“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4)
Depending where you are in life, you may hear this and say, “You have to be kidding! Do you know what has happened to me in the last week? How can you tell me to rejoice always?”
We tend to confuse joy with happiness and happiness with joy. Because of that, it is hard to figure out how we are to rejoice when we aren’t happy. Part of this is a lack of awareness of what rejoicing involves and where it comes from.
Happiness is situational. Things go well and we are happy. Someone goes out of their way to do something nice for us and we are especially happy. But when things go poorly, we may replace happiness with sadness, anger, frustration, or any one of a variety of difficult emotions. One thing is clear: it is hard to be happy and sad at the same time. The two are mutually exclusive.
But joy is deeper than happiness. Joy comes from a place of wellbeing. In that sense it has more to do with the connection between hope and shalom (wholeness). Joy is the sense of wellbeing that comes from believing that God can and does work in all things and that difficult things may make us sad or mad, but they do not stop God from working in them and from the reign of God from coming in to our lives.
I saw this last week when, at a funeral, the son of a woman who had died shared memories about her. It was both a sad and a joyous occasion. The woman had been a faithful part of Christ’s church and knew that she belonged to Jesus. She had lived a long time and maintained a positive spirit through a variety of physical struggles during the last years of her life. As her death approached, she looked forward to it with the release from her struggles. It would be a right and fitting end to her journey and a chance for her to join with God in eternity. And so her son shared, with both sadness and joy, the completion of a life. The grief of saying goodbye combined with the faithful confidence that God was still at work and doing a good and wonderful thing.
When Paul urges us to rejoice always, he is hoping that our faith will always inform our circumstances. When that happens, while all things may not be good or bring us happiness, even in the midst of pain and struggle, the promises of God in Jesus continue to be at work as well. So, let your faith dwell deeply within you and rejoice (always!).