This summer hasn’t been quite what I had hoped. There are plans that didn’t come through, books that haven’t been read, and things that haven’t been done. The average week this summer has found me serving customers copious amounts of junk food and taking people’s money for 40 or so hours. Six of those weeks were spent simultaneously taking an upper division math class… online. There are people I haven’t spent nearly enough time with and projects that got delayed. In the midst of all this, it has been easy for me to lose my joy at times. There have been many days at work where I’ve had to put a smile on to cover up a bitter attitude. While I was taking that class, I occasionally wondered if I would ever stop procrastinating (I didn’t) or even pass the class (I did). Now here I am with the end of summer looming very close on the horizon and I’m just not quite where I want to be.
Of course, there are countless people who have FAR harder stuff going on in their lives. All things considered, I have to say I’ve got it really good right now. I’m surrounded by people I love and who love me. I’ve spent lots of time with those people and gone on a few fantastic trips over the past few months. I never have to wonder where my next meal is coming from. Every morning I’m given the gift of another day, another breath, another heartbeat… mercy and grace, flowing into my life from the one true God who loves me and made me His own when I hated Him, by purchasing the pardon for my sin on the cross and guaranteeing my eternal, resurrected life by rising from the dead. Wow!
As I said, though, in the midst of all that’s been going on this summer, I have often let go of my joy. But I have learned over these past few months that joy is not determined by our circumstances or by influences beyond our control. Joy is a choice. Why else would the book of Philippians be full of commands to rejoice? (Phil. 2:18, 29; 3:1; 4:4). And why else would Paul, who wrote the letter from prison because he was arrested for preaching the gospel, be so full of joy? (Phil. 1:4, 18; 4:10).
Where did Paul find this unshakable joy? He took joy in remembering and praying for the church (1:3-4). He knew that the Lord would finish the work He started in them, and in himself as well (1:5). He rejoiced that the gospel continued to go forth despite his imprisonment (1:18). He understood that to live is Christ and to die is gain… and at the same time, to live is gain and to die is Christ (1:21-26). He rejoiced at the unity he desired to see in the church as it modeled itself after the love and humility of Christ (2:1-11). He saw Christ for the ultimate treasure that He is, counting all else as utter garbage by comparison (3:4-8). He clung to the righteousness he had in Christ by faith (3:9) and the hope of his future resurrection with Christ (3:10-11). He remembered that this world was not his home, but rather that His citizenship was in Heaven, where he would one day be made like Christ by the power of Christ (3:20-21). He took joy in the love and care he received from the church (4:10, 14-18).
Do you think Paul had reason to rejoice? All of this stacks up to give Paul the ability to say, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11-13). Verse 13 is often taken out of this context and misused to say that we can do anything we set our minds to. But Paul is not saying here that he can just do anything he wants to do- he is saying that he can go through anything that comes his way, and endure it with joy. So even in prison, Paul had so many reasons to rejoice!
And so do we… so do I. My circumstances are about a million miles away from the hardship Paul was going through, but there are always things going on in my life that I would rather change if I had the choice. I think just about anyone else would say the same. But we often don’t have a choice, and we must trust that the Lord is in all of it for His glory and our good. No matter what’s going on, we can choose joy- we must choose joy. If we don’t then we reveal a discontented heart that thinks it knows what’s best for us, when in fact our Father in Heaven has His hand in everything and all the while constantly showers us with blessings we often don’t even notice.
If you need help fueling your joy, just camp on one of these verses for a minute:
“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 6:19-20)
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.'” (Lamentations 3:21-24)
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-30)
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:1-3)
There’s always plenty of reason for joy. Let’s make the choice, every day, to embrace the joy that the Lord holds right in front of us.