By Dn Yvonne Chong
Good Friday was last week. Three days after His crucifixion, death, and burial, He arose from the grave. In doing so, He conquered death and redeemed us from sin — if we believe in Him. What’s next? What changes?
I met someone on my way to West Coast Plaza after Easter service and she asked me: “How are you? Haven’t seen you for a year!” My natural tendency would be to say: “I am fine thanks, how are you?” But after a year of pandemic life, not everyone is totally fine. Even those who are not struggling financially, who are in good physical health, who have a network of supportive friends and loved ones — can they all say they are doing fine? Thinking about this, Philippians 4:4 particularly struck me: ‘Rejoice in the Lord.’
Philippians 4:4 is one of the simplest verses in the Bible to understand, but it is one of the hardest to practice. To “rejoice in the Lord always” does not mean we should never feel sad or depressed. Jesus felt sadness at the grave of Lazarus; in John 11:35 it says, “Jesus wept.” Jesus was not feeling joyful when he went to the Cross. In Romans 12:15, we are commanded to weep with those that weep. So we know it is not wrong to weep or feel sorrow.
We are not commanded to “feel” joyful but to rejoice. You can’t command a feeling, only an action. Some people by nature have a cheerful disposition, but Paul is not talking about a feeling here. He is talking about making a choice to rejoice even when you don’t feel like it.
During this period of uncertainty, with bad news coming to us more often than good news, we often have to make a choice to do something we don’t feel like doing. We get up and go to work. We pay our bills. We go to the gym or go for a walk. The same is true with rejoicing in the Lord. We cannot allow our feelings to dictate whether or not we will rejoice in the Lord.
To rejoice in the Lord is to have an attitude of gratitude. The choice to rejoice doesn’t mean you go around with a plastic smile on and that you are singing all the time. It means you choose to be content and grateful with your circumstances. You believe God is sovereign; you believe your life is in His hand and that not one of your hairs falls to the ground without His knowledge.
The rest of Philippians 4 goes on with a theme of prayer instead of worry. Verse 6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.” It connects these two ideas for us: the joy that can surpass anxiety is a result of a thankful heart, given in prayer. The word “thanksgiving” that Paul uses is translated from the Greek word “eucharistia”. We get the word ‘Eucharist’ from there— another word for the Lord’s Supper. And the Lord’s Supper is a time for us to give thanks to Jesus for His death on the Cross and His shed blood. All of our thanksgiving must begin there - at Calvary. Because we have been saved, we have an endless amount to be thankful for.
How should we give thanks to God? We need to first give thanks to God for who He is. God is all powerful, all knowing, ever loving, all gracious, all sovereign, and an all Holy God. But also we need to give thanks to God for what He has done. Ephesians 5:20 puts it as: “Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It tells us the same thing as Philippians 4:4: we are to give thanks always for all things.
It is impossible for the seed of discouragement or the seed of pride to take root in a thankful heart. It is our greatest weapon against Satan’s fiery arrows of discouragement and pride. Thank God for the simple things, like the rain. But also thank God for the sorrowful things. Thank Him for how He has supplied your needs. Take time to remember that everything you have is a gift. We don’t deserve anything and are not entitled to anything.
Start your day with thanksgiving for all that you have; learn to rejoice in the Lord always.