By: Dr. Denise Thagard, long-term candidate currently raising support to serve in the Central African Republic

 “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!”

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t always responded well to commands, especially when I was little. I loved doing things for my mom—I remember cleaning our bathroom for her one Saturday. I was proud of myself, and my mom was grateful, but then she followed it up with, “now you can do it more often.” Suddenly, I went from doing it of my own free will to having to do it as a chore. I don’t know about you, but when I read Paul’s command that we must “Rejoice” I sometimes have that same negative response especially if I am not feeling happy at that point.

But to rejoice and have joy is more than just a command; it’s an invitation. Check out this verse from the Psalms:

“You make known to me the path of life;

you will fill me with joy in your presence,

with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” -Psalm 16:11

Here are the three things that I pull out of that Psalm written by David. First, God shows me the path of life. How many times do I worry about what is around the next corner? What difficult client will come in next? Will we have enough business to hire more staff to lighten everyone’s load soon? Will I ever get out of debt? I’ve worried a lot, but as I pray and slowly give it over to God I can have peace because I know that God loves me and will be there with me no matter what the result.

Last year, I visited with a pre-vet student whose heart was set on entering veterinary school. She was devastated when her wait-list status never changed to an invitation to vet school. God provided her a position in a pig farm which provided her with experience that she really valued and would have missed had she not been denied access the first year.

Second, God promises to fill me with joy in His presence. During my time in Ethiopia I had some days where I really struggled. I was blessed to have a mentor who would meet together with me, listen to my heart, and pray together with me. When I was down, she would always ask me how my time with God was. (It was usually lacking.) I would seek the Lord in His Word afterwards and find comfort and even joy in it. Over time, I learned that when I found myself depressed I would turn much more quickly to the Lord and also seek out time with others where I would be encouraged. This helped me put life into perspective.

Third, God promises eternal pleasures at His right hand. Once again we find ourselves in a closeness with God. Rather than experiencing fear and trepidation, we experience pleasure! This is a promise for the eternal. I’m sure that you, like me, don’t daily think of things that happen after death. But if you have spent any time with a friend of family close to death or affected by cancer you will know the importance of hope for something beyond what we see on earth today. A relationship with Christ and following Him as His child promises that we will be with Him eternally.

Now, about the Apostle Paul’s command to rejoice in Phil. 4:4. Paul has earned the right to give us this exhortation. In the first chapter vv. 12-24 we see Paul imprisoned for sharing the gospel, yet in the midst of it he rejoices!

Joni Eareckson Tada is a modern day example of one who has chosen joy. She’s a well-known speaker for disabilities due to becoming a quadriplegic at the age of 17.  Take a few minutes and listen to what she has to share at: http://www.joniandfriends.org/radio/5-minute/defiant-joy/.

 “I’ve also got joy that’s a choice. I decide on it virtually every time I am faced with a day of chronic pain, because pain is the big joy-thief. Pain does everything it can to rob you of your joy in the Lord. I mean, as seasoned as I am, as much as I’ve learned to lean on God, there are days my pain will nag at me, trying its best to get me off course…

… But you know what? I have learned not to listen. What’s more, I’ve learned to fight back with joy. I take joy, the Holy Spirit’s gift to me, and I hold it up in front of my pain and say, “Look, I may be wasting away on the outside, but inside I am being renewed. I’m being renewed by the promise of my salvation; by the promise of God’s grace; by the promise that my godly response to you, pain, will win me a rich reward in heaven. I have the joy of the Lord and he is my strength. I have joy that is real and rock solid, unshakable and unmovable, all because of Jesus and his promises. So you take that, pain.”

Joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit and is far more durable, rigorous, and rugged than most of us realize. So when you pick up your cross every day, choose to trust God in it, because as you do, you will also be choosing joy. So please, whatever valley you are walking through right now, whatever pain, grief, or disappointment you are facing, choose joy.

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