One of the hallmarks of the Christian is joy. Part 1 presented five choices that we can make in order to experience the joy of the Lord. Here are five more principles from the book of Philippians.
6. Rather than getting frustrated or angry with others, take the opportunity to intercede for them.
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy (1:3-4).
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God (1:9-11).
Many of us have a tendency to hang onto anger, to nurse it and to justify ourselves in holding something against someone else. It may feel good momentarily, but anger can be a destructive emotion, eating us up without solving anything. We would be more joyful if we could learn to take our feeling of irritation toward another as a cue to pray for that person. Praying for others can soften your heart toward them and help you to see them through God’s eyes.
Paul must have faced many frustrations in dealing with all kinds of sinful, broken people. Some Christians were even trying to hurt him deliberately; he said that such people “preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains” (1:17). But he did not harbor bitterness against them, and he even found joy in the fact that Christ was being preached (1:18). He obeyed the words of Jesus to “pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk. 6:28). Most of his epistles begin with prayer for the spiritual growth of the people, and it gave him great joy to know that God was answering those prayers.
7. Rather than being a workaholic or a control freak or doing nothing, do what I can and trust God to do the rest.
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed,…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (2:12-13).
I can do everything through him who gives me strength (4:13).
It can be very tricky to keep in balance what I should do and what I should wait on God to do. Sometimes I expect God to do what I ought to do, and sometimes I try to plow through in my own strength without recognizing my dependence on Him. Paul tells us to “work out” our salvation as God works in us. We don’t have to work for our salvation—it is a gift given freely by God’s grace—but we do have to work it out. We have a day-to-day responsibility to act in ways that will promote our sanctification, yet at the same time, God is the one who is working in us. He gives the ability and even the willingness, though we have to open ourselves up to be able and willing.
As we faced the portages on our canoe trip, sometimes I felt as if I couldn’t do it (or didn’t want to). It seemed like it would be nice to plop down at the beginning and pray, “Lord, levitate me and my stuff to the other side.” But God doesn’t do for us the things He has given us the ability to do ourselves. Maybe I didn’t have the strength to do it all, but I could pick up my pack and put one foot in front of the other, and in the process I found strength to take more steps. Maybe I couldn’t carry a canoe all the way, but I could do it part way, then rest, and then carry it some more.
Similarly, in life’s everyday challenges, we have to use the ability God has given us and trust Him for what is beyond us. If I’m looking for a job I can’t expect God to write my resume and make the contacts, but I can expect Him to guide me along the way and weave together the right set of circumstances. And in the process of doing what I can do, God gives the ability to do what I thought I couldn’t do. Working out my salvation means I work in His strength, not my own, and I let God be in control rather than trying to manipulate circumstances myself. It gives a sense of peace and joy to know that I have done my best and God will take care of the rest.
8. Rather than waste energy worrying, bring everything to the Lord with prayer and thanksgiving.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (4:6-7).
Fear and worry can immobilize a person and strip him or her of joy. There is plenty to worry about in this world, but God doesn’t want us to drain ourselves worrying, but rather to trust Him and be intentionally thankful. We are commanded not to be anxious about anything. But what do we do with the feelings of worry and anxiety that inevitably assault us?
Prayer is the most productive outlet for fear and worry, and the promised result is a profound peace: “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Knowing that I have brought my cares to the Lord, that He has heard me and is in control, enables me to rest in Him with the tranquility of a sleeping child.
9. Rather than thinking about the negative, discipline my mind to dwell on the positive.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things (4:8).
What I allow my mind to dwell on will be very influential in my whole outlook. As Confucius and many since him have wisely said, our character is formed in our thought life: “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action; reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.” God wants us to dwell on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy, and those thoughts will shape our character and our attitude toward life.
It is impossible to control all our thoughts or to block out all negative stimuli. But we do have control over what we allow ourselves to be exposed to habitually (books, friends, media, places, etc.) For example, we can make sure that the primary input for our minds is from the Word of God. If I can cultivate good thoughts and nurture them with good input, I will be more joyful.
10. Rather than getting bogged down in the difficulties of the present, look at things in the sweep of God’s perspective for the future.
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (3:20-21).
It’s easy to get our thinking locked into our own little niche in space and time. But by faith we can see far beyond the confines of our own physical and temporal limitations. Paul gives us a glimpse into what God’s plan holds for the future: the return of our Savior, everything being brought fully under His control, and the transformation of our lowly bodies into glorious bodies. Someday all of our troubles will be behind us. We can look forward to that day with joyful anticipation.
If we walk by sight we will look around and see problems, ugliness, sorrow, and despair. If we walk by faith we will look up and see peace, beauty, joy, and hope. Where do you want to fix your eyes?
Rejoicing is not an option for the Christian; it is a command. Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” In fact, he speaks of joy or rejoicing at least 14 times in the book of Philippians. Many times the outward circumstances do not warrant rejoicing. It must be an act of faith, rooted in the goodness and sovereignty of God. So what will you choose to do?
complain or be content?
compete or cooperate?
glorify self or glorify God?
wallow in guilt or receive forgiveness?
whine about suffering or rejoice in it?
get angry or intercede?
work for your salvation or work out your salvation?
worry or pray?
dwell on the negative or dwell on the positive?
walk by sight or walk by faith?
As Paul shows in Philippians, there are many daily choices we can make in order to experience joy. You don’t have to wait for happiness to happen to you—you can choose joy today!
Part 3 of this series will talk about the greatest joy of all.