“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice.” – Philippians 4:4
Beside my desk in the church office, I have a little plaque that was given to me a couple of years ago. On that plaque is one of my favorite quotes by the 17th century monk Brother Lawrence. After he was given the most menial job in the monastery—the position of cook—he went into that kitchen and started cheerfully working. And he famously said, “I turn my little omelet in the pan for the love of God.”
Brother Lawrence embraced the same truth that the shepherds in the field embraced on the very first Christmas: Joy transcends our crummy circumstances, because true joy is grounded in Jesus. You see, Christian joy is a profound decision of faith and hope in the power of Jesus’ own life and love.
Almost without exception, when we’re feeling discouraged and down in the dumps, we are fixated on the circumstances around us. We can’t see the forest for the trees. We have a pile of bills to pay. Our kids are driving us up the wall. Our joints hurt. The car’s out of gas and our dog hates us. It feels like we’re drowning in an ocean of problems. But it’s especially at times like these that it’s important to remember that joy is a profound decision—a decision to focus on Jesus’ life, not on your life; a decision to focus on Jesus’ love, not on your own hate for what you’re going through.
If you ever need a good pick-me-up, read the book of Philippians. In chapter 1, Paul writes, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy … being confident in this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (vs. 3-6). Does Paul sound pretty joyful in these verses? Sure he does! But when he penned these verses, he wasn’t on vacation in
He was wearing chains in the slammer. He was incarcerated, not knowing whether
he would ever be released or whether he would be executed. Yet he rejoiced.
How was this possible? It was possible because Paul had chosen joy. He had made a profound decision of faith and hope in the power of Jesus’ own life and love. And Paul so wanted his fellow Christians to make this same profound decision. That’s why Paul urges us in Philippians 3:1: “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord!” And in Philippians 4:4, he really drives his point home: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
In the midst of our pain and heartache and discouragement, we’re called upon to choose joy. Your pile of bills does not change the fact that Jesus lived and died for you because he loves you more than life itself. Loved ones staying or leaving does not change the fact that Jesus Christ is preparing a place for you in heaven. Even when your dog hates you, there is joy in the Lord. Ultimately, if I have to choose between Jesus lovin’ me or Fido lovin’ me, I’m going to choose Jesus lovin’ me—every single time.
Many Christians point to Philippians 4:13 as their favorite verse in the Bible: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” But most Christians don’t look at the context of this verse. In the 3 verses leading up to 4:13, Paul says, “I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:10-12).
Paul’s contentment and joy were both the result of his profound decision to trust in Jesus’ life and love. How could Paul possibly do all things through Christ? He could do it because he wasn’t all caught up in the things that were dragging him down. If you’re sinking in quicksand, you’re not going to find your lifeline in the quicksand. You’ve got to look up and fix your eyes on the one who can set you free. And when he offers you that lifeline, you have to take hold of it with everything you’ve got. You have to trust that lifeline, and trust the one holding that lifeline. And as you do, you can experience pure joy even as you’re still neck-deep in the quicksand.
On that first Christmas, God offered us good news of great joy. And joy has a name. His name is Jesus.
Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit www.YourVictorvilleChurch.com and join us for church Sundays at 10 a.m.