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.

Victorious Living

Victorious Living

By Pat Knight

I have always known that as a child of God, I have the ability to lead a victorious life. When I was young, I naively believed spiritual victory was instinctive. Now I understand that in order for victory to be won, a battle must be overcome. How will any of us achieve triumph without previously encountering conflict? How else do we experience trust unless we practice the art? During hardships, we are commanded to persevere, but we are incapable of acquiring perseverance without habitually practicing it. There is no healing without sickness; no power without weakness; no success without failure. Trials offer the opportunity to grow in faith, and as a result, we mature in our walk with Christ himself.

Few believers have been tested by God more intensely than Abraham. The patriarchs’ only son was a direct gift from God, through whom God would complete His promise to Abraham, with “descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky or sand on the seashore” (Genesis 22:17).

Abraham, commanded by God to sacrifice his covenant son as a burnt offering, was poised with knife in hand, ready to plunge it into Isaac, who was strapped to the sacrificial altar. On their three-day journey to the mountaintop, Isaac questioned his father as to where they would find the lamb for the altar. Abraham answered, “‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering my son’” (v. 8).

God was testing Abraham’s obedience. The best Abraham hoped for was that God might raise his son from the dead. He never questioned God, nor did his resolve falter. Just as the father was positioned to slay his son, “the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, ‘Abraham, Abraham! … Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ he said. ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.’”

“Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son” (vv. 11-13).

As we know, obedience is a difficult discipline, especially when the investment is so costly. However, our Lord accepts full responsibility for the consequence of our obedience. Not only did Abraham experience God’s faithfulness, but he also learned the measure of his own trust—the extent to which he followed and obeyed his heavenly Father.

Words are easily dispensed and often insignificant, but submissive actions require commitment, determination, and tenacious faith. Abraham could hardly have understood God’s reasons for providing a son in his old age, only to take him away. In spite of his lack of comprehension, Abraham believed in God so passionately, that His faith overwhelmed his doubt. He was willing to place all of his confidence in the Lord’s plans, for Abraham had witnessed His glory and faithfulness previously. He believed in Almighty God without reservation.

God already knew Abraham would react courageously that day, for He is omniscient (all-knowing). God tested Abraham so he would learn about His God and himself. Abraham’s personal, adamant faith and steadfast obedience were reinforced in the face of huge consequences. Most importantly, Abraham ascertained the unlimited extent to which he could trust the living God; His faithfulness, loving kindness, protection, and promises; God’s desire and ability to provide all of his needs (Philippians 4:19).

Abraham’s test of faith is included in God’s Word to stimulate in believers’ hearts a similar love of our heavenly Father. Satan tempts us to fail. God never tempts; He tests us to illustrate His love and mercy. It is important for every believer to acquire knowledge of self-motivation and priorities; any limits that might inhibit our growth in faith. Obedience is evidence of genuine faith. Questions are raised during a test of faith. To what extent do my actions reflect my love for God? Am I willing to yield to His will? How much of my life am I capable of surrendering in light of Jesus’ humiliating, heinous suffering on the cross to secure my redemption? Like Jesus, may we pray that God’s will be accomplished in all of life’s circumstances.

There can be no victory when there is no submission to the will of God. ─J. Vernon McGee

Some of our most important lessons are mastered while struggling with unrelenting trials. The apostle, Paul, admitted, “‘that is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, insults, hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong’” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Paul accessed God’s power, transforming his afflictions into spiritual victory. Hardships of any kind are best approached with confidence, acknowledging that God’s perfect plans, in His precise timing, are sovereign components to victory.

To navigate adversity, call on your heavenly Father, for “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1). God is always in control of His creation. We need never fear when He is directing our lives, a comforting declaration of his mighty, sustaining presence.

The apostle James instructs us how to react to the variety of adversities that assail us: “‘Consider it pure joy whenever we face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything’” (James 1:2-4). Joy results from recognizing that God has included our welfare in His plans, for He loves and cares for His own.

Christian maturity is an impossible journey without God’s abiding presence and assistance. When faced with hardship or grief, we learn to run straight into the arms of Jesus, trading our weakness for His incredible power, trusting Him unconditionally. The happy outcome is that we draw closer to our Lord, producing Christlikeness in our lives.

