“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice.” Philippians 4:4
What is joy? And how do we keep it despite circumstances and feelings?
Joy is one of the things that sets a Christian apart from the rest of the world. Paul commands (note imperative, meaning not optional) the Philippians to rejoice always. It’s easy to say, but how do we actually do it? During the ups and downs of my faith journey, I am most filled with joy when I have had an intimate experience of God, a divine revelation of Himself. But all too soon this fades away and I find myself having lost the joy of the Lord to the mundane-ness of my everyday life. Not that I don’t love Him or believe in Him anymore, but just joyless, unexcited.
Over the Christmas holidays, my church had a winter retreat around the theme ‘Rejoice’. How perfectly timed it was, since this was exactly what had been bothering me for the past few months. We studied the book of Philippians, focusing solely on this theme – I would encourage you to try the same, as it was such a great blessing!
Rejoicing is a choice
Joy is not just an emotion. It’s different to happiness, and it’s not dependent on fun either. I guess it’s not dissimilar to love, in the sense that it is a choice we make on a daily basis. It being a choice is very significant. I can choose to rejoice. I don’t have to be affected by circumstances or emotions when it comes to rejoicing. Meaning I have the ability to rejoice all the time. Praise God!
Rejoice in the Lord
The reason we can choose to rejoice in all circumstances, is because our joy does not come from things that change. Paul says to rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice in who He is. Rejoice in His unchanging love. Rejoice in His gift of salvation. Rejoice in the hope we have of eternity, because of all He has done. Rejoice in the Lord who does not change – He is our solid Rock, our Anchor, our Foundation – this is the reason our joy does not change!
Rejoicing is a battle
There are things that help us keep our joy, and things that take away our joy. I strongly recommend you read through Philippians and write a list of what these things might be. Some things that increase our joy include being content (4:11-12), interceding for each other (1:19), and proclaiming Christ (1:18).
Examples of things that make it harder to rejoice include changes in environment (e.g. Paul’s imprisonment), hostile attitudes of other people (e.g. the selfish preachers in 1:17), and ill health or death (e.g. Paul’s potential execution). These things are mostly out of our control, but Paul changes his perspective on these things and chooses to rejoice over them:
- He rejoiced over his imprisonment because it expanded his ministry to authoritative figures he would not have reached otherwise, and encouraged others to speak the word of God more boldly
- He rejoiced over the selfish preachers because Christ’s name was still being proclaimed, no matter what their motivation
- He rejoiced over his potential execution, because his death would bring him to his heavenly home with Christ.
Not all downers are out of our control though – some things we can and would be wise to avoid. Such things include selfish ambition and conceit (2:3), grumbling and dispute (2:14), and setting our minds on earthly things (3:19). This kind of links with things we can do to increase our joy – serving and giving to God (2:17-18 & 4:18) is the opposite of selfish ambition, humility (2:3) does not allow for conceit or dispute, being content protects against grumbling, and proclaiming Christ fixes our eyes on heavenly things instead of earthly things.
There are many others, and they are truly life hacks!
Rely on the Holy Spirit for help
No matter how hard we try, there will be times when the going gets tough. Remember that with all these things, we need God’s help. Rely on the Holy Spirit (2:19) for strength and perseverance in making these small changes to your life, in order to hold on to that joy in Christ.