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Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say rejoice!
The following passages are taken from Charles R Swindoll’s book “Laugh Again---Experience Outrageous Joy,” published in 1992.
There once lived a man who became a Christian as an adult and left security and popularity of his former career as an official religious leader to follow Christ. The persecution that became his companion throughout the remaining years of his life was just the beginning of his woes. Misunderstood, misrepresented, and maligned though he was, he pressed on joyfully [as a living model of how to live a Christian life]. On top of all that, he suffered from a physical ailment so severe he called it a “thorn in my flesh”—--possibly an intense form of migraine that revisited him on a regular basis.
By now you know I am referring to Saul of Tarsus, later called
Pau1. Though not one to dwell on his own difficulties or ailments, the apostle did take the time to record a partial list of them in his second letter to his friends in Corinth. Compared to his first-century contemporaries, he was—--
. . . in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23—28 NASB)
Although that was enough hardship for several people, Paul’s journey got even more rugged as time passed. Finally he was arrested and placed under the constant guard of Roman soldiers to whom he was chained for two years. While he was allowed to remain “in his own rented quarters” (Acts 28:30), the restrictions must have been irksome to a man who had grown accustomed to traveling and to the freedom of setting his own agenda. Yet not once do we read of his losing patience and throwing a fit. On the contrary, he saw his circumstances as an opportunity to make Christ known as he made the best of his situation.
[Notice, when hardship comes, Paul did not ask “Why?” as most of us would. He concentrated on his response as to “What to do?” now that he was in such a situation.]
READ A LETTER WITH A SURPRISING THEME
Interestingly, Paul wrote several letters during those years of house arrest, one of which was addressed to a group of Christians living in Philippi. It is an amazing letter, made even more remarkable by its recurring theme—--joy. Think of it! Written by a man who had known excruciating hardship and pain, living in a restricted setting chained to a Roman soldier, the letter to the Philippians resounds with joy! Attitudes of joy and contentment are woven through the tapestry of these 104 verses like threads of silver. Rather than wallowing in self-pity or calling on his friends to help him escape or at least find relief from these restrictions, Paul sent a surprisingly lighthearted message. And on top of all that, time and again he urges the Philippians (and his readers) to be people of joy.
Let me show you how that same theme resurfaces in each of the
· When Paul prayed for the Philippians, he smiled!
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all. (Philippians 1:3—4 )
· When he compared staying on earth to leaving and going to be with Jesus, he was joyful.
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. And convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith. (Philippians 1:21—25)
· When he encouraged them to work together in harmony, his own joy intensified as he envisioned that happening.
If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. (Philippians 2:1—2)
· When he mentioned sending a friend to them, he urged them to receive the man joyfully.
But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need; because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly in order that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. Therefore receive him in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard. (Philippians 2:25—29)
· When he communicated the “core” of what he wanted them to hear from him, he was full of joy.
Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. (Philippians 3:1 )
· When he was drawing his letter to a close, he returned to the same message of joy:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)
· Finally, when Paul called to mind their concern for his welfare, the joy about which he writes is (in my opinion) one of the most upbeat passages found in Scripture.
But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction. And you yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. Not that I seek the gift itself; but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. But I have received everything in full, and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:10—19)
NEEDED: A JOY TRANSFUSION
I strongly suspect that after the Philippians received this delightful little letter from Paul, their joy increased to an all-time high. They had received a joy transfusion from someone they dearly loved, which must have been all the more appreciated as they remembered Paul’s circumstance. If he, in that irritating, confining situation, could be so positive, so full of encouragement, so affirming, certainly those living in freedom could be joyful.
Life’s joy stealers are many, and you will need to get rid of them if you hope to attain the kind of happiness described by Paul’s pen. If you don’t, all attempts to receive (or give) a joy transfusion will be blocked. One of the ringleaders you’ll need to do battle with sooner rather than later is that sneaky thief who slides into your thoughts and reminds you something from the past that demoralizes you (even though it is over and done with and fully forgiven) or conjures up fears regarding something in the future (even though that frightening something may never happen). Joyful people stay riveted to the present—--the here and now, not the then and never.
Helen Mallicoat made a real contribution to your life and mine when she wrote:
I was regretting the past
And fearing the future...
Suddenly my Lord was speaking:
“MY NAME IS I AM.” He paused.
I waited. He continued,
“WHEN YOU LIVE IN THE PAST,
WITH ITS MISTAKES AND REGRETS,
IT IS HARD. I AM NOT THERE.
MY NAME IS NOT I WAS.