Experiencing joy amidst trials is an avenue to spiritual victory. We gain Christian maturity by navigating life’s trials with perseverance and steadfastness, obeying God in all situations. Our Lord’s mercy, grace, and compassion encourage us to navigate afflictions as we resolve to develop wholehearted faith. We are commanded to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4). There are no exceptions to God’s directive. His plans for our lives are perfectly designed and authenticated, with higher purposes than we fully understand. Our responsibility, then, is to acknowledge that God has chosen wisely for each of His followers. Such knowledge produces joy. Therein is the victory!

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.

Joy’s Grandeur

Joy’s Grandeur

By Pat Knight

“My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to you—
I, whom you have delivered.
My tongue will tell of your righteous acts”  (Psalm 71:23).

On a second missionary journey, Paul and Silas traveled to Philippi, a leading Roman city where Roman customs were observed and idols worshipped. In Philippi the missionaries were confronted by a demon-possessed slave girl who made her owners wealthy by fortune-telling.

Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, ’In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ At that moment the spirit left her” (Acts 16:18). Realizing their lucrative business had evaporated right before their eyes, the girl’s owners seized Paul and Silas, dragged them into the public square to the city magistrate, and claimed false charges against them. Mob involvement grew to a fever pitch. Soon the men were stripped, beaten, and thrown into the maximum security cell of the jail.

The men were flogged, a severe form of beating similar to what Christ endured prior to crucifixion. Against bare skin the Romans used a whip fashioned of several leather straps with lead and bone embedded at the ends. Flogging tore open wide gashes of skin. The Jews, by law, restricted the number of lashes to thirty-nine, but the Romans had no limitations. Victims of Roman flogging often didn’t survive the savage punishment.

Following their beating, the two men were led into an inner prison cell where their feet were placed in stocks, serving as added security and extra torture. Physically their bodies were beaten and bloody, but their jubilant hearts could not be broken. Their spirits soared. Paul and Silas knew that all power, joy, and victory reside in Christ alone. They were confident they were serving a faithful God who would intervene on their behalf.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open and everybody’s chains came loose” (Acts 16:25-26).

Because their lives were saturated with joy, the missionaries were able to sing spontaneous, resounding praises to God. How many of us, in similar circumstances, find songs of joy on our lips?

“My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to you—I, whom you have delivered. My tongue will tell of your righteous acts” (Psalm 71:23).The men sang while suffering, for they had vision and trust beyond their current situation. Their witness in song that night communicated far more to the other prisoners than any words they could have preached. If joy were dependent on circumstances, Paul and Silas would have cowered due to pain and injustice. But they were assured that God’s protection was sufficient.

In God’s Word, joy is a command, “rejoice always” (Philippians 4:4), and a gift (Galatians 5:22), demonstrating that when God assigns a task to His children, He lavishes them with help and strength necessary to finish His work. “The trouble with too many of us is that we think God called us to be manufacturers when He really called us to be distributors. He alone has the resources to meet human needs; all we can do is receive His riches and share them with others” (Warren Wiersbe). Let us distribute God’s joy wherever He sends us, to whomever crosses our path.

God’s characteristics fill our hearts to overflowing. Any receptacle that overflows quickly spreads its contents into surrounding areas, seeping into cracks, permanently staining, leaking into remote spots to be discovered at a later time. Jesus’ joy is incapable of containment. It must multiply in the lives of believers, who carry it throughout the world.

Overwhelmed with gladness, our hearts cannot be restrained by a dam of negativity. Joy rolls along like a somersaulting downhill snowball, picking up peace, trust, and hope, wrapping them into a spectacular bundle of unmitigated worship. Trudging through uphill trails of adversity, layers of zeal, strength, and courage naturally melt, seeping onto the pathways of life, leaving behind evidence of an intimate relationship with Jesus our Savior. The dispersing love ministers to others, harvested by those who are desperate to know eternal peace and comfort.

