Let’s be honest: some things are easier said than done. In our heads we know we’re supposed to rejoice in the Lord, but sometimes it’s really hard to get our hearts to come along.
Paul wrote Philippians from prison and the key word in that entire letter is “rejoice.” I don’t know about you, but when I’m in dire circumstances, rejoicing is the furthest thing from my mind. Why? Because I have a tendency to judge my God by my circumstances instead of judging my circumstances by my God. When we’re in the middle of a crisis it’s easy for us to get tunnel vision where all we can see is the trouble. To us it’s like the God we were walking with so confidently suddenly vanished.
The apostle Peter had an experience like this. He and the other disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee on Jesus’ orders. The Lord Himself had stayed ashore, promising to meet up with them later (Matthew 14:22). As often happens on the Sea of Galilee, a storm whipped up without warning.
(25) And in the fourth watch of the night [between 3 and 6 a.m.] Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.
(26) And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.
Jesus assured them it was Him and not a spirit and Peter, being Peter, “answered him and said, ‘Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water’” (Matthew 14:28). So, Peter came out of the boat and actually walked on water – until he saw the waves and began to sink. To his credit, he cried, “Lord, save me” (v. 30)! The Lord, did save Peter, but afterward said to him: “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt” (v.31)?
We’re all quick to give Peter a hard time about losing faith, but we’re no different – and God isn’t even asking us to walk on water. He’s only asking us to rejoice in Him always. Yet, so often, we lose faith just like Peter did.
I think it has to do with how we’re practicing “rejoice in the Lord.” We think rejoicing in the Lord means rejoicing in the blessings He sends our way. If that’s how we’re living that verse, then it’s no wonder the command to rejoice in the Lord always is so difficult. Blessings come and go just like circumstances. God would never command us to rejoice in something so transient as our circumstances. Paul understood this. It’s why he phrased Philippians 4:4 the way he did: “rejoice in the Lord.” Just like He was on the Sea of Galilee, the Lord is there with us even when the waves come crashing all around us. Rejoicing in the Lord means rejoicing in Who God is, in His faithful presence, His character, His goodness, Him.
Paul was in prison, but He still had God. Paul had been physically beaten, but he still had God. Paul had been stoned and left for dead, but he still had God. Paul was in chains for his faith, but he still had God. In the end, Paul had to die for his faith. Yet, through it all, he still had God. No wonder he could rejoice! Always! He knew that no matter what, he still had God.
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