"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice." Philippians 4:4
What does it mean to you to rejoice in the Lord? And furthermore, what does it mean to do it "always"?
For many of us, this verse may seem a bit perplexing. How can we always be rejoicing? Wasn't Paul aware of what sort of things can complicate the life of a wife and mother? Was he unaware of the anxieties that accompany those roles, and how many concerns we have brought before us day after day? And what about those seasons of sorrow that all of us face? Surely we are excused from rejoicing then?
But that's the beauty of scripture: "All scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." (2 Timothy 3:16) Which means that the word "always" is in there for a reason, and there's also a good reason why Paul felt the need to admonish the Philippians to rejoice twice: it's easy to forget to do this!
But what sort of 'rejoicing' are we called to do? Is this an un-natural behaviour where in the face of deepest sorrow, we as Christians are never allowed to weep or mourn? Of course not. Christ wept at the mourning of the Jews after the death of Lazarus. He was sorrowful to see the despair that death brings. Christians aren't required to be perpetually happy and never sad. There may be those that you've come across who don't seem to understand that, and who may feel like it's a sin to be sad, but they forget that we are called to, "Mourn with those who mourn." (Romans 12:15) No, we have freedom in God to experience the emotions that He gave us. But we also have the responsibility to not sin because of our emotions.
You should notice that the verse doesn't instruct us to "rejoice in our illness", or "rejoice in the loss of your loved ones," but rather, "Rejoice in the LORD." That is why we are called to do it always - because we always have reason to rejoice in Him! While our circumstances themselves may not prompt us to rejoice, the faithfulness and goodness and sovereignty of our Lord should!
In our illness we should rejoice because we have a faithful Father who will comfort and heal according to His will. In times of loss we should rejoice because we know that the victory has been won and that death has lost its sting. In seasons of tension and hurt in our relationships we should rejoice because we are benefactors of the eternal love of God, which He will never remove from us. Only in the Lord will we find our unending cause to rejoice!
Now, I must admit that I feel this in particular is a verse that is profitable "for training in righteousness", as referred to in 2 Timothy. When you think of training for something, there's the implication that perfection does not come naturally, and that sometimes there will be mistakes that you need to correct, learn from, and move forward from. Does it come easily for us to rejoice at all during the hardest seasons of our lives? No - but that's because in our fallen state we had forgotten that there was something as constant and faithful as God which we could eternally rejoice in. But as we train in righteousness, and God continues His good work in us, we can find ourselves coming to a point where we don't need to work so hard to rejoice in our sovereign God. We'll find ourselves, by His grace, remembering that while under the sun there is a season for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1), He does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17); He is always faithful - and that is a great reason to rejoice.
So what is your burden today? What is weighing on your heart, or breaking you down? Whatever it is, we need to remember that while there may not be much cause to rejoice in our hurts and anxieties, God welcomes us to cast all our cares upon Him, and that is one of the incredible reasons why we are called to, "Rejoice in the Lord always."
To God be the glory, forever and ever, Amen!