Have you ever confronted a scripture verse that makes you wonder how to live up to God’s Word? Take this one for example penned by Paul in Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”
Rejoice always? I barely have enough energy to pay attention to my children whenever they are around much less try to “rejoice always” while going about my day. And what about those difficult times in our life when bad things happen? What about when we wake up on the wrong side of the bed? Does God still expect us to rejoice?
I’m not 100% positive of what Paul means by asking Christians to rejoice always, but I’m fairly certain he does not expect us be happy all of the time. The translation of this verse in the recently published Common English Bible, “Be glad always” is misleading.
To rejoice always is not the same as being “glad” or happy always. Paul knew that the Christian life is not an easy one and that happiness comes and goes. After all, he was in prison when he wrote his letter to the Philippians, and he understood that thorns in the side existed and made things difficult a time or two (2 Corinthians 12:5).
Besides, have you ever met someone who is happy all the time? That constant energy can get really annoying, and eventually the facade of sustained enthusiasm crumbles under the weight of life’s hardships. If God expected us to always be happy or always be glad or always have a smile on our face, then we all might as well skip church and stay home on Sunday mornings. It would be an impossible expectation to fulfill.
I think that when Paul told the Philippians to rejoice always, he meant that we Christians should exhibit exuberant confidence in the midst of the roller coaster of life. We are to trust in the purpose, plans, and mission that God has for us. We may waver in our faith, but our diligence in seeking God and making God a priority in our life–to make Him the object of our rejoicing–should be sustainable and constant.
Paul was in prison at the time he wrote his letter to the Philippians–not a lovely place to be during the first century–but he still knew that God had a purpose for his life. He was confident in a God whom Paul insisted makes “all things work together for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).
Rejoicing is what happens when we rely on the joy that God puts in our hearts when we believe in him. Difficulty and hardship may come, but joy is like a flickering flame that persists even in the face of overwhelming darkness. It is not something that is easily extinguished, and it is something that lingers even if only a spark.
I can’t tell you how inspiring it is to meet people in hospital, rehab, or hospice situations who continue to rejoice in God even when the odds are stacked against them. When I visit, I find that these folks hold such a confidence in the Lord that they end up ministering to me.
I don’t expect people to put on a show, and it is tiring for some to smile and make visitors feel welcome. I don’t expect them to show enthusiasm for the Lord; in fact, many a people who suffer get angry or resentful at times. That’s natural.
Yet, even in the harshest of situations, believers in God have a joy that not even cancer can kill. There is a resilience that is inexplicable and transcendent, a resilience that attests, “Sorrow may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).
That kind of joy produces rejoicing that sings hymns when hardship comes, proclaims Gospel news in a bad-news world, and prays for the Spirit’s guidance when the voices are too overwhelming.