Rest and Rejoice

Though tested positive for my antigen test on Day 6, I felt much better physically, and emotionally today. I am physically stronger to move about the house to clean, to sweep the fallen leaves on the porch, to delight watching the cats play from across the road, to water my plants and to end the day by preparing a simple dinner for myself.

The aroma in the kitchen smells different today: fresh and lovely. I was more present when I was washing the veggies, cutting them and cooking them in the pan. I was taking my time to enjoy the process of meal prepping and cooking.  

A week ago, these simple chores of taking care of the house, gardening and cooking were done in a rush and mindlessly. They were things that I needed to get over and done with because there always something else more important that needed my attention: some messages to reply, some assignments waiting to be completed, another email to respond to, cleaning the house before the visitors arrive, rushing to church for some activities and so on. But, when I am in home quarantine, activities become slower, time seems longer and tasks are manageable. I can slow down and enjoy the beauty in the simple things in life, and not rush from chores to chores.  

Apostle Paul writes, “4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”(Philippians 4:4-5)

Rejoice in the Lord is not something that we do when we feel like it. It should be our lifestyle as the disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. Joy comes from God. Joy is knowing that God sent Jesus Christ to die for our sins, the Holy Spirit is with us and we have eternal life with God. We can rejoice regardless of our present circumstances because we stand on the promise and assurance of who God is and what He is doing and will do in the life of His people.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (verse 6)

What are you worried about? Our list can go on and on. Apostle Paul urges us not to be anxious or worried about anything but to commit everything to God in prayers. We are invited by God to tell Him the things that are bothering us. In prayers, we are reminded of the sovereignty of God who cares and loves us. When we tell God our needs and requests, we are to give thanks to God, simply because He is good. He has been faithful, merciful and loving to us. In our desperation, He hears us and delivers us.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

Peace is a state of well-being. In the Old Testament, the word “Shalom” in Hebrew means: harmony, wholeness, completeness, health, tranquillity, safety, rest, peace with God, and these are permanent state. 

God’s peace guards our heart and mind. May He guard and protect our heart and mind from cumbersome worries and anxieties. Wait upon God. Rest in Him.

During this season of Lent, let us continue to:

(1) Pray

Deepen our relationship with God through prayers. We pray and also hear for His voice when we pray.

(2) Read God’s Word

God’s Word illuminates our path. It leads us to the path of righteousness, holiness and wisdom. Let us read His Word, meditate on it and apply it in our lives. St John of the Cross (1542-91), a Spanish Catholic priest, said that when we read God’s Word, the new life of Christ gets brighter and brighter in us.

(3) Obedience to God

Perhaps much of our anxieties in our relationships, our chores and daily activities are more manageable if we commit them into God’s will and time. We can find peace and rest in God if we are mindful that God is with us in our chores and in our relationships with others.

May the peace of the Lord be with you in whatever you do and in the people you meet.

Rejoice in the Lord always

Philippians 4:4-8

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

When Apostle Paul was writing this, he was writing to the Philippians not to let selfish ambitions or quarrels to destroy the church life. Apostle Paul reminded them to turn to God and think of things that are of God, and not on earthly things. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

This is the 3rd and 4th times that Paul wrote in this letter to remind the Philippians to rejoice (the other times he commanded them to rejoice was in Philippians 2:18; 3:1). Rejoice means “to be glad”. They are to rejoice—to find joy in God because of what God has done. .

Joy is not head knowledge. Our joy is not about seeking a spiritual experience. Some people are always looking for spiritual highs or the manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Joy is more than just eating ice cream on a hot day. Joy is not dependence on your circumstances. Our joy does not come from other people or how they treat us. Our joy doesn’t come from how much we earn.

Rejoicing in the Lord is not something that we do “when we feel like it”. We are told to rejoice in the Lord always. It should be our lifestyle as followers of Jesus Christ. Our joy is in the Lord. We rejoice in God our Creator.

Joy comes from God. Joy is knowing that God sent Jesus Christ to die for our sins, the Holy Spirit is with us and we have eternal life with God. It is something that can not be taken away from us. Jesus said His joy is in us and that our joy will be full (John 15:11).    

