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If you are going to rejoice in the Lord, you have to do it today, not next Tuesday. This is because if you wait until next Tuesday, you will come up with a reason to postpone it again.
I understand that today is the pits. Your car’s in the shop, your adult daughter’s not speaking to you, and your Amazon package didn’t come. By next Tuesday, you think, this should all be straightened out. Then you’ll rejoice in the Lord.
Ha! Have you no memory?
I don’t think we mean to disobey the Lord on this point. When we read Philippians 4:4 that says (twice) “Rejoice!” we believe it is a good thing to do: God deserves it, our mental health needs it, and we fully intend to get around to it.
But at the moment we are indisposed because of the car, the daughter, and the package.
“After a little care we should find His love inwardly excite us to it without any difficulty.”
Surely God understands this, we tell ourselves (already excusing noncompliance): He Himself took on flesh; He knows we are dust; He totally gets our present case of nerves and short-temperedness.
What if you died tonight? I guess you’d make it “in.” You have met the minimum requirement of faith in Christ. It’s just that it’s not a faith that makes you excited that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18). Or that this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17). Or that after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you into His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you (1 Peter 5:10).
Quick, change the subject and talk about how “joy” is not the same as “happiness”—how happiness is superficial, transient, and circumstantial, while joy is an inner quality and not necessarily visible to the naked eye. In fact, joy is so inner that it has the appearance to everyone who knows you of depression and complaining.
“Well, see here! Are we just supposed to rejoice on command?” As a matter of fact, yes!
The people of Israel were gathered in the square near the Water Gate by the completed walls of Jerusalem, and Ezra the priest read the Book of the Law from early morning till midday (Nehemiah 8:1-3). The people’s realization that they had neglected God’s book for centuries sank their spirits. They didn’t feel like rejoicing. Gov. Nehemiah commanded it: “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep. … Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength”.
Rejoicing is a choice. It is always deliberate, never accidental. There are two ways, the high way and the low way. There are two and only two settings for your mind: on things above or on things below (Colossians 3:2). The act of rejoicing is the doorway to the higher setting, giving instant perspective for rightly viewing the earthly troubles. We put on “the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit” (Isaiah 61:3).
Brother Lawrence, a 17th-century Carmelite friar, called it “practicing the presence of God”: “In order to form a habit of conversing with God continually, and referring all we do to Him, we must at first apply to Him with some diligence; but after a little care we should find His love inwardly excite us to it without any difficulty.”
What victory there is in such abiding consciousness of God(1 Peter 2:19)! This is primary reality, rather than secondary reality (the car, the daughter, the package).
This column is almost over, so let us try it together, moving beyond mere thinkingand lending it voice: “I rejoice in You, Lord!”
If you just said that out loud, you’ve committed an act of rejoicing. Despise not the day of small beginnings.
God’s kingdom is not future only. It begins today, not some elusive Tuesday.