“Rejoice in the Lord alway”Phil 4:4a
What a simple command is set before us: rejoice. Surely there is nothing we more enjoy than rejoicing in the Lord? There is nothing that excites our soul like rejoicing. There is nothing we would rather have than joy. Yet this rejoicing can be a most difficult calling for us. Why is that? If it is so amazing, why do we not cling to it and live constantly in joy? Oftentimes the circumstances of our lives can drive us to sadness and discontentment, our view of ourselves can cause us bitter shame and fear, or a weakness in our faith can cause us to doubt God’s promises.
Every day we face new situations and often our lives can be characterized by trials and pains. It is silly for one to suppose that there are no challenges in our lives. Indeed, we will and do face many trials, such as sickness, death, broken relationships, bad work situations, difficult financial situations, an impenitent brother, and so much more. Remember the Israelites’ wilderness journey which continually brought them challenge after challenge. During their journey, they too often lost their joy. We often hear verses such as Exodus 16:2, which says, “And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.” Perhaps we are tempted to think we are no grumblers or murmurers like the Israelites. However, how easily we are tempted to say in our hearts, “God, this way you have chosen is not what I want, and I have a better plan. This is too difficult, it could be so much simpler.” God has given us the example of the Israelites so that we might learn to choose joy. The problem the Israelites had in the wilderness, and that we often have today, is that we look with only our physical eyes and forget to “walk by faith” (2 Cor. 5:7). We open our eyes only to the fiery serpents that mark our path instead of lifting our heads to Jesus Christ our hope and our joy. When all seems against us we must lift our heads to our faithful Saviour and not be overwhelmed by the troubles of the world. If in our weakness our eyes are focused on this world, we will only see sin. Seeing only sin, we will be restrained from having joy. It is only when by the Spirit, we see Jesus that our heart can be filled with delight in God. There is no fellowship between Christ, our joy, and sin. Christ saved us from our otherwise miserable state!
At times, we can lose our joy in Christ as we get overwhelmed by our sins. We can get wrapped up in a “condition of spiritual darkness” (Hoeksema, pg. 133). As Hoeksema well describes in Communion with God,
“The worst manifestations of this chronic gloom and dejection of spirit you find in the Christian who stubbornly refuses to be delivered from it and to be led into the glorious liberty of the children of God; who systematically defends that state of constant spiritual darkness as the normal condition of the child of God in this world; who considers it a special mark of piety always to doubt and to wail and lament, though it be to no purpose at all; who raises this doubting state to a standard of spiritual living for all who are truly saved.”Hoeksema, Communion with God, pg. 133
We can be inclined to sit in darkness and think that our sorrow will make us feel better about ourselves, as if we are so pious and humble to accept our sinful nature. If you have ever felt this way (I know I have myself have become overwhelmed by my sinful nature so that I do not look at Christ’s Spirit within me at times) remember the encouraging words of Micah 7:8 “Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me.” This verse points out two truths about joy. First, the enemy can never rejoice because they will never have the victory. Secondly, though we may slip and fall the Lord will redeem us from sin and our sinfulness and restore our enjoyment of that salvation. Always remember that God is our light! No matter how dark you may feel your soul is, do not identify yourself as your sinful nature. Jesus has said, “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness” (John 12:46). We are children of God, elect and chosen.
“I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness”John 12:46
Finally, we can lack this joy by weakness in our faith. It is only possible through the strength of the Holy Spirit that we can confess Jesus and therefore have joy in Him. When we are found “lov[ing] the world” then “the love of the Father is not in [us]” (I John 2:15). Throughout the Psalms, there are about twenty-one times in which David makes some reference to our joy being found in the Lord. He realized that when we are in the Lord and He in us, then we are strong to delight in the gift of joy. We must always strive and pray with David that God “rejoice the soul of thy servant” (Ps. 86:4). We cannot expect to find joy in ourselves, or by ourselves. We rely on God and pray that He will continue to direct our eyes to Christ so that we can experience joy.
As we examine our lack of joy, we realize it all comes down to the fact that we do not set our eyes on Jehovah as we must. Whether it be focusing only on the circumstances around us, our own selves, or altogether looking away from God, we see that our lack of joy comes from looking at that which is not God. We must remember, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17). Before closing, I want to make clear that I am not accusing anyone of sinning by being sad. It is not wrong to experience trials and feel sorrow in them, but we may not let these things consume us and take us away from our joy in Christ. Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us that there is a “time to weep” and “a time to mourn” and that God certainly does have his people “[see] travail.” He uses these trials and “[makes] every thing beautiful in his time.” There is “no good in [trials], but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life” (vv. 6, 10, 11, 12).
Luke Christian Potjer
Hoeksema. Communion with God. Reformed Free Publishing Association.
References to joy found “in the Lord” or some variation in the Psalms: 5:11 9:2,14 13:5 16:11 21:1,6 31:7 32:11 33:21 34:2 35:9 40:16 43:4 51:12 63:11 66:6 68:3,4 70:4 85:6 86:4 89:16