Rejoice Always

Today I’m sharing from the Ligonier blog.

Rejoice Always

From

Do you know what the shortest verse in the New Testament is? The obvious answer is John 11:35: “Jesus wept.” It is the shortest verse in our English translations of the Bible. But the shortest verse in the Greek New Testament is 1 Thessalonians 5:16: “Rejoice always.” It is a little verse with big implications.

The word “rejoice” is a call to joy. The term was a watchword among early Christians. More than a term of worship, it was a word of salutation. Jesus used it as a greeting (Matt. 28:9). Paul used it as a farewell (2 Cor. 13:11). We typically greet one another with “Hello” or “Goodbye.” But what an encouragement it would be if we entered and departed one another’s presence with a call to rejoice.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16, Paul exhorts the saints to rejoice. It is a command, which makes it clear that joy is more than happiness. Happiness is an emotional response to favorable, pleasant, or rewarding circumstances. You cannot compel a person to be happy. It’s based on what happens to a person. But Christians are commanded by God to rejoice. This command to rejoice is in the present tense. It means “keep on rejoicing.” This makes 1 Thessalonians 5:16 a hard command. This divine mandate would be easier to swallow if it simply directed us to rejoice. Indeed, there are many times, reasons, and occasions that call for rejoicing. But the command is to rejoice always, not only sometimes. How does the Christian rejoice always?

First Thessalonians 5:16–18 features what have been called “the standing orders of the gospel.” These exhortations apply to all Christians in every place and every situation. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” These commands may be familiar. But the justification for the commands is often overlooked: “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Do we want to know God’s will for us in any situation? It is God’s will that we rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances. We are in spiritual rebellion if we are not joyful, prayerful, and thankful. God’s will for our lives is about more than the circumstances we face. It is about how we respond to those circumstances.

It is the will of God for us to rejoice always. But obedience to this command is not accomplished by an act of the will. It is only accomplished by faith in Christ. The believer’s unceasing rejoicing is the will of God for us “in Christ Jesus.” This is the key to the life of rejoicing. Unsaved people do not rejoice in God, pray to God, or give thanks to God. Religious people rejoice sometimes, pray when they feel like it, and give thanks when things are going well. But Christians rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances. This is not the believer’s response because we are impervious to life’s dangers, toils, and snares. It is our response to life because we are in Christ Jesus.

Read the rest here.

Is It Possible to Be Happy in Christ Despite Suffering?

Sharing today from Randy Alcorn’s Eternal Perspectives Ministries (EPM) blog.

Is It Possible to Be Happy in Christ Despite Suffering?

By Randy Alcorn

God never guarantees that the Christian life will be smooth or easy. In fact, he promises the opposite: “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12, NKJV). We’re not to be surprised when we face great difficulties (see 1 Peter 4:12).

All the psalms of lament, the book of Lamentations, and many other Scripture passages reveal the importance of realism and sorrow in the Christian life. No treatment of joy and happiness should deny or minimize such texts.

Indeed, a truly biblical worldview and an authentic doctrine of joy and happiness fully recognize and embrace the realities of suffering in this present age.

The happiness described in Scripture is all the richer because it doesn’t involve denial or pretense and can be experienced amid severe difficulty. Christ-followers don’t preach the flimsy kind of happiness that’s built on wishful thinking. Instead, our basis for happiness remains true—and sometimes becomes clearer—in suffering.

Rejoicing Is Rooted in Our God, Not Our Circumstances

Rejoicing always in the Lord (see Philippians 4:4) may seem unrealistic at times. But we must remember that this rejoicing is centered not in a passing circumstance but in a constant reality—God Himself, and His Son, Jesus, who died for us and rose again.

On the one hand, we might suppose that Scripture doesn’t command us to rejoice in our nation’s condition, our culture’s trajectory, our spouse’s attitude, our child’s struggle, our church’s conflicts, our job loss, or our poor health. On the other hand, we’re told to “always [give] thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20, NIV). Likewise, Scripture tells us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV).

