Has that Scriptural command ever seemed like so much pie in the sky to you, too?
Even if all is well in our own private world with health, finances, and relationships, there is the world at large to depress us with terrorist attacks, human trafficking and the like. Or hurricanes like the one my family and other Texas and Louisiana friends are preparing for today.
With our eyes on our circumstances, our proverbial cup of joy seems to acquire a troubling leak, making even a small smile feel like a major accomplishment.
If you’re in the path of the hurricane and have been to the grocery store, I bet you know exactly what I mean.
Days like that make me appreciate Habakkuk 3:17-19.
It paints about as bleak a picture as one could want. Charles Dickens couldn’t have done a better job! This passage, more than just about any other, has taught me how to hurricane-proof my joy and has shown me (along with some words from Jesus) the following 4 Principles of Rejoicing.
To prepare to read this passage, instead of picturing your life as it is, imagine you are a farmer (if you’re not one), living in an agrarian society. Food comes from crops and livestock. Erase the Wal Mart from your mental landscape. This morning, you had to milk the family goat to have cream for your coffee or milk for your oatmeal. Now read this –
“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. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to go on the heights.”
Have you ever known anyone who adamantly refused to admit that anything bad was happening, as if the very utterance would somehow seal their fate and make the reality more…real?
Habakkuk doesn’t take this approach. No denial here, no sugar-coating. He looks disaster squarely in the face, and then follows it up with one little word: “yet”.
Yet. In spite of everything that is going wrong, in spite of economic devastation, potential financial ruin, and possible starvation…yet I will rejoice.
What reason does he POSSIBLY have for rejoicing?
Funny you should ask. It’s the same one you and I have, even in the face of devastation, or flooding, or sickness.
Habakkuk said he will rejoice in the Lord, and be joyful in God his Savior.
Principle of Rejoicing Number One: We can rejoice in the face of the worst circumstances!
The late Dr. Bill Bright (and you can read a touching tribute to this great man of joy and trust here at Revive Our Hearts) shares:
Men have pursued joy in every avenue imaginable. Some have successfully found it while others have not. Perhaps it would be easier to describe where joy cannot be found:
Not in unbelief — Voltaire was an infidel of the most pronounced type.
He wrote: “I wish I had never been born.”
Not in pleasure — Lord Byron lived a life of pleasure if anyone did.
He wrote: “The worm, the canker, and grief are mine alone.”
Not in money — Jay Gould was one of the wealthiest men of his time.
When dying, he said: “I suppose I am the most miserable man on earth.”
Not in position and fame — Lord Beaconsfield enjoyed more than his share of both.
He wrote: “Youth is a mistake; manhood a struggle; old age a regret.”
Not in military glory — Alexander the Great conquered the known world in his day. Having done so, he wept in his tent before he said, “There are no more worlds to conquer.”
Where then is real joy found?
The answer is simple. Joy is found in Jesus Christ of Nazareth alone.
Principle of Rejoicing Number Two: Even when there is nothing else to be happy about, we can rejoice IN THE LORD.
I love that Merriam-Webster has as part of the definition of “rejoice”, to “give joy to” or “gladden”.
No one can do it for us – we have to make the choice to rejoice.
Sometimes we choose instead to give ourselves the “gift” of a lengthy recitation of what all is wrong with the world, ourselves, and everyone around us. And we wonder why we’re depressed!
Even if everything around us is falling apart, we can choose to gladden ourselves in the Lord, because He Is. No matter what things look like, He reigns, and Heaven is waiting.
The Apostle Paul talked to the early church about rejoicing. He instructs in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”, and in 1 Thessalonians 5:16, “Rejoice always.”
Does Paul just like to repeat himself?
I think not. Remember, Paul wrote one of those verses from the wrong side of a prison door.
Principle of Rejoicing Number Three: It’s always the right time to rejoice in the Lord.
Even when…yes, even then. Even from prison.
Apparently, God doesn’t think sour grapes Christians are very attractive to the world.
The great news is, He doesn’t leave us to try to muster up a happy heart all on our own. Sure, we have a lot to do with how we feel. Choices matter and we are choice makers in life, not victims.
But the overflowing, abundant life that comes from being full of His Spirit includes – you guessed it – joy! It’s right there in Galatians 6:22!
Jesus took Principle Number Three and supersized it with Kingdom perspective. He tells us to “rejoice, and be exceedingly glad” when we are persecuted and treated unjustly for His sake because our reward in Heaven is great.
Principle of Rejoicing Number Four: Keeping a Kingdom Perspective Empowers us to Rejoice
When we live and think like this world is all there is, joy can seem as easy to hold on to as an ice cube under a blazing Texas sun in August.
But when we remember the fleeting, temporary nature of our lives here and lift our focus to what awaits us, suddenly things regain their correct proportions in our perspective. Keeping eternity in mind got Jesus through the crucifixion: “for the joy set before Him, He endured the Cross…” (Hebrews 12:2, NIV).
John Piper at DesiringGod.org speaks eloquently about his own quest for joy in his excellent article, Quest: Joy! Found: Christ! I encourage you to read it.
May your cup of joy overflow today, my friend. May your heart rest in trusting your Father’s care for you, and may your perspective be filled with the wonder and glory of eternity. If you are in the path of Hurricane Harvey, my family and I are praying for you!
With faith, hope, and love,