The Choice to Rejoice!

“Whatever happens … rejoice in the Lord.”

Philippians 3:1a (NLT)

It’s a choice to rejoice. When Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, he was speaking from personal experience. He told them, “Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.” No one was more qualified to say this than Paul. Philippi was the city where he was wrongly accused, severely beaten, and falsely imprisoned. Following that experience, Paul would later endure two years of false imprisonment in Caesarea and two more years of imprisonment in Rome, not to mention when he was stoned and left for dead in Lystra. He was even awaiting his sentence while imprisoned in Rome when he wrote Philippians, unsure if he would be released or sentenced to death. Despite such suffering, he writes this letter full of joy! In fact, the concepts of rejoicing and joy appear sixteen times in four brief chapters, culminating with a challenge to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4 NIV) It makes you wonder if Paul was nuts. How is it possible to rejoice no matter what happens? Paul was living proof that, when your aim is knowing Christ, your heart could be filled with inexpressible joy even in the worst of circumstances. Happiness depends on what happens. It’s short-lived and hollow. We’ve all experienced the shallowness of laughter. It can often mask hidden hurts and deep pain. When you experience sorrow and suffering, you need more than laughter to lift your spirit. You need joy!  The Bible says, “The joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Nehemiah 8:10 NLT) It’s the joy of knowing Jesus and His presence empowering you. Knowing Christ is the one thing that changes everything! It may not change the circumstance, but it changes you in the midst of the circumstance. You’re no longer living for this world or whatever it may offer. Your focus is on knowing Him and experiencing His life indwelling you. Your faith is in God. He is still on the throne and will never abandon you. You choose to rejoice, not for what is happening but in the God who loves you and gave His Son for you, knowing that He alone writes the final chapter. What are you going through right now that threatens your joy? Let faith arise, and make a choice to rejoice.

How to Stay True to God

“… stay true to the Lord.”   

Philippians 4:1a (NLT)

How do you stay true to God? Concerned that Christ followers in Philippi may wander from the faith, Paul writes this closing challenge to them, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, stay true to the Lord ….” With that challenge he gives practical counsel as to how to stay true to God.

  • First, whenever you see the word therefore in the Bible, you want to ask yourself the question: “What’s it there for?” Look back to the previous verses. In Philippians 3:20-21 Paul says, “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for Him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like His own, using the same power with which He will bring everything under His control.” We can stay true to God when we keep our focus on Jesus and remember that this world is not our home. One day, Jesus is coming back and will bring everything under His control.
  • Second, we can stay true when we pray about everything. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT)
  • Third, think about the right things. “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Vs. 8)
  • Fourth, learn to be content. “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Vs. 11-13)

Let’s be honest. Because we all have an Adam’s suit, our hearts are prone to wander. Staying true to God won’t happen by accident. Nothing good does. That’s why they call it an accident. Be vigilant. Keep your focus on the one thing that changes everything – Jesus Christ. Until He returns, continue in prayer. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Fix your thoughts because your mind, like your body, is fallen and broken. And learn to be content. We can do this. We can stay true to God through Christ who gives us strength! But if you have wandered away, confess that to God right now and return. Let Him restore your soul and get you back on track. He’s the God of another chance!

Spiritual Development

“I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”   

Philippians 1:6 (NLT)

Do you ever feel like your spiritual life is not making progress? It can happen when we get discouraged, exhausted and overwhelmed. You’re not alone if you’ve felt that way before or you feel that way now. When I feel that way, I’m reminded of the promise in this verse, and it gives me hope and confidence that God is not finished. He hasn’t given up on me, and He hasn’t given up on you! If spiritual development were solely up to us, we would be in trouble. The Bible tells us that the very God who began His good work within us is the same God who will continue that work until it is finished on the day when Jesus Christ returns!  That takes the pressure off. There’s joy in knowing that spiritual development is His business. He does the work in us that He may do a work through us. It’s a process that will continue until it is finished on the day Christ Jesus returns. That reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw one time that said, “Please be patient with me, God is not through with me yet!” We are all under construction as God shapes us into the very image of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And God promises to finish the work He began. When you feel incomplete, undone or distressed by your hurts, habits and hang-ups, remember God’s promise in Philippians 1:6 to continue the GOOD work He began in you when you trusted Jesus as your Savior. Even when I feel like I am not making any progress, God is still at work. Let God complete what He began and rejoice that it is His business.