I don’t think this means that we are to rejoice in evil, per se, since God hates evil (Zechariah 8:17Proverbs 6:16-19) and commands us to hate it (Psalm 97:10Proverbs 8:13Romans 12:9). I do think it means that we should believe Romans 8:28, which tells us God will work all things together for our good, including evil things that happen to us.

Believing this frees us to thank God in the middle of difficult and even evil circumstances, knowing that in His sovereign grace, He is accomplishing great, eternal purposes in us through these things.

We’re told to rejoice in the Lord and to “consider it all joy” when we face hardship (James 1:2, NASB). Choosing to rejoice, by rehearsing reasons to be happy and grateful while suffering, affirms trust in God. We walk by faith, believing in what God has done, is doing, and will do to bring a good end to all that troubles us.

This response requires faith that God lovingly superintends our challenges. Viewing our sufferings as random or obsessing over someone else’s bad choices that caused our sufferings robs us of happiness. A weak, small, or faulty view of God always poisons the well of our contentment.

The more we grow in our understanding of God’s attributes, the happier we become.

We Have a Sovereign and Loving God

The deeper our knowledge of God’s character, the deeper our reservoir of strength, perspective, and happiness in hard times. Who is this God we are to trust? What is He really like?

As we have dealt with her cancer over the past two years, Nanci and I have spent time meditating on the attributes of God, rereading and listening to audiobooks such as The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer and Knowing God by J. I. Packer and Trusting God by Jerry Bridges. Our hearts are lifted in praise as we contemplate His holiness, grace, justice, mercy, and every facet of His being revealed to us in Scripture.

Scripture teaches that we have a God who loves us and is sovereign over the universe, including all evil. We can’t be happy, and remain happy, without believing in the sovereignty of a loving God. The beauty of the Christian worldview is that while we’re encouraged to take initiative and control what’s within our power, we also know that the enormous part of life we can’t control is under God’s governance.

Scripture tells us, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). It assures us, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). And since God is eternally wise and good and happy, and we’re not, we’re far better off with Him, not us, in control.

Read the rest here.

God’s Christmas Gift

God’s Christmas Gift

 By Pat Knight

I had just settled into a pew prior to the church service, when my husband tapped me on the shoulder. As he whispered, “Something’s happened to my mother,” I heard panic in his voice. Her crumpled form lay on the cold floor of the church vestry. My hand over my mother-in-law’s chest detected the last heartbeat as someone else attempted to palpate her carotid pulse. There was no time to think, but simply to respond. Our knowledge of life saving, practiced and stored for future use, must be activated into quick and decisive maneuvers. The ambulance arrived and whisked Della off to the hospital. I was stunned. It was Christmas Eve and my mother-in-law had just suffered a cardiac arrest in church. In a few short minutes the serenity of the day had given way to utter chaos.

Further testing revealed our loved one had not suffered a heart attack, but worse—a ruptured brain aneurysm. The weakened wall of an artery had burst, causing a stroke in a vital area of her brain. She was transferred via ambulance to a larger medical center as a blizzard raged on Christmas morning. My husband and his sister followed the ambulance while I remained at home to create a little Christmas spirit for our young son and his four older cousins.

Exhaustion enveloped after the holiday dinner I prepared for eleven people was barely nibbled by five excited children. Aimlessly, I slumped into a chair while the teens supervised the young children outside playing in the snow. I could no longer focus on the events of the past twenty-four hours. Instead, my mind wandered to Bethlehem. On a cold, still night in the sheepfold, I was a weather-worn shepherd, frightened by the sudden appearance of an angel. Then the sky spontaneously opened to reveal a vast army of heaven’s angels, singing the jubilant praises of a birth announcement. ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2:14)

In the midst of the adversity the Holy Family experienced on that first Christmas day, God assured them, and us, of the greatest gift of all time—His Son. I was rejuvenated by the stunning reminder that it was Christmas day and that I, too, had reason to rejoice.

