“Rejoice in the Lord always”- you hear it often, but I think we miss a lot of that passage because we divide it up into different topics when it really isn’t meant to be. By “that passage” I mean Philippians 4:4-8.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Honestly, it really does look like several different topics; what does rejoicing have to do with moderation or not being anxious, or thinking about “commendable things”? Well, let’s look at it a little closer.
Rejoice in the Lord always. It seems like the general impression people have of this verse is that we are supposed to rejoice. That’s all very well and good, but it’s not what Paul said. He said to rejoice in the Lord. There’s a difference. To rejoice in the Lord is to rejoice in who He is and what He has done. Take Mary in Luke 1:46-49, for example,
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.
The awesome thing about rejoicing in the Lord and what He’s done for you is that both are constant. If you’re just trying to rejoice because you’re supposed to do, you have to find something to rejoice about, and depending on your present circumstances, you may find it difficult to think of anything. But if you rejoice in who God is (and He doesn’t change) and what He has done for you in the past (which cannot change either) and His promises (which He will fulfill), you always have that no matter what your circumstances are. You can rejoice in and through them even if the circumstances are such that it is hard to find anything to rejoice over. (With practice even that gets easier though.)
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. What does rejoicing have to do with reasonableness (or moderation as some versions word it, and as I prefer to refer to it as)? Well, let’s look at my favorite wordy person’s definition. (That’s Noah Webster, by the way.)
Moderation – Restraint of violent passions or indulgence of appetite. Calmness of mind; equanimity. As, to bear prosperity or adversity with moderation.
Calmness of mind; equanimity. Do you think you would gain those if, in spite of and through your circumstances, you were rejoicing in the Lord instead of letting the emotion of the moment control you? I certainly do. Rejoicing in the Lord produces moderation. But Paul didn’t say “be moderate”. He said “Let your moderation be known to all”. He’s assuming we already are moderate because we’re rejoicing in the Lord, so he says to demonstrate it. How do you demonstrate moderation?
In Philippians 4:11-12 Paul writes,
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
Contentment in our present circumstances displays moderation. It shows that we are not subject to the whims of emotional situations, but rather that we take life calmly, no matter what it throws at us. (And I’m a terrible example of this, by the way. Still learning this lesson.) It’s not normal for humans to handle stressful or emotionally-charged situations calmly, and so by displaying moderation to the people around you, you stand out and your behavior proclaims “There’s something different about me! Don’t you want to know what it is?” Which, of course, is Christ’s power within you, enabling you to take things in a level-headed, wise manner.
The Lord is at hand. Pardon me while I get all grammarly here for a second. In between “the Lord is at hand” and “do not be anxious” is not a period but a semicolon. That semicolon indicates that the second part is a continuation of the first part. Some versions say “the Lord is near” instead. Psalm 145:18-19 shares a similar theme:
The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear Him; He also hears their cry and saves them.
The Lord is near, and He hears our prayers and saves us and fulfills our desires, and therefore, what? Well, that’s where the semicolon leads us to the next thought.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Anxiety is a thief. It steals your focus, your peace, your joy, your productivity, and sometimes even your health. For example, in the past couple of months we’ve had stuff going on in our family that I didn’t want to happen. I won’t go into detail, but this situation stressed me out and worried me to the point where I couldn’t find any energy to do anything, and could barely focus enough to pray. I even started losing huge amounts of hair at a time. We’re talking serious worry here. Does that kind of reaction honor God? Does it display His power in me? Absolutely not!
Paul says that the Lord is near to hear and to save, and therefore we have no cause to be anxious. That’s why Philippians 4:5 ends with a semicolon instead of a period, and leads straight into verses 6 and 7. If I had remembered that in those first couple of weeks, I would have spared myself quite a bit of sanity (and hair).
But anxiety is humanity’s instinctive reaction to stressful situations. You can’t just not-be-anxious. We need some practicality, so I’m glad Paul didn’t end the verse with “do not be anxious about anything”. Instead, he inserted a “but” (read, “on the contrary”) and continued with instructions to pray with thanksgiving.
Going back to my recent experience with my family, I finally I emailed my Group Leader from STEP Advanced in a panic, and asked her to pray for my family – and to pray especially for me to find my joy again. She emailed me back to say she was praying and gave me some excellent advice:
“Remember that in the presence of God is fullness of joy. Look for His presences constantly and do not neglect time with Him. If anything spend more time conversing with Him and in prayer.”
So I said I would, and I think for the first time since the situation blew up, I spent significant time thanking God, for the little blessings He’d given me that day, for His promises, and for His character, instead of just whining and worrying at Him. You know what happened? He gave me peace and joy. He gave me comfort.
Evidently Paul knew what he was talking about.
Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Wasn’t it enough to tell us not to worry and to pray and thank God? If He’s given us His peace, isn’t that the end of the matter? Unfortunately not. See, especially for people like me, worry is actually a habit. Even if I manage to give it to God and receive His peace, over time it tries to come back. See, worry is a tool that satan likes to use to distract us from the Creator. Once he knows it works on you, he will keep using it on you again and again. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 says,
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…
Anxiety is like a fortress that the devil has established in your mind. However, if your mind belongs to God, you cannot let His enemy establish a foothold in God’s territory, so you must destroy the stronghold. To do that, you must fill your mind with things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable to combat the lies and doubts of anxiety. For example, Paul provides two promises farther on in his letter.
Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:19 – And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
One of my new favorite pieces of truth when my brain wanders to stressful places it ought not to dwell, is Isaiah 26:3,
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.
When you fill your mind with God’s promises and intentionally turn your focus to Him, there is no room left for anxiety to come in and build his grisly walls of defiance.
So how can we apply this? I see three applicable concepts in the above verses.
- Rejoice in the Lord. Rejoicing in the Lord is outward. It is a choice to praise Him for who He is and what He’s done, etc. I have a coworker who always loves to tell me about all the little “God-winks” she’s received. The little blessings He’s given her, and how He continually provides exceedingly abundantly more than she asked for. She calls it bragging on Him.
Psalm 34:2-4 has a similar concept:
My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together! I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
People brag about the wonderful things their kids or grandkids are doing all the time – bragging about God is the same idea. You’re sharing how wonderful and glorious He is. So when He blesses you, even in a small way, talk about it. Even if you’re just telling yourself. The more you do it the more you will align your attitude to recognize those little blessings, until you are really rejoicing in the Lord “always”.
- Thank God. Remember the hymn “Count Your Blessings”?
When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Thank God for even the smallest things. That day that I finally started thanking God, I was thanking for everything from sending Noelle to wake me up when I slept through my alarm to getting to see a bit of the sunrise on my way to work. Once you start thanking Him, you’ll find more and more things to thank Him for, so start small and watch them grow.
- Refill your mind. When you have a stressful situation or just something that keeps bothering you again and again, find truth from God’s word to combat it and fill your mind with it. I often write references on my hand so that throughout the day I see them and have to either remember what verse goes with it or look it up all over again; filling my mind with it. There are myriads of promises in God’s word that you can throw in the face of worries and doubts that the devil sends your way. Remember, Jesus combatted with scripture too. (Matthew 4:1-11)
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Happy rejoicing! 🙂