Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Rejoice in the Days God Gives Us

The Bible tells us well over a hundred times to "rejoice," even in our sufferings; yet many of us have difficulty summoning up much enthusiasm for life. Perhaps we have medical excuses such as clinical depression; perhaps our temperaments seem naturally inclined to melancholy and pessimism; or perhaps we've just developed childish habits of equating joy with pleasure and of refusing to rejoice unless things go our way. (I plead guilty to all three!)

"Refuse" is the right word. The Bible frequently uses "rejoice" as an active verb, a command, and God would not command us to do anything He gave us no power to do. To say that we have to be miserable because "that's just the way I naturally think" or "these circumstances would make anyone unhappy" is akin to saying God is either too cruel or too weak to help.

However--before anyone starts feeling like a failure as a Christian because he or she is not a consistently bubbly optimist--we need to remember that part of the problem is our misunderstanding of joy's nature. Some believers consider it a lack of faith to cry when someone goes to heaven, or when a crippling injury destroys one's plans for the future. There is actually nothing un-Christian about feeling pain or sorrow--indeed, it may be impossible to experience true Christian joy without first having suffered deeply, for only so can we feel God's compassion for a hurting world and truly appreciate what He suffered to redeem it--and us. Jesus Himself, Who wept over the death of a friend and the sins of His people, and Who was called a Man of Sorrows, said, "Blessed are those who mourn" (Mt. 5:4).

No, the opposite of Christian joy is not unhappiness but selfishness--mixing anger with our unhappiness because our plans have been spoiled, without giving a thought to the others touched by the situation or to how God is working even this out for good. Such an attitude can infiltrate legitimate grief if we dwell too long on our losses, or can assert itself repeatedly through the common frustrations of everyday life until we convince ourselves that "nothing ever goes right" and even that God must hate us. That is likely why we are commanded to rejoice--to actively remember and appreciate the goodness of God, lest we forget it altogether.

When we regularly review all we have to be thankful for--and remember that salvation alone is infinitely more than we deserve--then we can truly rejoice in the Lord, however miserable our circumstances seem.

Rejoice in the day God gave us,
When the blue sky is cool and clear:
Be not like the ones who look downward,
With no eyes and no hearts for cheer.

Rejoice in the day God gave us,
Though the sky may be clouded gray,
For each day of life is a blessing,
And much joy lies along the way.

Rejoice in the days God gives us:
Let not one pass devoid of praise;
Let your heart be filled with thanksgiving,
And let joy guide you all your days.

Rejoice in each day God gives you,
Till the day from this world you part,
For that land where the days are endless,
And pure joy shines in every heart!

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