Yesterday I preached on a favorite verse from Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice” (Phil 4:4). I memorized the verse as a simple song in high school and I continue to use it as a prayer mantra as a I run. Joy is an attitude that I seek to encourage in various ways (Four Lessons for Joyful Habits).
Joy is often confused with happiness, but I think there are some critical distinctions. I used Pharrell Williams music video to help introduce the contrast between happiness and joy.
The video is a lot of fun; various people, in all shapes, ages and sizes, dance to the song. However I do struggle with one phrase Pharrell makes, “Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth.” I wonder how such an ephemeral feeling like happiness can be considered the truth. Like all emotions, it comes for a brief time and then fades, replaced by another emotion, like disappointment, grief, boredom or anger or contentment. I think of truth as having a more lasting quality.
Like many emotions it is often triggered by circumstance. I used a metaphor yesterday in which I described how different people approach a vacation day at a Minnesota lake. A fisherman is happy with overcast skies, cooler weather and a bit of chop on the water, so the walleyes wouldn’t see the boat. A water skier likes perfectly smooth water and bright sunshine. And a sailor likes a stiff breeze to fill the sails of the boat. Each prefers different circumstances to enjoy their sports. And no one is really happy with a series of violent thunderstorms moving over the waters.
Joy is not dependent on circumstances. Paul states that we are to rejoice in the Lord. Joy is the knowledge and trust that I am surrounded and held by God’s grace and love, no matter what the circumstances. To push the lake metaphor a bit, joy is sinking beneath the surface circumstance (whether bright sunshine or stormy waves) into the peace and calm of Jesus’ love. The calm, warm water surround and supports us no matter what may be happening on the surface above.
A few verses later Paul reminds the church “The peace of God which surpasses human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7). God’s peace (and joy) exists in the place beyond daily circumstances. Contemplative prayer is a way for me to drop below the daily surface circumstance and rest in God’s peace and joy. I imagine myself floating in the embrace of Jesus’ love, guarded by the promise of God’s Word.
How do you Rejoice in the Lord Always?
Lord Jesus, teach me to find my joy in you.