“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” (verse 5)

We can not rejoice in the Lord if we are full of bitterness, anger, and a quarrelsome attitude. We can not rejoice in God if there is unforgiveness in us. May be one of the reasons someone is going through a dark spiritual time is because of bitterness and unforgiveness.

Bitterness is a root that will manifest itself one way or another in our bodies or in our relationships with others, and the choice of words we use in our conversations.

In the original context, there was a conflict between Euodia and Syntyche. Instead of continuing with this conflict, Apostle Paul asked them to be gentle instead. Instead of asserting their power and rights, be gentle. Don’t hold on to a grudge even if you were wronged. It takes courage to ask for forgiveness and to forgive someone but that is how you are set free from the bondage of grudge and bitterness. Take this matter before the Lord. Don’t let unforgiveness destroy your soul.   

Apostle Paul went on to say, “The Lord is near”. Jesus Christ is coming back very soon. It is not time for disunity, for quarrels in the church. It is time to shine for Jesus and to share His love with the people around us.

How do we have joy in God when there is no joy in us? There are times when God is like the sun, hidden by clouds. We can’t see Him. Martin Luther had such an encounter and described that God was hidden like the sun behind the clouds.

Our Christian life is a journey. There will be ups and downs. None of the ups or the downs will be a permanent state. Just as there are different sceneries at different part of a journey, sometimes there are breath-taking views, there are times when it is just a piece of dry land, there will be times when we are in a dry or dark season in our walk with the Lord.

King David recorded moments when he was experiencing spiritual lows in his life.  

Psalm 40:1-3

1 I waited patiently for the Lord;

he turned to me and heard my cry.

2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,

out of the mud and mire;

he set my feet on a rock

and gave me a firm place to stand.

3 He put a new song in my mouth,

a hymn of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear the Lord

and put their trust in him.

King David, used these words “slimy pit” to describe his spiritual condition. He felt he had fallen into a deep and dark well and was stuck deep in the mud.

We could sense his helplessness and desperation. Helplessness is: the mother overwhelmed with taking care of young children, the stress of the youths studying online, the loneliness of elderly people who has been at home most of the time and missing their friends, those who read the news and feel a sense of hopelessness, those struggling with an illness. At times, we feel hopeless and helpless.

What did King David who was in the pit of destruction and in the miry bog do? He cried out to God, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.…” He cried out because he had confidence that his cries would not fall upon deaf ears. God is a God who listens to prayers. When was the last time you cried out to God when you were in a desperate situation? King David cried a lot. The psalms recorded his songs of tears and weeping. God cares for you and you are not struggling on your own.

After calling out to God, David waited patiently for God to do something. He had confidence that God who hears his cries is able to deliver him out of his situations. Remember, God is a faithful God. We are able to trust in God’s faithfulness because time and time again, God has proven to be a faithful God to us. Our human faithfulness can be flickle at times. It ebbs and flows based on our circumstances and surroundings. There are times our faith is so small and tiny but Jesus said the faith of a mustard seed can move mountains. Trust that even at times when our faith is so small, God still holding us and calling us to Himself.  

And sure enough, God lifted him out of the pit and set him on a solid place where he could stand again. God’s deliverance brought great rejoicing to David. And David could rejoice again. He sang songs of praises to God again. And this had become David’s testimony.

David said, “Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.”

Whatever you are going through will be a testimony for others to see God at work. People will see how God works and put their trust in Him. From disbelief to believing. If you are in the pit of destruction, continue to cry out to God and wait for His deliverance. The song of praise you will sing and your testimony will be an encouragement to those around you.

2 Tim. 2:19, Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,”

1 Cor 1:9, God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Philippians 1:6, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

These are God’s promises to us. Even when we are in the dark, hold on to God’s promises. His promises never fail. His Word will not fall unproductively to the ground. Remember that you are his child. Cry out to God in our helplessness and hopelessness. But let us also wait patiently for him. We do not know how long we must wait before God comes to our rescue, but He will rescue us and deliver us. He makes no mistake. God is a faithful God. His timing is perfect. In our moments of darkness or helplessness, cry out to God, hold on to His hand and wait for His deliverance. Don’t let go of His hand. He certainly won’t let go of us!    

Great men and women of God had moments when they did not experience God.

