Phil. 3 1 Finally, my brothers, 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…
Phil. 4 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
I give in. I want to write original thoughts on this blog, but I repeatedly spend my entire week meditating on the truths of Scripture presented during this current sermon series on Philippians. In today’s sermon, our pastor shamelessly repeated insight offered by Tim Keller on our naive attempts at joy and how they fall short repeatedly to what Scripture offers us in terms of true joy. After very insightful analysis of our attempts to find joy and why they repeatedly fail us, I was ready for the answer–rejoice IN THE LORD. Meditate all day every day (you can never think on it enough) on the depth of who Christ is and what He has accomplished for us on the cross. If you ever think you’ve plumbed the depths of Christ and need to think on something else, you have set yourself up for joyless living. And there is no way back except focused meditation on Christ, His life, the cross, His resurrection, the spiritual benefits secured for us for eternity by His life and death (Ephesians 1) and so forth.
I found the sermon’s analysis of our primary and secondary attempts at joy particularly insightful. It nailed me (and most everyone else I know). It certainly nailed the culture in which I live in the pacific northwest. Here is a summary.
First, we have all had fleeting moments of joy. We know it exists. But its fleeting nature leads us to two responses. For some, we do whatever we can to reproduce it. In more traditional cultures, we embrace the roles we think we are supposed to fulfil believing that doing those roles well will bring us joy. In more progressive cultures, we reject roles and seek to do whatever we desire. I’m not talking about debauchery, but about serious attempts to find ourselves, our individuality, and so forth by pursuing whatever personal goals we think will give our lives meaning and joy. Both fail us. We may have moments of fleeting joy, enough to whet our appetites and tease us knowing there must be better, but never enough to satisfy. Then comes our secondary attempts at joy. Traditionalists may reject their traditions. Doing what society expected didn’t bring me joy so screw them! I’m going to find my own way, do what I want. And sometimes, those pursuing the progressive mindset of finding their own path will switch to more traditional roles with equal futility. But the most destructive secondary strategy of all is this–we resort to cynicism. You want joy. Life constantly disappoints. Growing up means you finally accept that joy is an elusive fleeting feeling subject to hormones and stress. It isn’t real and only uninitiated fools still try to find it in life. These are the people who slowly decay inside, becoming harder and harder because that’s the only way they know to deal with the bitter disappointments of life.
But there is another way, radically different from all strategies discussed above. First, this way believes that joy is real and available. It isn’t putting on a happy face, but a real, deep, hopeful peace that perseveres even when you are in jail about to be put to death for your faith in Christ, trying to encourage those worried about you, watching your life work at various stages of disarray (as the author of Philippians was at this moment). And this joy is found in one singular place. In the Lord.
Now “in the Lord” is a simple prepositional phrase. But it’s a loaded statement. It’s a deep, profound concept. And if you know the phrase but are unfamiliar with the joy Paul says is available in that phrase, I encourage you in several ways.
1) Meditate on Ephesians 1. Paul gives a succinct summary here of the depths of our spiritual blessings in the Lord.
2) Take a couple of months in your devotions to read through the gospels. Remember that this joy is singularly available in Christ. Park on Him for a while. Pray that God would connect all that you have IN THE LORD with this sustaining hopeful peace called joy in your life.
Joy is available. But only in one place.