Jesus provides inside-out rejoicing by filling our hearts with a deluge of enthusiasm. In addition, He clothes us with joy. “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy that my heart may sing praises and not be silent. Lord, my God, I will praise you forever” (Psalm 30:11-12). Sackcloth, a symbol of mourning, is replaced by songs of exuberant praise. From the riches of heaven’s own wardrobe room, swishing, elegant robes of rejoicing define us externally as the light of Christ’s joy engulfs our hearts, offering supernatural encouragement. Jesus said, “If you obey my command, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remained in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:10-11).

Joy has the potential to leap boundaries. Those who know Jesus personally acknowledge the splendor of His majesty, initiating a reaction that can best be described as dynamic, triumphant joy forevermore. “My heart leaps for joy and with my song I praise him” (Psalm 28:7). When was the last time you spiritually leaped for joy, demonstrating the thrill of victory with eternal consequences?

When Paul and Silas rejoiced in prayer and song, they weren’t aware of the exceeding great plan God had devised: “The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family” (Acts 16:34). Joy is the consistent result of trusting in Jesus.

Joy divided is multiplied. “To get the full value of joy, you must have somebody to divide it with” (Mark Twain). Joy is contagious. Let us be carriers, proliferating its impact throughout the world.

#Rejoicing and #Thanksgiving

The Christian who walks with the Lord
and keeps constant communion with Him
will see many reasons for
rejoicing and thanksgiving
all day long.

—Warren W. Wiersbe

It is so wonderful to be able to be in communication with our Lord no matter where we are or what we’re doing. Another word for this is prayer. When we pray specifically for something, we can praise and thank God ahead of time for what we are praying for, in the full belief that He already has the answer to our prayers. The answer may not be what we expect or hope for, but we can know that if it is God’s plan for us it is for our good and His glory.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 instructs us to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Pray without ceasing? Is that really possible, and how do we do that?

The other day I came across this great video by Dr. Donald Whitney of Southern Seminary titled “How do you pray without ceasing?” This should help all of us understand how we can be in prayerful communication with God all day long.

Let the Heavens Rejoice!

ps96-11-12-amp

Let the Heavens Rejoice!

By Patricia Knight

It was near the first century A.D., in Bethlehem of Judea, when Jesus, the Son of God, was born on earth. An angel previously had assured His mother, Mary, that Jesus would be the long-awaited Messiah promised to the Israelite nation. Shepherds visited the infant; an angelic choir sang glorious refrains; Magi traveled from distant foreign countries to visit the newborn King.

The Jews were a conquered nation, ruled by Herod the Great of the Roman Empire. Herod was ruthless, a schemer who clawed his way to the top of the political scene, maintaining discipline with secret police. He couldn’t tolerate competition. Even an infant King was a political thread to him. Herod’s family members were victims of his violent tendencies. He killed two of his ten wives, two sons, and his in-laws, among others.

Magi from the east stopped at the palace in Jerusalem to inquire regarding the whereabouts of the newborn King of the Jews, whose supernatural star they had been following for months. King Herod instructed his chief priests and teachers of law to research the Old Testament. The Magi were then directed to Bethlehem with a secret command from King Herod to report back to him details about the newborn King.

While visiting Jesus, the Magi were warned by angels to return home via an alternative route, avoiding their planned stop at King Herod’s palace. When the Magi didn’t return to Jerusalem, Herod suspected he’d been tricked. He immediately gave an order that all boys age two and younger be slaughtered throughout Bethlehem and its vicinities, according to when the Magi indicated the first star appeared.

Imagine the horror and helplessness the families endured when their toddler sons were selectively slain for no reason other than the king decreed it. The soldiers stormed every house searching for victims, their orders non-negotiable. What an agonizing massacre, a mass killing simply to validate one man’s pride.

Were Herod’s oppressive, totalitarian tactics so unlike the style of anarchy we are witnessing in our modern world? In geographic pockets around the world, terrorism has become the rule of the land. Cities and entire countries have collapsed. Christians, particularly, are beheaded or tortured for their faith in God. Women and children are brutalized or annihilated. At the very least, families are separated or displaced.