Among the uncertainty and confusion, God lavished me with His marvelous gift of peace. The affirmation that the Lord was in control was very real. Knowing that His plan for the birth of His Son was perfect to the last detail, just as it had been prophesied for centuries, how could I doubt that God’s plan would be any less perfect for the life of my mother-in-law?

The physicians gave us no encouragement that our loved one would live. In fact, when we inquired about her future homecoming, they simply stared at us in disbelief that our focus was on her recovery. For weeks her life hung in the balance between life and death. She endured brain surgery, drug reactions, and paralysis. How should I pray? Seeing my husband’s mother in her fatal condition, I could hardly ask that she live. Yet, I didn’t want her to die. I realized that I must commit her life totally to God. Hesitantly at first, I prayed, “Thy will be done. How difficult it was to let go! But, eventually my ineffectual hold on her transformed to urgent, trusting prayer that God’s will alone take precedent.

In the town where we lived, news traveled fast. People congratulated me for my heroic actions in saving a life. I bristled against the distinction. “Oh, no,” I clarified, “God saved her. I was only one of many people involved in His plan.” But my explanation didn’t discourage the next well-meaning person from assigning hero status. It was futile to attempt to dissuade public opinion, but my heart and mind rebelled against the perceived distinction. It had never been my desire to participate in such a pivotal event.

Previously, I had wondered if I would be able to perform CPR on a family member.  Although the steps to the resuscitation process emerged naturally, my emotional reaction was overwhelming. One night at work, my nurse manager asked how I was handling the family crisis. I was shocked to hear the words I blurted out: “I can’t shake the terrible guilt I feel for participating in her revival, only to see her remain in a vegetative state these past few weeks.” 

My manager responded, “Oh, I thought you believed in the One who died to remove all guilt.” What spiritual introspection and unrest that one comment elicited! I then realized how significantly my faith had been stymied by personal guilt. How could I possibly pray with conviction, believing in God’s compassion, power, and authority, if my heart was filled with self-incrimination? I proceeded to ask His forgiveness and press onward, requesting God’s help to develop a confident, obedient faith walk.

The quintessential question remains as to God’s purpose for afflictions and hardships in a Christian’s life. Though we will likely never know all of the answers until heaven, the crisis produced an unexpected personal consequence: I grew substantially in my faith walk and prayer life as a result of my mother-in-law’s turbulent illness and prolonged recovery.

God eventually performed a healing miracle in our loved one’s life. She lived for another seventeen years following her recovery, pleasantly astonishing her neurosurgeon and caregivers. Never did our family celebrate another Christmas without boundless joy and gratitude for the spectacular miracles God delights to perform in His children’s lives.

Each Day Is More Impossible – Hope on the Long Road of Suffering

Today I’m sharing from Set Apart.

Each Day Is More Impossible-Hope on the Long Road of Suffering

By

It’s been eight weeks since I went in for my fifth ankle surgery, uncertain of whether it would restore my ability to walk. As I remain couchbound, waiting to see what walking ability I will be left with, I’ve been wrestling with doubts and fears over all the seemingly impossible circumstances that God continues to allow in my life.

I’m a mom to four young children and currently unable to walk; we’re a family suffering with Lyme Disease in a medical world that denies its existence; we’re parents navigating a type of special needs that doctors seem to have no answers for; and the only possible relief in sight seems to lie in treatments that we cannot afford. After eleven years of praying, seeking, and sacrificing for answers and healing — or anything that might bring relief — our earthly hope has dwindled. The longer we wait, the more impossible our circumstances become.

He Believed Against Hope

This week, as I’ve felt nearly paralyzed by the complex and layered trials in our life, I’ve found encouragement in a fellow believer who faced his own impossible circumstances with unwavering faith in the Lord.

After being promised he’d become a father of many nations, the child of promise had not come. Both he and Sarah were far beyond the age to bear children. It appeared hopeless to conceive, even as the Lord told him they would, but while he and his wife initially laughed, Abraham came to believe.

