How are we supposed to rejoice always? Is it even possible to achieve this? Or are we supposed to understand Paul’s exhortation to “rejoice in the Lord always” as a kind of hyperbolic statement which Paul never intended us to actually experience in our Christian life?
No, we are not! Paul meant what he said. As believers, we really are to rejoice always.
One of the reasons why we experience such difficulty with this appeal is because we tend to think of joy in the same incorrect way as we view love—namely, as a product of our emotions rather than a servant of our wills. When seen like that, joy is a product of our circumstances and our feelings; and with that view it is only possible to rejoice when we’re feeling good, when the sun is shining, and when everything seems to be going our way.
But the Bible means what it says when it tells us to rejoice always, including when life is not what we wished, the clouds are gathering, and we feel low. Therefore, we must seek to understand joy.
In Habakkuk 3, we read that the prophet trembled over the day of trouble to come (3:16). Everything in the realm of feelings pointed Habakkuk toward panic. But instead of succumbing to anxiety, he made his feelings yield to what he knew of his Provider. On the strength of right thinking, Habakkuk concluded, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD” (v 17-18, emphasis added). He demonstrates that it is possible to rejoice always—even in the midst of deep trial and deep pain—when our joy does not depend on external factors but on God alone.
God has purposed that our thinking is to be informed and shaped by His revelation—what He has made known of Himself through His word and creation. To borrow the words of the 16th-century scientist Johannes Kepler, we are to “think God’s thoughts after him.” As we learn to think correctly, we will increasingly be able to bring our emotions into line with our right thinking.
When your joy is rooted in God’s unchanging character, you are delivered from joy being held captive by yourself and your circumstances. Yes, your joy might be challenged by the difficulties and disappointments of your day, but it will not be overturned. In the moments today when your joy is challenged, take these words to your lips:
’Tis what I know of Thee, my Lord and God,
That fills my soul with peace, my lips with song:
Thou art my health, my joy, my staff, my rod;
Leaning on Thee, in weakness I am strong.
Trust in the Name of the Lord Our God
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.
1May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!
2May he send you help from the sanctuary
and give you support from Zion!
3May he remember all your offerings
and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices! Selah
4May he grant you your heart's desire
and fulfill all your plans!
5May we shout for joy over your salvation,
and in the name of our God set up our banners!
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions!
6Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven
with the saving might of his right hand.
7Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
8They collapse and fall,
but we rise and stand upright.
9O Lord, save the king!
May he answer us when we call.
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