Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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.
Do you remember the first time you received really good news? For me, that news came when I was 3 years old, and my parents told me I was going to have a little sister soon. I remember being crazy excited for that. I cleaned my room, helped my mom pick out clothes, and picked a whole bunch of flowers out of the backyard (which my mom wasn’t too stoked on because apparently new flowers are supposed to stay IN THE GROUND). I got so crazy over the flowers that apparently I was convinced that my sister’s middle name needed to be “flower”. Thank God I was three and not the one to make those decisions!
I remember the first time I received really bad news. I was about 6 years old, and my mother told me that we were moving away from my dad. Nothing about it made sense. As a kid, you don’t really understand warning signs very well. Even though everything around me for the previous few years pointed towards it, no 6-year-old kid is ready to process that. I remember going through a few years of craziness after that. I became easily angered. I threw fits at school. I got vicious towards other kids at times. A couple of years later, they told me I had this thing called “tourette’s”. I didn’t really know what it meant at the time, but I knew that I now had these nifty new pills that put me to sleep really quickly, and that there was an official reason why I twitched and hummed all the time.
“Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.”
-Pastor Steve Davidson
For as long as I can remember, I’ve found that my happiness and my well-being can be easily swayed by the circumstances in my life. I became a Christian at the age of 15, and it took me a long time after that to reconcile the pain in my life with God’s sovereignty. Having never grown up in church, I had a really odd view of God growing up. My parents would occasionally mention God, usually coupled with a few choice swear words, when trying to either motivate or scare me. I heard the phrase “God is watching” often growing up. My knee-jerk reaction to that used to be to think, “Oh yeah? God’s watching? Then why can you do whatever you want?” As I grew older, I became even more jaded hearing this. As my family kept struggling with anger, drugs, and broken relationships, and I saw friends suffering all around me, my response became, “God’s watching? Then God, if you're watching, why are you still letting all of these shitty things happen to me? Why do I have to be angry and miserable?” I never doubted that God was there, but I began to feel that He didn’t really care, which only pissed me off more.
During my sophomore year, when I was probably at my lowest, I came upon a passage that shifted my perspective.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
This was really the first time that Jesus made any sense to me. This to me was the Gospel finally connecting; Jesus promised us rest from our burdens, and that his death would take those burdens from us. What’s crazy is that God didn’t just “lighten” our burden; he exchanged it. He bore the weight of it, and continues to bear it. That blows my mind! John 16:33 says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” I had to start shifting my perspective from “God, why haven’t you fixed everything for me?” to “God, thank you for giving me rest.” That’s where Philippians 4 comes in. Studying through it this weekend rocked my world. Paul tells us to rejoice always. That’s super difficult in practice. It’s really easy to rejoice and praise God in the good things. We equate God doing good things with how “happy we are”, but we leave our happiness up to happenstance. God showed me this weekend that his constant nature allows us to rejoice not in the circumstance, but in the fact that God is in control. Terrible things happen. We don’t rejoice that those things are happening, but we rejoice in the fact that God is in control and will work it for our good and His glory. We don’t have to allow ourselves to suffer through the pain.
We can pick flowers out of the ground with exuberance and abandon, despite the thorns lying in our midst.
(Check out yesterday's message from Clovis Hills Community Church on Philippians 4. Blew my mind, and inspired this post).