Fighting for Joy - Part One

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In Philippians 4:4, the Apostle Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” The verb “rejoice” in that sentence is in the imperative mood. That means this is a command. We are commanded to experience joy.

How can you command someone to feel a certain way? That does not seem fair. How can we control our feelings? Paul’s words seem especially unfair when you consider the adverb he uses to qualify his command. He does not write, “Rejoice in the Lord when you feel like it” or “Rejoice when everything is going your way.” He qualifies his command with the word “always”. Rejoice always – no matter what it is going on. 

To the original readers of this verse, Paul’s words must have seemed particularly tough. We learn earlier in the epistle that the Philippians lived in a culture that was hostile to their beliefs (“a wicked and corrupt generation” – 2:15). Paul, their founding pastor, was in prison (“in chains for Christ” – 1:13). Their dear friend Epaphras had almost died from illness while on a mission trip (2:26). They themselves lived under constant threat of persecution (1:30), and two key leaders in their congregation were embroiled in a painful conflict (4:2). How is anyone supposed to feel joy in circumstances like that?

Happily, the Apostle did not merely issue a command. He also gave his readers instructions that would help them to obey that command. He gave us three practical suggestions of things we can do that will help us fight to attain joy, even in difficult times.

In this blog, we will look at the first suggestion.

How do you fight for joy? Pray!

In verse 6, Paul writes, Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” We are invited to pray.

Notice, the Apostle also tells us how to pray. We are to pray continually (“in every situation”), to pray specifically (“your requests”, not vague generalities), and to pray gratefully (“with thanksgiving”).

As we engage in this kind of prayer, God makes us a beautiful promise: And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. We are assured that God will protect our thoughts and emotions with his inexplicable peace.

Have you ever experienced this? Many people have. You are surrounded by problems. You are filled with fear. You dread the coming week because of difficult situations you know you will have to face. And instead of binging on Netflix or self-medicating with ice cream, you decide to spend some time in prayer.

As you do this, what happens? Gradually, gently, you begin to sense a feeling of peace.

There is no explanation for this peace. In many ways, it doesn’t make sense. Your situation is still unchanged. Your problems are still there. But, for some reason, a peace that “transcends all understanding” stands guard over your heart and mind. You are reminded that the Father loves you. You are reminded that your Savior rules this world. You experience the closeness of the Holy Spirit. You start to feel joy.

If you are struggling to find joy today, I encourage you to take some time to pray. Put your phone down. Close your laptop. Go for a walk if that helps. And pour out your heart to God in prayer. 

This is one of the ways Christians fight for joy.