Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! When the apostle Paul wrote these words, he wasn’t kicking back on some Mediterranean beach. He was incarcerated, under house arrest because he had appealed to Caesar as a Roman citizen. He was waiting for the time when he would have his moment with the leader of Rome.
Paul didn’t know what was going to happen. He didn’t know what his future would be. To make matters even worse, some of the Christians were against Paul and were criticizing him. So Paul, in a difficult situation, trapped in this prison cell under house arrest, said, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4 NIV). In the original language, this is not a suggestion; it is a command.
Some people may be more prone to worry and anxiety than others, but that doesn’t rationalize it. I think we would all do ourselves a favor if we would stop taking ourselves too seriously and lighten up a little bit. I think we can find humor in a lot of situations, sometimes even very difficult ones.
In the worst circumstances imaginable, Paul was saying, “Hey everyone. News flash: Let’s all lighten up a little bit. Rejoice in the Lord always.” Anyone can rejoice when things are going reasonably well. But when you are facing adversity or hardship or sickness and then you rejoice, you are obeying God.
The book of Proverbs says the cheerful heart has a continual feast (see Proverbs 15:15). Scripture also tells us that in God’s presence there is fullness of joy, and at his right hand are pleasures forevermore (see Psalm 16:11).
And listen to this prayer from Habakkuk the prophet: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Habakkuk 3:17–18).
That is like saying, “Even when the car has been repossessed, and there are unpaid bills piled up on the kitchen counter, and everyone in the family is sick, I am going to still rejoice in the Lord.” Notice Habakkuk didn’t say he would rejoice in his circumstances. He is rejoicing in the Lord.
You see, God is still on the throne. God still loves me. God has promised that he can work all things together for the good of those that love him (see Romans 8:28). He has promised that he never will leave me or forsake me. So I can rejoice. It is not about rejoicing only when everything is going well. It is rejoicing in the Lord regardless of how things are going.
When Paul and Silas were in prison, we read that “about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). When you are in pain, the midnight hour is not the easiest time to rejoice in the Lord. Nor is it easy to rejoice when you are in the hospital waiting room when a loved one is having surgery. There are a thousand other scenarios we could come up with. But we are to rejoice in the Lord.
Contemplating the greatness of God puts our problems in perspective. Here is what it comes down to: Big God, small problems. Big problems, small God.
If I see God in all of his glory, then I will see my problems in their proper perspective. It is not that a problem isn’t serious; it is just that God is greater. And if you see that, it will change the way that you pray. It gives you some solid theology before you even start to pray.
What happens with worry is that our hopes pull us in one direction and our fears pull us in the other. And we find ourselves focusing on the wrong things in life and completely missing the point.
The apostle Paul goes on to say, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7 NKJV).
The promise, if we pray this way, is that God will bring us peace: “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
The word “guard” in this verse is a military term that means “to stand guard.” So Paul was essentially saying that God will stand guard over your heart day and night if you will pray about everything with thanksgiving. I like that. Sergeant Peace has been assigned to watch over your heart. But you need to pray about the things that are causing you anxiety.
Maintaining personal peace involves both the heart and the mind. Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast because they trust in you” (NIV).
I have put this passage to the test. I faced the worst-case scenario when our son died. When I got the news, I felt as though I could have died on the spot. And I will tell you that I cried out to God, because I needed his help to get through the next five minutes, not to mention the next hour, day, week and month. But I called on the Lord. And then I filled my mind and my heart with the Word of God. That is how I got through it. And that is how I get through it.
These are not theories; this is truth. And you will find it true for you. I hope you never face a scenario like I did. I hope you never get a call from the doctor with bad news. I hope that you never have to face some of the horrible things that life throws our way. But if you do, I want you to know that God will be with you as you trust in him.