“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4 v4)
In the last devotional I suggested that Romans 8 v8 “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” is a very useful and practical way to deal with troubles and difficulties in your life. Today I want to look in more detail at the first of these three – “Be joyful in hope”.
I have known for a while that I have a tendency towards depression. For me it is quite easy to find myself thinking that life is pointless and nothing I do will change that. I know that this attitude sucks the life out of me and is the beginning of a very large spiral that takes me to places I just don’t want to go. But in these experiences I have learned a thing or two about life and how to deal with it.
I know first hand how important it is to be positive, or to be more precise to have an attitude of gratitude. But I also am very acutely aware that when I am in the middle of my depression there is no way that any amount of positive thinking will help. People often try to cheer me up by telling me to think about all the things that I can be thankful for. But when you are depressed it is almost impossible to think of anything positive, and even if can think of something, it doesn’t arouse any grateful feelings at all, no matter how wonderful the thought might be.
So what is the solution? I have learned that if I wait till I am depressed before I deal with my depression then I will fail. I have to deal with it before it becomes a problem. Like medication that has to be taken every day, I have been training myself to develop a thankful heart every morning. “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5 v16-18).
This passage always reminds me of a sermon I once heard which emphasised the phrase “in all circumstance”. The preacher made it clear that there will be situation we find ourselves in that are not conducive to rejoicing and giving thanks. Terrible things do happen to everyone, and it would be very wrong to give thanks to God for these things. But we are not told to give thanks for all circumstance, instead we are told to give thanks in all circumstance.
Each day, no matter what terrible things we encounter, we have no excuse not to give thanks. It is not about thanking God for what happens during the day, instead we need to thank God that he is who he is. Even when situations look bleak, God is God. This means he is in charge and no matter what happens, he will see us through.
Our joy must come from nothing else but our hope. This is the secret I am learning. If I try to rejoice because of my circumstance then when things go bad my joy will disappear. This kind of joy is useless. I don’t need joy when things are going well, I need joy when things are going wrong. Nothing in the world can give me this joy. I need to look beyond my circumstances. I need to rejoice in something that will not dessert me or leave me no matter how bad things might get.
“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31 v8)
Every day I need to develop my habit of rejoicing in the Lord. If we build a habit of rejoicing and being thankful in the good times, it can sustain us through the bad times. “I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.” (Psalm 9 v1-2)
Like all good habits, it is not necessarily easy. Which is why we must be told again and again. It is the only way we can protect ourselves from depression during bad times. “Further, my brothers and sisters, 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.” (Philippians 3 v1)