Two of my favorite scripture passages urge the reader to “Rejoice.” The first one is from Philippians:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Phil. 4:4-7 NABRE
Here’s another one from I Thessalonians:
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
I Thess. 5:16-18
While these passages are packed with meaning, one thing is clear: The Christian life is meant to be exhilarating and a celebration — not a funeral!
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a beer commercial, but as I recall, the typical ad shows a group of people who are smiling, laughing, doing something fun, and of course, drinking beer. That’s one way to picture celebration.
Another view is of the person who is “fully alive.” This guy is the life of the party, likes to take risks, and isn’t limited by inhibitions.
Both versions have their attraction, but I don’t have much enthusiasm for adopting either of these as a model for living. For example, what happens when the music dies and the beer runs dry? Or when you discover living for yourself eventually leads to a dead end? And then you’re left to ask: “Is that all there is?”
These images give a limited view of what happens on the outside of a person. But what’s going on inside? Do introverts have any hope of really celebrating life if they don’t match either of these patterns? I believe they do because real celebration starts in our soul.
Salvation in Jesus Christ was never meant to be a static event, where once we’re saved we sit down and wait for God to pick us up. The infilling of the Holy Spirit gives us life and can continue to heal us and make us holy. We call the changes He produces in us, “fruit,” which includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. For me, these represent the start of a real celebration, and they will grow inside of us if we let them.
It’s no secret that life can be hard and stuff happens. That’s not good news if your mode of celebration is only exterior. As a physician, I’ve had the opportunity to see how things have turned out down the road for the “I-Did-It-My-Way” individualist, and it’s often not pretty. The results of a self-centered life can have devastating effects on mental, relational, and physical health.
That doesn’t mean “insiders” have it any easier. We all have difficulties in life, and some have it worse than others. But our God is a living God. He doesn’t just give us a healthy life plan to follow, although He does, but He also actively works within our being to renew us and make us whole.
Still, we’re broken people, and we can get stuck in crummy patterns that rob us of joy. A while back I wrote a blog about five things that can keep us from developing joy in our hearts (“The Five Urrings”). You can read about these here.
When the Music Dies
So what do we do when our emotions are stuck in the gutter or life keeps handing us lemons? When we can’t seem to shake our anger, anxiety, or sorrow? I have found Paul’s advice in Philippians and I Thessalonians helps.
The first thing Paul says after exhorting us to rejoice is that our kindness should be known to all. Now as I understand, the Greek word used for “kindness” in this passage is a difficult one to translate. William Barclay described a person with the quality of epieikeiaas as someone who knows when not to apply the strict letter of the law and acts with mercy instead.1 It is the same kind of compassion God shows us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Joy and celebration are connected to expressing the love and mercy of God toward others.
In both passages, Paul tells us to give thanks to God. Thanksgiving makes us look at all we have received, the foremost being that God has given us His very self.
The third word of advice is to pray always. Prayer is a lot like stretching. Without it, our soul contracts into itself and becomes consumed with its own misery. Prayer has the opposite effect. Through prayer, God’s Spirit opens and expands our hearts. At the same time, we can release to Him all the turmoil roiling within us.
Showing mercy and love, giving thanks, and constant prayer. So why do these work? Are they just another way to exercise “positive thinking?”
I believe they’re effective for two reasons. The first is that that’s how God designed us. When we think and act according to His design, we feel God’s pleasure, and our very life becomes a celebration. The second reason is this: each of these steps moves us away from selfish concern and allows God’s Spirit to work within us so that even while undergoing great suffering, He enables us to rejoice.
1William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible: The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville, KY, 2003, p. 88.
Celebrate is part of a series on practices that promote psychological and spiritual health.