“Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord” (Philippians 3:1).
How do we do that? We know it is not the same as always focusing on the positive side of things. Anyone can attempt that, no matter their religious views. Neither is it just an attempt to be happy in spite of life’s turns and twists, its ups and downs. A support group can help with that.
Roger Ellsworth in Opening Up Philippians (Day One, 2004) reminds us that this letter from Paul to Greek Christians is not a manual on how to be joyful. It is an exhortation to work together to spread the gospel. Paul’s own joy in doing that, in spite of hardship and opposition, bubbles up frequently. If he is not thinking positively, where does this joy come from? No matter how much they “put on a happy face,” it will not earn them points with God. That’s what “justification by faith” means; Jesus’ perfect life is enough for us to be declared righteous.
Then how do we rejoice in the Lord? It is letting your feelings be driven by how you are thinking about God. We start with the mind; remember the Bible’s teaching about God. One way of doing this is to read the Psalms. Look for Christ Jesus in them. Take Psalm 22, for example. Or Psalm 90, written by Moses. “By your wrath we are dismayed.” The Psalms are helpful because they bring forth truths about God and then show us an emotional response. Moses says, “Return, O Lord!…Have pity on your servants!”
Another way to rejoice in the Lord is to read a solid Confession of Faith with its biblical passages. The Westminster Confession or the Baptist Confession of 1689 are my two favorites. They devote whole sections to God and Christ Jesus. They attempt to summarize the Bible’s teachings about God, then give you the biblical passages that teach about His sovereignty, trinity, love, justice etc. The point is that as you are thinking about these characteristics of God, your heart will be moved and before you know it, you are rejoicing.
As you remember these basics, don’t forget to sing in your heart (even if you don’t feel like it). Start with some songs you just like, then look up some of the old hymns about God. “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” comes to mind. “Jesus Loves Me,” and “Up From the Grave He Arose.” Keep a favorite hymnbook handy just for this purpose: to rejoice in the Lord.
And, of course, don’t forget the great value of talking about this with someone. Cultivate friendships with those who will speak of God’s faithfulness, His love, His answering of their prayers. Just hearing these things can help us to rejoice in the Lord over and over again.
See how these put how you are thinking about God first? Then, your joy in knowing who God is and experiencing His love wells up within. “And, again I say rejoice!”