Rejoice in the Lord always. And again I will say, rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)
I believe in rejoicing.
I believe in rejoicing when things are going great and when they are falling apart.
I believe in rejoicing when you feel like shouting “God is good!” and when you wonder whether He knows you are still in this mess and still needing His help.
I believe in rejoicing in worship services and in private.
My favorite–and most often preached lately–sermon I call “Rejoice Regardless,” based on three texts which loom larger and larger in my mind as the days and years go by.
The basic “regardless” text: Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines. Though the yield of the olive should fail and the field produce no food. Though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet, I will exult in the Lord. I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)
The Lord Jesus emphasized the same point: Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven. (Luke 10:20) You won’t always have great results and big numbers to report and rejoice over, but if we are rejoicing in our salvation, we will never be without joy.
The third text shows how it’s done. But at midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. (Acts 16:25) In the Philippian jail, locked into stocks and with their bloody backs beaten and left untreated, these two disciples of Jesus broke into prayer and praise. As a result, wonderful things happened.
It occurs to me, that the missing note in almost every sermon I’ve ever preached or heard on rejoicing is the practical aspect. There are good reasons for the Lord wanting His people to rejoice at all times.
Here are three of the most important.
There are three indispensable traits the living God wants in His children. Without these, the work grinds to a halt. With them, it literally soars.
Joy in your heart.
This is the personal aspect. The heart is the Lord’s dwelling place. He demands that it be made comfortable for Him!
Since Heaven is a place of pure and deep and lasting joy —In thy presence there is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)–God seems to want His earthly dwelling place to be a foretaste of glory.
No one can read the teachings of the Lord Jesus and come away unconvinced about this. “Joy” figured large in His instruction. Take only the Upper Room Discourse:
John 15:11 These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.
John 16:20,22 You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy…. Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.
John 16:24 Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
John 16:33 In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.
John 17:13 But now I come to You, and these thins I speak in the world,that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.
Well! That’s just one place in Scripture. You get the idea that the Lord is not pleased by our moping, by our negativism, by our (ahem) real world attitude that “things are bad and getting worse.” What that stuff is, is faithlessness. And nothing about faithlessness pleases Him.
The Lord fully expects His children to have joy in their hearts at all times, regardless of circumstances. The key is found in Philippians 4:4. “Rejoice in the Lord.” If our joy is in Him, we will never lose it.
Sweetness in your fellowship.
This is the congregational aspect. If the church is the Body of Christ–and it is (see Ephesians 1:22-23)–and if joy is the atmosphere of Heaven–that’s Psalm 16:11–then it makes sense for the Lord to insist that joy be the very air which His children breathe in their fellowship.
Take a group of people with the joy of the Lord filling their hearts and souls, their cups running over (Psalm 23:5), their souls glad because God is alive and Jesus is on the throne and the Holy Spirit is active in this place–and they are going to be happy and they will automatically love each other. They will not have to be told to laugh and look up and be optimistic. They will not have to be rebuked for their infighting. Their leaders will not have to resort to silly gimmicks to get them to laugh or smile.
If anything, they might have to be restrained, their exuberance is so overwhelming.
That’s how the disciples were the day the risen Christ appeared in their midst. He showed them His hands and His feet. But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Do you have anything to eat?” (Luke 24:40-41)
I cannot read that without smiling. The Lord was bringing His disciples, who were literally overdosing on joy, back down to earth.
Oh, that He would have to do that with us today.
God give us sweet fellowship within our congregations! People who are grateful that God would deign to save such as ourselves, people who feel honored to be part of such a wonderful family, people who look for ways to serve and bless one another.
Do that–get this kind of Heavenly-joy in your congregation–and you will have seen the last of the infighting which so characterizes the Christian church in our day.
Passion in your work.
This is the functional aspect. It’s visible also. People can tell when you really care about what you are doing for the Lord.
Joy in your heart, sweetness in your church, and passion in your work–that’s the plan. These are three practical reasons for the Lord literally commanding that His people rejoice in Him. Nothing about this is optional. This is not a matter of “do it if you can.”
Without passion in our preaching and pastoral leadership, our teaching and worship, in our daily service, in our witnessing and our ministries of helping others, few people are attracted to the Lord we serve. When we go about our spiritual service with our minds elsewhere and our heart “just not in it,” we render shoddy service which insults the Father in Heaven.
You would think this would be a no-brainer, but it isn’t.
Take the exchange between the Lord and His people found in Malachi chapter 1. It goes something like this:
God: You people are offering defiled food on my altar.
People: Oh? When? Give us an example.
God: You say the table of the Lord is contemptible. You offer blind animals for sacrifices. You present the lame and the sick. Hey, try giving them to your governor and see if he will take them!
People: Well, it’s all such a weariness. We’re so bored by it!
God: I am greatly offended by such an attitude! For I am a great King, the Lord of hosts. And my name is to be honored among the nations!
When we go about the Lord’s work as though it’s beneath us, as though we have better things to do, begrudging Him our time and effort, we dishonor Him and insult His name.
For good reason, we read: Serve the Lord with gladness! Come before His presence with singing! Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. (Psalm 100)
Our Lord Jesus said the greatest commandment was this one: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:5) Whatever else that means, it surely is calling for God’s people to put their whole selves into worshiping and serving Him.
I like to remind the Lord’s people that from here on in to Heaven, the news is all good. Our sins are gone, our past has been dealt with, our lives are redeemed, and our future is secure. There is no condemnation, no alienation, no disintegration, no isolation, no miscalculation, no accusation, and no separation. We have been assured of an inheritance that is imperishable and undefiled, that fades not away, and is reserved in heaven for us.
If we really believed that, we would go around giggling. People would think we had lost our minds, we would be so giddy with Heaven’s joy and Christ’s peace. They would say, “What’s the matter with you?” and we would answer, “I’m saved. I’m going to Heaven. I can’t wait.”
The joy of the Lord would permeate our souls and flow out the pores of our skin.
The fellowship of the Lord at church would be like Heaven itself.
The work we do for Him would be the best, the highest quality, of the finest essence.
If we really believed.
“O Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”