and threaten to take all the joy out of our lives. In this sense, worry is like a virus that takes away all our reasons to rejoice. The antidote for worry and anxiousness is prayer.
We can’t ‘think’ our worries away through wishful or positive thinking, but when we bring them before God in prayer, he gives us his peace. Notice it’s HIS peace he gives us, which is far better than any calmness we could ever achieve by our own reasoning.
Then, as our worries are taken away and God grants us his peace, joy can start growing in our life again. Our focus has been shifted away from our own troubles and problems so that we may look to Jesus Christ. Then we have reason for joy and thankfulness because of what God has done for us through Jesus.
Outward circumstances do not and should not determine the condition of our hearts. Even when everything around us is dark and gloomy, we can be joyful within.
We can be joyful because of our oneness with Christ. Even when we feel alone and isolated, we can rejoice in our unity with our Triune God.
We can be joyful because of our forgiveness through Christ. Sure other people may still not forgive us, they may still hold a grudge against us, and they may still continue to attack us, but as we stand in front of God, our conscience is clear through the forgiveness of our sins.
We can be joyful because of the nearness of Christ himself. He never abandons us or attacks us. He supplies all our needs. He lifts us up when we’ve fallen. He gives us the strength to endure our times of trial and suffering, and he even heals us. He answers our prayers for ourselves, the ones we love, and our petitions for the needs of the world. Christ gives us his peace.
Then, like a sentry, the peace from God will guard our hearts. It’s like we’ve a company of peace soldiers or angels surrounding us whose sole purpose is to protect and guard us.
As we confront all the temptations and trials of this life, we can be sure Jesus is near, which brings us joy. Through the peace and forgiveness from Christ, we can be gentle with all people, including our enemies. Through prayer, all our anxiousness is taken away and thankfulness joins with our reasons for joy.
For the foundation of our joy, is the nearness of Jesus Christ.
The foundation of our gentle dealing with all people, no matter how they treat us, is Jesus Christ.
The foundation of our freedom from anxiety, is prayer in the name of Jesus Christ.
The foundation of peace is Jesus Christ…