We gasp in horror when atrocities are committed within our own borders. As in King Herod’s day, the heinous acts are rationalized to promote personal power and greed. There is little interest in discussing or compromising issues of mutual importance. Have our governments made progress in peace-keeping methods since ancient times?

The Israelites had grown weary of waiting for the promised Messiah over the previous centuries. As Roman tyranny grew more suffocating, the Jews were anticipating a political savior to release them from servitude to Rome.

luke2-14-amp

But, the angels announced a Savior who would accomplish so much more—deliver His people from sin and death, a miracle that compelled the angels to sing at Jesus’ birth: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests” (Luke 2:14).

We cannot ignore the nefarious worldwide brutality prevalent today. Neither can we allow a foreboding shadow of fear to invade our Christmas joy. However, we are capable of minimizing the negative effect on lives as we pray for peace and hope in an exploding world.

The cacophony of threatening chatter is heard from around the world, bombarding our minds with pessimistic messages. Discouragement develops easily if we allow our minds to get mired in the news of abominable current events. The good news is that God is the author and embodiment of all hope. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).

Hope is confident expectation, a reliance on God’s blessings and provisions, not equated with unfounded optimism. We enjoy blessed assurance of our future destiny based on God’s love and power. As humans, we are incapable of conjuring up hope with personal efforts. Hope is a gift from God. “May the God of all hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). Hope resides in God, revealed to us by the Holy Spirit, and demonstrated in the death of Jesus on the cross, further reinforced by His resurrection from the dead.

Unlike world forces of evil, God is creative, powerful, and authoritative. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, able to calm our fearful spirits with His peaceful, trustworthy assurances. He encourages us to come to Him for soothing peace of mind and a joy-filled heart. Let us worship Him with enthusiasm and gratitude, as the shepherds and Magi did following Jesus’ birth over two thousand years ago.

“Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy” (Psalm 96:11-12). 

God created the earth and everything in it with an unfolding plan for the future that will lead to Jesus’ second coming to rule all nations in peace. God is in control. Let us praise our Lord for His magnificent plans that encourage hope. Vow to claim sovereign triumph in the midst of human chaos, as you give glory and gratitude to Jesus on His birthday this year.

I will #REJOICE in the Lord

hab3-17-18-amp

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will REJOICE in the LORD,
I will be JOYFUL in God my Savior.  

—Habakkuk 3:17-18

When Rick and I lived in the central valley of California, we lived in the midst of a farm belt that feeds the whole country. We lived near groves of almost every kind of fruit and nut trees. Cotton, strawberry and corn fields bordered farms and housing developments alike. I could therefore relate to the words of these verses as I gazed upon field after field of grape vines.

During the summer months, we could see certain fields of grapes drying in the sun to make raisins. And when we looked out into our backyard, there was our fig tree, several weeks past harvest but still in full leaf.

As I contemplated these verses, I wondered about Habakkuk’s strong faith. Here was a man who questioned his LORD’s motives and supposed inaction, yet he also learned to trust and REJOICE in Him, no matter what. His JOYFUL attitude makes his words sing.

What about me? Can I still “be JOYFUL in God my Savior” in spite of how I feel each day?

I have spent many years learning to live with chronic illness. In addition to several illnesses, my immune system doesn’t work that well after years of taking too many antibiotics. I seem to fall prey to all the little bugs that are going around, and it takes me more time than most people to recover. I have little energy to complete the smallest tasks in my home; even sweeping the floor seems a monumental project. But in spite of all this, I can still trust that God is taking care of me, that He is still in control, and that I can actually REJOICE in that fact.

This season of my life in which I’m struggling with different illnesses is a time when I can complain about the injustice of it, or I can instead be JOYFUL and thankful for God’s presence in my life, no matter what. I choose to be JOYFUL because God promises to be with us in every situation, good or bad.

Phil4-4-5-REJOICE-BrightOrangeGerbera-25--AMP

REJOICE in the Lord always.
I will say it again: REJOICE!
Let your gentleness be evident to all.
The Lord is near.
—Philippians 4:4

Heavenly Father: Thank you for the JOY You provide in every situation. Help me to be Your light, your JOY and your promise of hope for others, even during times of pain and frustration. Amen.