In hope he [Abraham] believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:18–21)

Abraham didn’t weaken in faith when he considered the reality of what seemed impossible. He believed in the hope that God was fully able to do what he had promised. And he did.

Abraham’s experience reminded me that it’s not unlike God to allow his children to face situations that are hopeless from our perspective. It’s precisely through these impossible situations that God expands our view of him, exercises our trust in him, and most powerfully displays his glory. So, what can we learn from these verses about Abraham when we face our own impossible circumstances?

1. Know what God has (and hasn’t) promised.

Abraham’s faith was based on what God had promised, not what seemed possible. “In hope he [Abraham] believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told” (Romans 8:18). Though he didn’t see any way for that promise to come to pass in their old age, he believed that God would somehow be faithful.

We can’t base our hope on what we want God to do or what we think he will do, but what he has promised us in his word. If we don’t know what those promises are, however, we will be devastated if our hope of healing falls through, when the trials worsen after praying for relief, or when all earthly options seem to run out.

In order to know God’s promises, we have to be in his word. We need to be students of the Bible — praying, reading, meditating, and memorizing. We must be careful to read in context to make sure we don’t misunderstand God’s will and promises and feel bitterly disappointed when we don’t receive what he never promised.

As you read through the word, record all that God offers us in Christ. As you do, remember that his promises are given in light of eternity, not our own short-term understanding (2 Corinthians 4:16–18). And by faith, trust that God knows the best way and time for his promises to come to pass.

Read the rest here.

Thanking God for Everything

Today I’m sharing from Lifeway Voices.

Thanking God for Everything

by 

Nestled among a long list of exhortations and blessings in 1 Thessalonians is a line we’ll see in plenty this month. Distressed on barn wood at your local craft store, printed on banners hung in the dining room, embossed on the ceramic plate the turkey is served on, and rife in sermons everywhere, “Give thanks in everything,” is the rally cry of November. But, like Aunt Jane’s consistently overcooked turkey, the truncated statement can also leave a dry taste in our mouths.

Gratitude will be on the rise for the next two months, followed by a sharp decline on January first when we resolve to change all the things our mere gratitude couldn’t change: love-handles, schedules, relationships, the project we’ve been putting off. There’s nothing like a full serving of gratitude to show us just how many things exist for which we’re still not thankful. We will give thanks for everything except all the things for which we’re still bent on changing.

I have a stack on my desk of books to read and review, menu-plans to make, a driver’s license to renew, and a book contract to fulfill within the first month of 2019. As grateful as I am for a job I love, the freedom to eat and cook whole, healthy food, and a license to drive, I’m decidedly unthankful for the work they all will require of me. I can trick myself into being grateful, topping my cake of grumbling with the frosting of thanksgiving, but it’s still a dismal cake beneath. I need the words with which Paul follows up his exhortation: “For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

For what is God’s will for me? This.

Read the rest here.

#Waiting {Reblog}

This is simply a random thought I had the other day when someone mentioned how difficult it often is to wait on God’s timing.

Waiting

There are times when we wait and pray about something
for what seems like forever,
but since God is perfect,
that means His plans are perfect ─
which means the waiting time is part of
His perfect plan for us.
This is part of His refining and pruning process
to bring us closer to Him and His will for us.

Thy Will Be Done

A couple of years ago I read John MacArthur’s wonderful book, Alone with God: Rediscovering the Power and Passion of Prayer 1 and learned so much! I was particularly struck by a section in Chapter 6, “Your Will Be Done,” where Dr. MacArthur shares this part of Philip Keller’s A Layman Looks at the Lord’s Prayer

Caution: you will never again sing Change My Heart, Oh God (by Ron Kenoly) without remembering this powerful story.

