The 20th Sunday After Trinity October 9, 2005
540, 518, 535, 761 [TLH alt. 36]
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
In Christ Jesus, who alone is the source of never-ending joy, dear fellow Christians:
For as long as he could remember, Bob had wanted one thing in life more than anything else. The question was how to get it. Growing up watching TV, he had been programmed by thousands of commercials to believe that he could get this one thing by buying more and more of the newest and best products on the market. He spent years accumulating possessions: designer clothes, computers, other electronics, and cars. Yet he still had to admit that he did not have that one treasure he had been searching for. Then he heard about “the power of positive thinking,” so he looked within himself hoping to manufacture for himself what he wanted. That, too, was unsuccessful.
He tried it all, and in the eyes of many he had it all: a family, a good job, a wide circle of friends, and excellent health. Still, he was bothered by the emptiness inside and the nagging fear that he was missing something important. What made matters even worse was that he had occasional glimpses of what he was after, but it always slipped away, stayed just beyond his grasp, and disappeared as quickly as a dream interrupted by the alarm clock. What Bob wanted more than anything else, and what he would have given anything to have for his own was this: real, lasting, happiness.
Bob is not alone. A nationwide study confirmed that while Americans have more money and possessions than ever before, never before have they been so unhappy and dissatisfied. It leaves many asking, “What does it take to be happy?” Have you asked yourself that question? Does it seem sometimes that happiness is an impossible dream, because no matter what you try, you can’t find it? The Lord’s message to us and to everyone else who has ever been discouraged is that while we can never find or make happiness for ourselves, it is not an impossibility for our lives. Incredibly, God in His love offers happiness to everyone as a free gift. Would you like a happier, more carefree life? Then rejoice in the Lord!
But how can we rejoice in the Lord when there are so many things to worry about? A person can’t be happy and worried at the same time. The Philippian Christians must have wondered the same thing. They were faced with the very real possibility of being persecuted for their faith. How could they be joyful when, for all they knew, they might lose their jobs, possessions, or even their lives for following Christ. After all, it had already happened to the founder of their church, the Apostle Paul. He was writing to them from a jail cell.
What’s on your own personal worry list? How many nights have you laid awake totally exhausted, but still too worried to drift off to sleep. Carefully made plans fall through, bills pile up, and anxiety takes over. We worry about our jobs, our children, and our health. We worry about the faults and failings in our lives and what that does to our standing with God. We can’t just ignore these things as though they are not real or will go away by themselves. They have to be faced and dealt with.
Some people try to overcome their anxiety and problems by themselves. You may have seen the slogan: “No Fear!” on T-shirts and bumper stickers. It expresses a kind of arrogant confidence in self which in effect says, “I’m not worried. I can handle whatever comes along just fine by myself.” But we can’t. No one can. We don’t have all the answers. We can’t solve all the problems. Left to ourselves, we would struggle through this life, die in sin and despair, and spend eternity in Hell. What joy is there in that kind of life?
There is a better way to deal with worry than to play mind games with ourselves. Paul says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” [v.6] Don’t worry about a single thing! Instead, take the problem to the Lord in prayer. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7 NIV). It doesn’t matter how big or small the worry is, bring it to the Lord. He cares about every part of your life. Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-30 NIV).
Take all of your anxieties to the Lord and “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” [v.7] God’s peace creates and protects true happiness. It has nothing to do with our efforts, and it is not affected by the outward circumstances of life. That peace is the right relationship between us and God won by Jesus in our behalf. By nature we are sinners who could rightfully expect nothing more than trouble on top of trouble in this life, followed by eternal punishment. But God Himself intervened in history. He sent His Son to give us new life and hope. “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NIV).
Through Jesus’ cross all is well now between us and God. We don’t have to worry about our standing with Him. Our guilt is gone forever! That is the spiritual banquet we hear about in the Old Testament reading for today. That peace gives us joy which nothing can spoil. With God’s forgiving love smiling down on us, we know that besides the spiritual blessings for our souls, all our physical needs and all the earthly details of life will be taken care of by the Lord as well. Looking ahead we know our future is secure. Because Jesus not only died for us, but also rose in glory, we know that we can look forward to the resurrection of our bodies and life everlasting. What greater happiness could God give than what He has already provided?
