In Philippians 4:4-9, Paul gives 6 principles for dealing with stress. They are presented as imperative verbs, which means they are commands, not suggestions, not good ideas, not helpful hints. They are more akin to military marching orders! The first one is “Rejoice” (v.4). Next is “Let be known” (v.5), then “Be [not] anxious” (v.6), followed by “be made known [requests] (v.6), “let your mind dwell” (v.8), and finally, “practice” (v.9).
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)
Some well meaning and good intentioned people have taught us that if you are “right with the Lord”, praying, reading your Bibles, keeping up with your devotions, etc… you will experience a level of rejoicing which no one else knows. And if you are not experiencing this level of rejoicing, pray more, read more, until you are “right with the Lord” and then, suddenly you are rejoicing again! Christianity is presented as one mountain top experience after the next (if you can stay “right with the Lord”).
Well that may work…sometimes…for a little while. Then, our mom or dad dies. We lose a child. Our spouse decides they’re done. We’re diagnosed with a detrimental disease. We lose our job. At this moment, the last emotion that can be used to describe us is joy. We are hurt, angry, confused… and most of the time it’s directed at the One who is in control of it all.
I think RIGHT THERE, we are at a very important point in our Christianity: We know the hurt, we’re feeling the confusion, We’re feeling the anger, but we also know that the Spirit of God is prompting us to be rejoicing always. So, we arrive at this very important crossroad in our Christianity and to handle it wrongly will lead us down the wrong path. We say to our self: “I feel lousy, I’m angry, I’m confused, I’m hurt, I feel let down, but I’m supposed to rejoice.” So, in order to obey the Scriptures and to get to the place of rejoicing, we begin to deny how we really feel. We say it isn’t so. “I really don’t feel that way. It’s really not that bad. It really doesn’t matter. It’ll work out somehow. I feel happy.” We begin to pretend. We begin to tell our self we feel that way when we really don’t feel that way.
To make that move is to begin to walk down a path to a superficial Christianity; a weak and impoverished relationship with Jesus Christ.
We need to know that Jesus Christ is BIG ENOUGH and STRONG ENOUGH and POWERFUL ENOUGH and INVOLVED ENOUGH in our life, NOT to make us deny our feelings and pretend we’re happy, but to make us TAKE HOLD of our circumstance and EMBRACE IT and MOVE THROUGH it in His power until we come out the other side with a REAL JOY; a true Christian joy that produces strength of character and might in the inner man that will allow us to live an effective, dynamic Christian life!
How? How do we get to the point of being able to live out this command, and rejoice always? To see this principle in action, we will examine the life of an Old Testament Prophet: Habakkuk.