“WHEN YOU LIVE IN THE FUTURE,
WITH ITS PROBLEMS AND FEARS,
IT IS HARD. I AM NOT THERE.
MY NAME IS NOT I WILL BE.
“WHEN YOU LIVE IN THIS MOMENT,
IT IS NOT HARD.
I AM HERE.
MY NAME IS I AM”
IF GOD IS GOD.. . THEN LAUGHTER FITS LIFE
As I attempt to probe the mind of Paul, trying to find some common denominator, some secret clue to his joy, I have to conclude that it is his confidence in God. To Paul, God was in full control of everything. Everything! If hardship came, God permitted it. If pain dogged his steps, it was only because God allowed it. If he was under arrest, God still remained the sovereign director of his life. If there seemed to be no way out, God knew he was pressed. If things broke open and all pressure was relieved, God was responsible.
My point? God is no distant deity but a constant reality, a very present help whenever needs occur. So? So live like it. And laugh like it! Paul did. While he lived, he drained every drop of joy out of every day that passed. How do I know? This little letter to the Philippians says so—--as we shall see in the following chapters.
· In the first chapter of Philippians we learn there is laughter in living—--whether or not we get what we want, in spite of difficult circumstances, and even when there are conflicts.
· In the second chapter we learn there is laughter in serving. It starts with the right attitude (humility), it is maintained through right theology (God is God), and it is encouraged by right models and mentors (friends like Timothy and Epaphroditus).
· In the third chapter, we learn there is laughter in sharing as Paul shares three happy things: his testimony, his goal of living, and his reason for encouragement.
· Finally, in the fourth chapter we learn there is laughter in resting. These have to be some of the finest lines ever written on the principle of personal contentment.
What a treasure house of joy! Frankly, I’m excited—--and I know you will be too. Before we are very far along, you will begin to realize that joy is a choice. You will discover that each person must choose joy if he or she hopes to laugh again.
Jesus gave us His truth so that His joy might be in us. And when that happens, our joy is full (John 15:11). The tragedy is that so few choose to live joyfully.
Will you? If you will, I can make you a promise: laughter and enthusiasm will follow.
I came across a story in one of Tim Hansel’s books that points this out in an unforgettable way. It’s the true account of an eighty—two-year-old man who had served as a pastor for over fifty of those years. In his later years he struggled with skin cancer. It was so bad that he had already had fifteen skin operations. Tim writes:
Besides suffering from the pain, he was so embarrassed about how the cancer had scarred his appearance, that he wouldn’t go out. Then one day he was given You Gotta Keep Dancin’ which I tell of my long struggle with the chronic, intense pain from a near-fatal climbing accident. In that book, I told of the day when I realized that the pain would be with me forever. At that moment, I made a pivotal decision. I knew that it was up to me to choose how I responded to it. So I chose joy. . .
After reading awhile, the elderly pastor said he put the book down, thinking, “He’s crazy. I can’t choose joy.”
So he gave up on the idea. Then later he read in John 15:11 that joy is a gift. Jesus says, “I want to give you my joy so that your joy may be complete.”
A gift! he thought. He didn’t know what to do, so he got down on his knees. Then he didn’t know what to say, so he said, “Well, then, Lord, give it to me.”
And suddenly, as he described it, this incredible hunk of joy came from heaven and landed on him.
“I was overwhelmed,” he wrote. “It was like the joy talked about in Peter, a ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory.’ I didn’t know what to say, so I said, ‘Turn it on, Lord, turn it on!’” And before he knew it, he was dancing around the house. He felt so joyful that he actually felt born again—--again. And this astonishing change happened at the age of 82.
He just had to get out. So much joy couldn’t stay cooped up. So he went out to the local fastfood restaurant and got a burger. A lady saw how happy he was, and asked, “How are you doing?”
He said, “Oh, I’m wonderful!”
“Is it your birthday?” she asked.
“No, honey, it’s better than that!”
“Better than that!”
“Well, what is it?” she asked excitedly.
“It’s the joy of Jesus. Do you know what I’m talking about?” The lady shrugged and answered, “No, I have to work on Sundays.”
Every time I read Tim’s story, I shake my head. What a ridiculous response! But not unusual. Basically there are two kinds of people: people who choose joy and people who don’t. People who choose joy pay no attention to what day of the week it is . . . or how old they are . . . or what level of pain they are in. They have deliberately decided to laugh again because they have chosen joy. People who do not choose joy miss the relief laughter can bring. And because they do not, they cannot. And because they can’t, they won’t.
Which one are you? (22-29)
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