I have been doing a 21-day fast every January for the last 10 years, and every year the Lord has given me a word for the year. Usually, the word comes in the middle or end of my fast in my times of prayer and worship. This year was different as the Lord gave it to me on the first morning of my fast. My word for the year is rejoice, and man I have already seen why I’ve needed this word. Kim and I were in Istanbul, Turkey, the day of the earthquake, and it felt like someone was pounding on our door. The next morning we awoke to a nation filled with fear, grief, and anger. OneHope’s recent Global Youth Culture research uncovered a staggering amount of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and other mental health crisis youth are experiencing around the world. There is a deep need for this world to experience a transformative kind of rejoicing, and God promises it to us.
If ever our hearts and minds need to be guarded, it is in the present age of mental anxiety and stress that we live in. Rejoicing is our gateway, or road map, a prescription, a well of willpower to emotional, mental, and spiritual health and well-being.
The Book of Philippians is all about joy in Jesus, and the message is relevant to the church in Philippi, which was facing great persecution and anxiety. Philippi was a city filled with patriotic nationalism and worship of the emperor Octavian. The message of Jesus being the king directly defied the city’s philosophy and ideology, and the Philippian church was the most persecuted of all of Paul’s churches. Despite the persecution and anxiety faced by the church and Paul himself, who was writing from prison, as well as a toxic social and political culture, the message of rejoicing in the Lord was strong.
In Philippians 4:4-7, Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (ESV).
In studying the Book of Philippians during my fast, here are some principles of the “joy prescription” that I’m learning:
Our Rejoicing Is…
Rooted in relationship, not circumstance. My intimacy with Jesus determines my joy.
Established in reason, not in emotion. Our emotions need to be governed not by our personal thoughts or feelings but by our understanding of what Christ has done for us and who we’re becoming in Him. Joy found in emotion is fleeting; joy found in Jesus is overflowing.
Confident of the future, not mired in the present. As Paul harkens back to his context in prison when he faced impending death in the opening verses in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (NIV), we have the freedom to rejoice no matter what because we are so confident of what is ahead.
But Paul also wants to make it clear that this hope of heaven is not a “pie in the sky” futuristic aspiration. In chapter 3, he teaches that Jesus’ heavenly reign has already begun, and we, as followers of Christ, are already living both in the reality of His coming Kingdom while still being physically present in this temporary earthly state. Our escapist eschatology robs us of the joyful confidence we should have now, knowing that this world will soon be consumed, overcome, and taken over by Jesus. “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” (NLT, emphasis added). These are the verses in Philippians 3:20-21 that provide the context for our REJOICING text.
I love what my friend Mark Batterson says, “Whatever you don’t turn into praise turns into pride. Whatever you don’t turn into praise turns into pain.”
I’m learning and resolving in 2023 that no matter how I feel or what happens…
Joy is a gift; rejoicing is a discipline.
Happiness is contingent; joy is certain.
Rejoice in the Lord when? Always!
Rejoice in the Lord with who? Everyone!
Rejoice in the Lord where? Everywhere!
This is usually easier said than done. While I was writing this blog, Kim and I received a text message from some of our dearest friends that their grandbaby boy had come prematurely and died. Their daughter and son-in-law had already faced numerous challenges to have a child, and in one moment, all their dreams and hopes were shattered. I sent her what seemed to be inadequate words of comfort and support. She texted me back with this message: ‘Thank you for your love, prayer, and care. Lord knows we need it. We are completely crushed…we miss our precious boy every moment of every day…it’s so overwhelming.’
As we move forward in 2023, let us all strive to rejoice in the reality of who the Lord is in our lives in a new and fresh way. Find joy in His presence, and experience the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. Let us stand firm in the faith, knowing that Jesus is our King and that He will never leave us nor forsake us. Let us be reminded that the joy of the Lord is our strength and that we can find peace in Him despite our ever-changing circumstances.