“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” – Philippians 4:4
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
The seasons in our lives have their ebb and flow—their highs and lows. In our highs, we’re filled with thanksgiving, joy, gladness, excitement, and other jovial words. In our lows, we’re prone to being gloomy, sad, despondent, apathetic, hopeless, etc. Paul encourages us to rejoice always, give thanks always, and pray without ceasing, but in our lows, it can be difficult to remember that Jesus is our Good Shepherd, causing us to cast off restraint and venture away from the pen into the unknown, leading to our demise. Could there be a way to rejoice and trust that, in our lowest points of life, Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and therefore our life is in good hands?
Who is Telling us to Rejoice Always?
It’s interesting that Paul the Apostle would be the person to encourage us with the words in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18—to rejoice always and give thanks always. It’s interesting because Paul suffered greatly for Jesus’ namesake. Beaten with many blows, afflicted with imprisonments, being left for dead and coming alive again after his disciples prayed for him, faced hunger and persecution often, witnessed friends persecuted for the gospel, along with hearing of their martyrdom. If he were to say the exact opposite of rejoicing always, I’d believe him! My life has not been marked by the sufferings that Paul endured for the gospel’s sake.
If Paul could rejoice, give thanks always, and pray without ceasing, then surely we can too. Below, Paul describes his aim in life (as ours ought to be as well):
“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” - Philippians 3:7-14 NKJV
In these verses lies the secret to godly contentment no matter our highs and lows: “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Paul’s perspective in life centered on knowing Jesus intimately. No matter what he suffered, Paul could progress headstrong because He knows Jesus is that Good Shepherd that leads his path into everlasting life. Jesus alone has the words of life, and if in Jesus lies life (and more abundantly), could it be that our perspective is warped by internal desires that conflict with what should be the central purpose of our life?
Having an Eternal Perspective
Paul exhorts us in Colossians 3, having penned that letter from prison, that we are to set our minds on heavenly things, where Christ dwells, and not setting our minds on things below. If we are the sheep, then we are to follow the Good Shepherd. Without the Good Shepherd, we go astray. If you don’t already know, sheep are not exactly mighty predators in the animal world. Without a shepherd, sheep will not survive very long. They need help being led to food and water, along with the necessity of shearing. They are prey and rely upon their shepherd to lead them. It is no coincidence that God uses this language in His Word to describe Himself and His children.
Jesus truly is our Good Shepherd and He guards our path, leading us in the way of everlasting life. Life’s highs and lows are a part of that, and Jesus encourages us that we can be of a cheerful heart because He has overcome the world. If He has overcome, and we’re in Christ Jesus, then we too have the power to overcome all of life and endure until the end—unto everlasting life. This is only possible by keeping an eternal perspective, knowing that we are not of this world and will return one day to our heavenly abode.
This World is Not Our Own
When we consider the things of this life and become absorbed by them, we are prone to following the ways of this world. We aren’t meant to be conformed to the patterns of this world—we’re meant to be renewed in the spirit of our minds according to the kingdom of God. This is why daily reading and meditation on the Word of God are vital for our survival. His words are life and peace. Anything opposite that brings death. When we consider that this world is not our own, we can rest knowing that our present circumstances don’t compare to the glory being prepared for us that are in Christ Jesus.
Sharing in His Suffering
Instead of complaining about what we’re going through, we have an opportunity to share in Christ’s suffering. My wife and I have a 1-year-old daughter named Atara and since having her, I have not been acquainted with an 8-hour sleep schedule. Often time she wakes up sporadically in the night, failing to sleep for hours straight. I found myself complaining because it’s a constant thing that affects my sleep, which inevitably affects my work day. Instead of complaining, however, I could have thanked Jesus for allowing me into sharing his sufferings of sleeplessness at varying times throughout His life.
When Jesus told His disciples in the boat that they were going to the other side, Jesus was found napping amidst the storm. His disciples woke Him up for fear of their lives. I’m sure Jesus was enjoying His sleep to find it rudely disturbed. What about other moments where Jesus may have been tired and disturbed? Now I know my daughter Atara is part of God’s will for my life, and Jesus was doing the will of the Father. With that knowledge, I can now approach times where I’m disturbed from my sleep with patience and grace, giving thanks to God because I get to share in that!
Now I have not been persecuted to the extent that Paul has, but I know that should that come, I have an opportunity to rejoice and give thanks because that’s what Jesus experienced.
How Will You Respond?
Can you think of certain circumstances you’re facing where you can choose to rejoice and give thanks instead of complaining and wishing an end to them? Remember that your current circumstance is not where your story ends. It’s just a chapter, and soon enough the pages will turn unto a new chapter filled with new highs and new lows.
Through it all, remember to rejoice in the Lord always and give thanks. Should we live a life of rejoicing and thanksgiving daily, we’ll be sure to prosper in all of our ways.