These are ancient words, their years reaching and far exceeding me by some couple thousand years. Words written to encourage, to strengthen, to restore. And yet these very same words, written with the intent to soothe, have the ability to catch me in the twenty-first century and produce enough friction to rub me raw.
These words that the Apostle Paul penned so many centuries ago make me coil up and writhe. Rejoice? Always?
There are certainly times when rejoicing comes easily. There are times when rejoicing comes like breathing, so second nature and reflexive. Rejoicing will be audibly and visibly perceived by all when your life bursts with one small miracle after another, when the pieces of life seem to fall into place like a winning game of Tetris. Rejoicing with success. Rejoicing with good health. Rejoicing with steady relationship. Rejoicing when the good hand of God is involved in such direct ways that you would be awry to miss it.
But I am convinced that Paul did not put pen to paper all those years ago to remind us to rejoice just when all is well.
Because there are times when life hits the fan, and you find yourself walking amidst the rubble of a broken world. The shards of shattered plans cut your palms; the weight of expectations that have gone long unmet lay heavy on your chest. You wear the scars of loss and pain like articles of clothing, the last defenses of a naked soul. In a stark and sudden realization, you grasp the fact that the story your life is writing is not the one you originally intended to read. Breathe.
Even in all this, we are told to rejoice always. The soul rebels. Rejoicing feels like the least appropriate thing to do while we stand among the ruins of a life unscripted. Bound by circumstance, we refuse to rejoice.
Difficult seasons lead us to places where our faith is tested, where our friendship with Jesus is matured. We get to the place where our relationship with God is sometimes raw and real and angsty. In our failed attempts to rejoice, prayers turn into sobs and we scream our needs, wondering if maybe we’re louder He will hear us better. In all of this, I am encouraged by the book of Psalms, which is full of heartfelt cries and pleading mercies, of desperate calls to God. The lamenting speaks volumes of a relationship sturdy enough to enter confrontational waters, a relationship with some root, some comfort to its depths. A relationship that has established that neither party is going to leave. A well worn covenant placed long ago and established for this very moment of testing; it cultivates the ground for the real work of turning up a soul, the hard grit of tearing up a field so better things can grow.
So in our neediness, we cry out to God, and then we listen:
“Rejoice always, pray continuously, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I’ve read how the Bible is God’s living word, alive and sharper than any double-edged sword; it must be true because these are words with the capacity to pierce a soul. These words tell us that God is good; that He desires for us to rejoice rather than to sink into a downward spiral of despair. They tell us how God is relational; that His heart longs for us to come to Him in honest prayer. They tell us how God is ever with and for us; and because of this, we may safely and confidently give thanks in the midst of all circumstances. The mystery of God’s will has been revealed in part, written plainly for all to see: rejoice. Pray continuously. Give thanks in all circumstances. God desires for us to rejoice always, to pray, to give thanks. This is His will for our new lives in Christ. And when we refuse to do so, entangled by the snares of circumstance, we must acknowledge that we are going against God’s will for us. This is a hard pill to swallow.
Friends, God wants for us to rejoice. He desires our prayers and our thanksgiving. He has given the world to have us back with Him, why would He now leave us stranded? Rejoice, rejoice… A discipline not attainable by the flesh; we will need His Spirit in us to carry out such a high task. A Spirit unbound and eternal, a Love unhindered by circumstance or situation. We have His Spirit and His word. And most importantly, we have His son.
“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The LORD has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.”
Jesus has come. Let us rejoice.
referenced scripture: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Hebrews 4:12, Psalm 188:22-24