When you feel the cold knife-stab of fear in your heart, don’t give up your joy in the Lord. Look to His peace for protection. Take all of your worries to Him, trust His promises of help, and rejoice in the Lord all the more!
That is also the Lord’s encouragement when it comes to the choices of life. We face many decisions such as where to live, whom to marry, what work to pursue, and how to spend our free time. These decisions have far-reaching effects on our happiness either for good or bad. Naturally, we want to make decisions which will serve to increase not destroy happiness. But how are we to know what is best?
If you watch TV and pay attention to the prevailing attitude of the world, you hear that happiness is supposedly found in doing whatever you want. “If it feels good, go for it! If you want multiple sexual partners or would like to experiment with drugs, do it, just as long as you don’t hurt someone else. If you’re unhappy in your marriage, get a divorce. If you feel restricted by too many rules, get out from under them. After all, it’s your life!”
As attractive as that attitude is to our sinful nature, the best it can offer is a very short-lived, superficial joy which sets its victim up for a terrible fall. It offers nothing of lasting value. Solomon wrote of his own experience: “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure…. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 NIV).
True joy is found in making choices which are in harmony with God’s will. Paul encourages, “Whatever things are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” [v.8] And then he adds, “Do them.” [v.9] As people of God we are not spiritually homeless, and wandering aimlessly through life with no goal or hope in sight. We have been adopted into God’s holy family. We find joy now in thinking and living for the Savior who lived, died, and rose again for us.
If life has been less than happy lately, take another look at the thoughts of your heart and what you are doing with your time. Ask yourself, “Are my thoughts centered on the Savior, or have they shifted to myself and the goals and desires of my sinful nature? How do I spend my time? Do I set aside quality time each day for reading the Word and listening to the Lord’s voice? Are the books I read and the movies I watch pure, right, and lovely? Do the words I speak reflect a gentle, Christ-like heart toward others? Let thoughts of the Lord fill your heart, live your life for His glory, and there will be real joy. Again, rejoice in the Lord!
For many people, joy is like a roller coaster that goes up and down in synch with the hills and valleys of their life experiences. If things are going well outwardly, they are relatively happy. But as soon as troubles come, happiness drops out of sight. St. Paul knew all about these ups and downs. He faced greater extremes of them than most of us will, and yet his joy was constant through them all. He writes, “I have learned in whatever state I am to be content…. I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” [vv.11-12] The secret was in his trust in God’s power. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” [v.13] The Christian’s joy and confidence does not rest on unstable earthly circumstances, but on the unchanging love and strength of God. Paul could count on God’s strength to see him through regardless of what might come up, so what was there to spoil his joy? We don’t know what the future holds for us, but we do know who holds our future in His almighty hands. So don’t let the ups and downs of life spoil your joy in the Lord. We can be content and happy no matter what.
If we are looking at a normal, everyday routine, we can count on the Lord for the strength to get through it and not to give up because of boredom or because no one seems to appreciate what we do. On the other hand, if the future holds a crisis, we can count on the Lord’s strength to carry us through, when otherwise we would never make it. In all the ups and downs, the Lord guarantees that “He works for the good of those who love him.” (cf: Romans 8:28). And, best of all, neither death nor life, neither the present nor the future, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God and that wonderful peace which Jesus earned for us (cf. Romans 8:38-39).
Are you happy? We don’t have to spend a lifetime trying to find happiness or make it for ourselves. God has already done it all for us! By His love in sending Jesus, He takes away every fear and gives us peace instead. In His Word He gives clear directives for our lives and contentment in His strength. When joy fades, look to the Lord. For whether you are rich or poor, sick or healthy, down-and-out or up-and-coming, the key to happiness is the same: Let’s rejoice in the Lord! Let’s rejoice in the Lord always! Rejoice! Amen.
Rejoice my heart, be glad and sing;
A cheerful trust maintain,
For God, the source of everything,
Your treasure shall remain.
Upon your lips, then, lay your hand,
And trust his guiding love;
Then like a rock your peace shall stand
Here and in heaven above.
(TLH 535:1, 9)
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