Beware the Joy Snatchers!

Don’t you think Paul was overly optimistic when he told the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always”? He didn’t mean “always,” did he? What if something terrible happens? What if there is a tragedy? But Paul was an expert in tragedy. Consider his life as he described it to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:16). Now, even though Paul was chained to a Roman guard and people were trying to cause him pain (Philippians 1:18), Paul rejoices!

How is that possible? James, the brother of Jesus, says our trials result in the prince of virtues: perseverance (James 1:2). Paul told the Romans the very same thing (Romans 5:3). In fact, the Hebrew writer mentions perseverance three times in three side-by-side verses (Hebrews 12:1-3) and Paul reminds us joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).

So why aren’t we more joyful? What robs us of God’s blessing? What do we need to be on guard against? First, watch out for anxiety and its cousin fear. Solomon reminds us, “An anxious heart weighs a man down” (Proverbs 12:25). Paul wrote:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:4 – 7).

In this text, Paul gives us three clues. First, he says, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” The word “reasonableness” (epieikes, ἐπιεικής) means “not insisting on every right of the letter of the law or custom, yielding, gentle, kind, courteous, tolerant.” In other words, if you constantly worry about every little thing and haven’t learned to be yielding and tolerant, you won’t be happy. Relax!

The second clue is to remember “the Lord is at hand.” The time of perfection is coming, so you don’t have to fret about all the faults in the world today. I often walk over to the walls of the church building and slap them, asking, “What is this made of?” Bricks and concrete. If the church were a display case of perfect people, the walls would be made of glass! Hospitals and churches are places of healing. We’re not perfect – just forgiven! God will fix everything when Jesus returns.

Finally, Paul says, “If you want to be happy, give your troubles to God in prayer.” Then comes the blessing: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

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