Bullseye

My aim is to know Him….”

Philippians 3:10 (NET)

What are you aiming at in life? Living a more focused life means aiming at the target God has for your life. The problem is that many people find themselves shooting at the wrong target or they just shoot randomly and, then, draw a circle around it like the guy in the cartoon comic. When he was asked, “Why do you do that?” he said, “Because, that way, I never miss!” To hit the target that God has for your life, you must narrow your focus to the one thing that changes everything. For years, Saul of Tarsus was aiming at the wrong target. When he encountered Jesus, Saul’s focus changed! His name even changed from Saul to Paul. Paul narrowed his focus to one thing. He said, “My aim is to know Jesus.” Paul wasn’t satisfied with just knowing about Jesus nor was he content with a single encounter. The Amplified version offers some more clarity as to his focus. “…that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly….” For Paul, the one thing that changed everything was a growing intimate personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The circumstances of life didn’t matter. Whether he was preaching or in prison, well fed or hungry, having plenty or in want, his aim remained the same, to know Christ. What are you aiming at? What is your bull’s-eye? When your aim is to know Christ, it takes the pressure off of trying to achieve some particular goal or end. Oswald Chambers said you discover that God is not working towards a particular finish; His end is the process. You begin to experience the joy of the journey as you share it with Him. Every circumstance that arises, regardless of the situation, is one in which you have opportunity to experience knowing Jesus in a new and vital way. Peace replaces the stress of having to make something happen. He offers His strength for our weakness and turns even our messes into miracles of grace! God created you to love you and for you to know Him. Imagine your life right now with that kind of aim.

The One Thing

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”      

Matthew 6:33 (NIV)

Steve Uzzell said, “Multitasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at the time.” Studies show that trying to focus on more than one thing causes a 40% drop in productivity. (That’s 2.1 hours a day that’s lost due to interruptions or distractions.) Jesus told us that if we would focus on one thing, it would change everything! In other words, if you want to broaden your life, you must narrow your focus. By focusing on this one thing, we could reduce our stress and increase our productivity while at the same time having all our needs met. What is the one thing that changes everything? It’s a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Maybe you’re thinking, “That sounds great, but how? How do I have a growing relationship with Jesus Christ?”   Great question! The answer is two-fold:

  • Let Christ love you.
  • Give Christ the first and best of your life.

These sound so simple. The problem is that life happens, and we are easily distracted. This was the case of a woman named Martha. You can read her story in Luke 10:38-42. Jesus came to her house to visit her and her sister, Mary, and their brother, Lazarus. While Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to Him speak, Martha was distracted with all her preparations. When you read their story, you quickly see the contrast between a focused life and a distracted life. It wasn’t long before Martha became upset that Mary wasn’t helping her. She vented her anger to Jesus when she asked Him, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Tell her to help me.” (Vs. 40) I love how Jesus responded to her. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only ONE THING is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Vs. 41-42) While we all want to have a heart like Mary, most of us get as distracted as Martha, and our stress levels show it. A lot of what we think is important is really a distraction, and what we think are distractions may be divine appointments! If we are to have a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, we must let Christ love us; to do that, we must sit at His feet, as Mary did, to listen to what He has to say. So many people know about Jesus but do not really know Him. I think it’s fascinating that of all the disciples, Mary was the only one who took His words to heart about His death on the cross. We find her in John 12 anointing Jesus’ body for burial with expensive perfume that was worth a year’s wages. This extravagant gift was an expression of her love for Christ and evidence that she heard what He was trying to tell them. She didn’t need to go to the tomb with the other women to anoint Him after His death because she sat at His feet and understood the depth of His love for her. I wonder what Jesus would like to say to you and me if we would just let Him love us. To let Christ love you like that, you must sit at His feet and listen.