When Martin Luther wrote the hymn “a mighty fortress is our God”, with Psalm 46 as his reference, it was believed that he was going through a dark and challenging time. In 1529, it was published as “A Hymn of Comfort.”  

Mother Teresa too, experienced a time when God was eclipsed in her life. She wrote to Rev Michael van der Peet in September 1979, “Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.” It was said that for 60 years, Mother Teresa did not experience God but she carried on serving God. 

What do these people have in common in their experience with God? They never gave up on God. They trust that even in their darkness, God was with them.  Even at times they did not see God or experience Him, they knew that God is with them.

What shall we do when we feel helpless, hopeless and so far away from God?

Continue to seek the Lord and wait upon Him. Shift our mind set. And not to set our eyes on our circumstances.

Apostle Paul went on to address the anxiety issue.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (verse 6)

What are you worried about? Family, health, job, money, future, the list goes on…

Apostle Paul urged us not to be anxious or worried but to commit everything to God in prayers. Like King David, we have to trust that God will pull us out from the pit of destruction and place us on solid ground. Tell God what is on your mind. Tell God your desperate situation. God wants to hear from you. He cares for you. He knows what is in your mind but He wants you to tell Him. That is how you build a relationship with God. You pour your heart to Him and you listen to Him and read His Word for instructions.

When we make our needs and requests known before God in prayers, we are to give thanks to God. “Thanksgiving” (eucharistia in Greek) is the expression of gratitude, of giving thanks. 

It means, when we pray, we are to offer our prayers to God with the attitude of remembering His faithfulness, love and mercies in our lives. And we expect that He will do something about our current situation.

When we are discouraged or in the dark, give thanks to God. Think of how God has been with you in the past. He is with you now. Also, it is equally important to guard our minds.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (verse 7)

Peace is a state of well-being. In the Old Testament, the word “Shalom” in Hebrew means: harmony, wholeness, completeness, health, tranquillity, safety, rest, peace with God, and these are permanent state.  

When we pray with thanksgiving, God’s peace will guard our heart and mind. He will guard and protect our heart and mind from worries and anxieties. God’s peace is beyond our understanding. Wait upon God. Rest in God and rest in His promises.

Lastly, we have to make efforts to guard our heart and mind.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” (verse 8)

We talked about being gentle, not holding on to grudges, be at peace with other. It is about training our mind to think of things other than our rights, taking revenge, paying someone back. “Think of these things”. In Greek, the verb for think is “logizomai”, a term for accounting and mathematics. It involves the cognitive process. It means, “to consider, to give careful thought, to consider dwelling your minds on these things. We can control what we think, with God’s help.

Think of these things:

“True”: being truthful and honest, righteous.

“Noble”: honorable, above reproach.

“Right: fair, just.

 “Pure”: holy, clean

“Lovely”: pleasing, amiable.

“Admirable”: praiseworthy, commendable

“Excellent”: excellence within a social context  e.g. excellence of character, giving someone the benefit of a doubt.

“Praiseworthy”” praise

Think of these things. It is not our human nature to think these things so Apostle Paul asks us to put into practice.

“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (verse 9)

Apostle Paul asks the Philippians to learn from his example. For us today, in our Christian community, think of those that you can learn from. You can even ask to be mentored.

Something that we should put into practice:

(i) Prayers

What should you be praying about? When we do not feel God or His presence, continue to pray. His peace will guard our hearts and minds in Him.

(ii) Read God’s Word

When the great men and women of faith felt that God was faraway, they held on to God’s Word. The Bible is God’s Word that is a light unto our path. It leads us to the path of righteousness and wisdom. We should read it, meditate on it and apply it in our lives. St John of the Cross (1542-91), a Spanish Catholic priest, who wrote “the dark night of the soul” said that when we read God’s Word, the new life of Christ gets brighter and brighter in us.

(iii) Submit to God

In our daily activities, work, relationships, ministry, St John urges us to pray, “Lord, your will, your way, and your time.” So much of our self-imposed stress and anxieties will be removed when we commit them to God’s will, way and time.

Conclusion:

God is with us when we are in the pit. God is with us when we are on mountain tops. 

The times when we feel God is so far away is only temporary. Repent of our sins, receive His forgiveness, move on, read God’s Word and pray. God will not hide His face from us forever. We are His children. He is faithful. Let’s rejoice in the Lord always.