Author Philip Keller, while visiting in Pakistan, readJeremiah 18:2, which says, “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I shall announce My words to you.” So he and a missionary went to a potter’s house in that city. In his book, A Layman Looks at the Lord’s Prayer, he writes,

In sincerity and earnestness I asked the old master craftsman to show me every step in the creation of a masterpiece …. On his shelves were gleaming goblets, lovely vases, and exquisite bowls of breathtaking beauty.

Then, crooking a bony finger toward me, he led the way to a small, dark, closed shed at the back of his shop. When he opened its rickety door, a repulsive, overpowering stench of decaying matter engulfed me. For a moment I stepped back from the edge of the gaping dark pit in the floor of the shed. “This is where the work begins!” he said, kneeling down beside the black, nauseating hole. With his long, thin arm, he reached down into the darkness. His slim, skilled fingers felt around amid the lumpy clay, searching for a fragment of material exactly suited to his task.

“I add special kinds of grass to the mud,” he remarked. “As it rots and decays, its organic content increases the colloidal quality of the clay. Then it sticks together better.” Finally his knowing hands brought up a lump of dark mud from the horrible pit where the clay had been tramped and mixed for hours by his hard, bony feet.

With tremendous impact the first verses from Psalm 40 came to my heart. In a new and suddenly illuminating way I saw what the psalmist meant when he wrote long ago, “I waited patiently for the Lord, and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay.” As carefully as the potter selected his clay, so God used special care in choosing me ….

The great slab of granite, carved from the rough rock of the high Hindu Kush mountains behind his home, whirled quietly. It was operated by a very crude, treadle-like device that was moved by his feet, very much like our antique sewing machines.

As the stone gathered momentum, I was taken in memory toJeremiah 18: 3. “Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels.”

But what stood out most before my mind at this point was the fact that beside the potter’s stool, on either side of him, stood two basins of water. Not once did he touch the clay, now spinning swiftly at the center of the wheel, without first dipping his hands in the water. As he began to apply his delicate fingers and smooth palms to the mound of mud, it was always through the medium of the moisture of his hands. And it was fascinating to see how swiftly but surely the clay responded to the pressure applied to it through those moistened hands. Silently, smoothly, the form of a graceful goblet began to take shape beneath those hands. The water was the medium through which the master craftsman’s will and wishes were being transmitted to the clay. His will actually was being done in earth.

For me this was a most moving demonstration of the simple, yet mysterious truth that my Father’s will and wishes are expressed and transmitted to me through the water of His own Word ….

Suddenly, as I watched, to my utter astonishment, I saw the stone stop. Why? I looked closely. The potter removed a small particle of grit from the goblet …. Then just as suddenly the stone stopped again. He removed another hard object ….

Suddenly he stopped the stone again. He pointed disconsolately to a deep, ragged gouge that cut and scarred the goblet’s side. It was ruined beyond repair! In dismay he crushed it down beneath his hands….

“And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter” (Jer. 18:4). Seldom had any lesson come home to me with such tremendous clarity and force. Why was this rare and beautiful masterpiece ruined in the master’s hands? Because he had run into resistance. It was like a thunderclap of truth bursting about me!

Why is my Father’s will – His intention to turn out truly beautiful people – brought to nought again and again? Why, despite His best efforts and endless patience with human beings, do they end up a disaster? Simply because they resist His will.

The sobering, searching, searing question I had to ask myself in the humble surroundings of that simple potter’s shed was this: Am I going to be a piece of fine china or just a finger bowl? Is my life going to be a gorgeous goblet fit to hold the fine wine of God’s very life from which others can drink and be refreshed? Or am I going to be just a crude finger bowl in which passers-by will dabble their fingers briefly then pass on and forget about it? It was one of the most solemn moments in all of my spiritual experiences.

“Father, Thy will be done in earth [in clay], in me, as it is done in heaven.”


1 Copyright © Third Edition, July 1, 2011. Alone With God, John MacArthur Jr. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook.

2 Copyright © 1976. A Layman Looks at the Lord’s Prayer, Philip Keller. Chicago, IL: Moody Press.