“Rejoice Always.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16) Hmm…Sounds nice. But really–how do we do that? How do we rejoice when the kids are sick, the house is a mess, or we’re fighting with our spouse…? (And that’s nothing compared to real tragedy…How do we choose joy in the face of death, abuse, destruction, and divorce?) Sometimes I don’t feel like rejoicing. I want to be mad, sad, and feel downright sorry for myself.
Joy is a Choice
A few weeks ago things were messy at my house–my daughter came home from a trip to New York so so sick. It seemed like things just kept adding up…My joy was getting squashed big time (sick kids, hurtful words, lots of work).
In the middle of it–I felt God nudging me to remember that joy (like love) is actually a choice. Strangely, I really didn’t want to choose it…I wanted to stay upset.
(Me: “Jesus, please just let me stew on this…I have a right to stew on this…“)
Self-Pity or Truth
Do you ever find yourself in that spot? Interestingly at the height of my pity party, my daily devotional directed me to some of my favorite bible verses…Psalm 73: 23-28
“Yet, I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward to you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Those who are far from you will perish; and you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.”
What I really love about these verses is that they are actually the answer to the Psalmist’s own pity party–which is happening in the most of the prior verses of Psalm 73. This is how he sums up his feelings in verses 21 & 22:
“When my heart was grieved and my spirit was embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.”
The pity party ends when he turns back to the truth–when he turns back to God and realizes that to be near God is everything. To be near God is joy.
(Also what a relief to know that the Bible includes stories of godly people who really struggled with things like self-pity…It’s NOT a book filled with perfect people doing all the right things. Instead, it is the story of messy people and the Perfect God who loves them in spite of all their faults!)
Listen to the Nudge
Sometimes, just like the psalmist–our hearts are grieved and we feel bitter. And often we have every reason and right to feel that way…
But then I get “the nudge.” And I know it’s The Holy Spirit reminding me to choose JOY…(Which might also include choosing forgiveness and love, over being right and justified.) I know it’s Him, because it’s going against everything in my human nature…
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” John 14:26 (ESV)
Life. Our Attitudes. Our relationships…they are built on the choices we make every day.
Dying to Self
So just because I may be justified in my feelings…doesn’t mean I get to wallow. Obedience to God isn’t dependent upon my feelings.
This is where the dying to self stuff gets real…
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.’ ” (Matthew 16:24-25 NIV)
**See also Mark 8:34-35, Romans 6:4-8, and Galatians 2:20
Cast Your Cares On Him
Please know–our feelings are real. God isn’t telling us not to feel them…But not to be ruled by them.
And instead of keeping our feelings of disappointment, discouragement, worry, anger, and hurt to ourselves…He calls us to bring them to Him. And trust Him to work the situation out for good–to depend on Him. Our dependence on Him is a choice.
It is the choice that leads to joyful living regardless of our feelings or external situations.
“casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7 NKJV)
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NIV)
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4 NIV)
Thanksgiving is a key to choosing joy (especially when Satan tells us we have every reason not to be thankful)…When we start focusing on all that God is, all He has done, all He has given, and all He is doing…We can’t help but be thankful. And when we are thankful–we rejoice.
And so this is how we “Rejoice always.” The very next verses give us the key…”pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Let’s not let anyone or anything steal our joy, Sweet Friends! Praying we hold dearly to the hope and joy we find in Christ alone…
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23)
P.S. More posts about prayer:
How to Pray: A Simple Prayer Structure