"Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." James 1:22 (NKJV)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Week 40: Rejoice in the Lord Always!

"Rejoice in the Lord always!" Phil. 4:4

In twenty years of following Jesus, I’ve struggled with this command more than any other. Since I was a little boy, I’ve been prone to periods of gloominess and melancholy. Now, at age 37, I am living more joyfully than ever before. I won’t pretend to have it all figured out. It's an ongoing battle, but I have experienced healing in this area.

The call to a joyful life is not something that can be observed in any meaningful way in a single week, but I didn’t want to end this project without writing about it. Instead of writing about one week’s experience, I’d like to share what I’ve learned over the last twenty or so years in my fight for joy.

Joy is Commanded.

The first thing you have to accept is that God commands joy. It’s not optional for us Christians. The Psalms admonish us to worship the Lord with joyful songs, Psalm 100:2, and to delight in the Lord, Psalm 37:4. In the New Testament, Jesus, James and the Apostles Peter and Paul command us to be joyful. Matthew 5:11-12, James 1:2-3, 1 Peter 4:13, Phil. 4:4-7, Romans 5:3-4.

There is Joy and Pain.

Christians should be the happiest and most joyful people in the world. We have reason to be. The prosperity gospel, however, doesn’t stand up to the Bible for half a second. The Christian life will always be full of joy and pain. The call to joy is a call to joy in the midst of sometimes difficult lives. Jesus told us that we should rejoice and be glad when we are persecuted and falsely accused. Matthew 5:11-12. The Apostle Peter tells us to rejoice when we share in the sufferings of Christ. 1 Peter 4:13. James tells us to consider it pure joy when we face testing and trials. James 1:2-3. Paul tells us that we should rejoice always, Phil. 4:4-7, and that we should exult in our tribulations, Romans 5:3-4. Paul said that he was full of sorrows yet always rejoicing. 2 Cor. 6:10.

Joy is a Choice.

In the Gospel of John, Chapter 14, Jesus says this amazing thing. In the thirteenth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus says that one of the twelve will betray him, that he is leaving them and that they cannot follow, and that Peter will deny him. Jesus says all this to the men who have given up everything to follow him, to the men who have walked with him, worked with him and loved him for three years. Then, at John 14:1, Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” It’s a weird thing to say. Our culture tells us to get in touch with our feelings, follow our feelings, or trust our hearts. Jesus says at the darkest possible time that his disciples should control their emotions, not the other way around. In a life of trouble, we are somehow supposed to choose joy. The question is: how do we choose it?

Repent of Joylessness.

If joy is commanded, then joylessness is a sin. Some of us will need to repent of it and confess it repeatedly. Repentance isn’t something we should be afraid of. Repentance is not presenting yourself before God for a holy butt kicking. Biblical repentance is simply when the Holy Spirit moves us to have heartfelt sorrow for sin, to renounce it, and to commit to forsake it. Yes, the first step in the fight for joy is to feel heartfelt sorrow over our joylessness, to renounce it, and to commit to fighting for joy.

Fix Your Attention on Jesus.

Nothing in my life has been as effective in the fight for joy as fixing my attention on the gospels, especially the accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. For one thing, we don’t get very far complaining about the difficulties we face when we look at the cross. Also, real lasting joy is based on knowing and believing the truth about God’s character and his love for us. Nothing demonstrates God’s love and character more clearly than Jesus at the cross. Finally, when we look at the cross we should be filled with hope for the inheritance that is waiting for us on the other side of eternity.

Pray for the Light and Truth of the Holy Spirit.

We’re not just called to obey joyfully but to obey joyfully by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul says that joy is a fruit of the Spirit. Gal. 5:22. Here is how I understand that. It’s not as simple as saying that joy is an emotion that the Spirit puts in us. Real lasting joy is the result of us knowing and believing the truth about who God is, what he is like, and how he works in our lives. The problem is that we tend to leak truth. We may know in our minds that God is good and in control. Our hearts, however, often forget it, especially when we’re in pain. That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in. The Spirit speaks truth to our hearts about who God is and what he is doing. One of the best ways to fight for joy is to read God’s word while constantly asking the Holy Spirit to show us truth about God’s character, his love, and his promises.

Preach Truth to Yourself.

The Book of Lamentations is a profound expression of grief by the prophet Jeremiah over the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. He describes a time of war, deprivation and personal loss. In the middle of his grieving, Jeremiah says:

Yet this I call to mind,

and therefore I have hope:

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

It’s right for us to feel sorrow over the fact that things are not as they should be. The effects of sin in this world are devastating. We should care a lot about that. On the other hand, we shouldn’t care too much, because we know that God is still good and in control. Jeremiah stops himself in the middle of his mourning. He starts talking to himself. “Yet this I call to mind...” He goes on to preach to himself about God’s compassionate character. That’s a great strategy for us in our fight for joy. We should preach truth to ourselves about God’s character.

Practice the Discipline of Giving Thanks.

The words that come out of our mouths effect what we feel and believe. Grumbling and complaining lead to a gloomy heart. Giving thanks stirs up joy. I’ve learned that I need to practice the discipline of giving thanks. The commands to rejoice and to give thanks go hand in hand. Just as we are commanded to rejoice always, we are commanded to give thanks in all circumstances. Phil. 4:4-7, 1 Thess. 5:16-18. We should especially give thanks when we don’t feel thankful. That doesn’t mean that our thanksgiving won’t be sincere. It means that our thanksgiving will be based on what we know about God rather than our unreliable feelings.


  1. Joy. :)

    Is that a new blog I see in the works under your profile??? I hope so.