A few weeks ago, there was a pupil free day on a Friday, so our family took a day trip up to Bowen to meet our daughter who is studying in Townsville. We got to Horseshoe Bay where sometimes it can be a bit windy, but on this particular day it was still, clear skies, clear water, just tranquil. The kids got out on the paddle board, there was a bit of rock exploring, there was joy and (mostly) there was peace. How do we experience more of that? Take lots of holidays?
The Challenge to Joy
Part of the reason we can’t just take lots of holidays is because there are stresses and pressures which need managing. We can’t avoid those pressures, because they are a key part of what life is about. As we aim to provide for ourselves and to be a blessing to others in various ways, it brings complexity to life. Financial stresses, relational difficulties, time pressures and uncertainties. How do we cope with those stresses in a way that is manageable and doesn’t work against joy?
The Challenge of Relationships
These are important questions because they don’t just affect us, but they affect those around us. In this last week, I was unable to keep a commitment I’d made. It wasn’t out of the blue, I’d been communicating with those involved about the situation, but when I finally made to call to cancel, the man who it most deeply affected was gracious. What a blessing!
Now of course, people are not always gracious. The scriptures warn us against being harsh or even violent, and instead to conduct ourselves with gentleness. How do we as individuals grow in the grace of gentleness with others? How do we as a community grow in this ability to show grace?
The Fruit of Joy: Gentleness
A consistent theme through the letter to the Philippians is that of joy.
‘I always pray with joy’ (1:4)
‘I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.’ (1:18)
‘make my joy complete’ (2:2)
‘I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice.’ (2:17-18)
Speaking of Epaphroditus: ‘welcome him in the Lord with great joy’ (2:29)
‘Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.’ (3:1)
Finally, 4:4, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!’
Paul is insistent in both modelling joy in the Lord and also specifically calling the Philippians to this same joy. It is for no idle purpose. Back in Philippians 3:2-9, he had unpacked that the opposite of rejoicing in the Lord is to rejoice in self. To have confidence in one’s own self. Yet that was a confidence that would quickly dry up joy, as the self-confident person both feels the pressure to be God and keep up the sense of self-righteousness, while judging those others who don’t meet the standard. Much better to rejoice in the Lord, and have your confidence solely in Him.
In Philippians 4, Paul’s goes on to explain a benefit of such joy in the Lord, it brings a gentleness that flows out of the near presence of the Lord in such a persons life.
‘Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.’ (4:5)
When our joy is in the Lord and our confidence in Him, we don’t need to be harsh or pushy to get our way. Our trust is in Him. But how do we keep our joy in the Lord when the stresses of life press in?
The Pursuit of Joy: Prayer
‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.’ (Philippians 4:6)
When we are faced with situations, circumstances or relationships that make us anxious, we are to present these things to God in prayer. This is the practical step of rejoicing and putting our confidence in the Lord. Part of this process is of course looking for things we can be thankful to God for. But the large part is just taking the thing that is causing the anxiety, and placing it in God’s hands. What can we expect as we do this?
The Power of Joy: Peace
‘And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’ (Philippians 4:7)
As Christ Jesus came into our world, God as a man, there was a revelation given to us of the very nature of God. A God who does not seek his own interests or welfare, but who seeks to play his role as Creator in relation to us his creatures. The Son is obedient and honouring to His Father. The Father in turn exalts and blesses the Son. In him there is perfect order and peace.
Therefore as we place all our cares in the hand of the Lord and look to Him with confidence to provide the way forward, our expectation is that the peace and perfect order of the Lord will come upon our hearts and mind. What a wonderful promise!
Times of stress and anxiety, far from being a source of dread and concern, can be turned into opportunities to press more deeply into the Lord Jesus Christ. Though we all love and desire the easy times, the hard times are when gentleness shines through and the joy of the Lord is truly shown to be our strength. Let’s continue to press into Him!
About the Author
Jai Wright is a Christian Minister, who founded and leads MAKE Church in Mackay, Qld. He recently published the book, Life Plugged In: Connecting with the Source of Peace, Power and Purpose.
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