Joy for the realist

So one of the first things we need to do is stop seeing joy and hardship as opposites or adversaries. To stop making our joy circumstantial.

Sometimes in a bible passage there’s a thread that runs through the passage, sometimes there are lots. In Philippians 4 there’s  “in the Lord”. It’s key. They’re to “stand firm in the Lord”, to help Euodia and Syntyche “agree in the Lord”.  And they are to rejoice in the Lord.  All of his instructions are to be worked out in that context, as people who are in the Lord.

It’s a joy that has a certain hope in Jesus return(5) and so knows God is near, that his kingdom is certain and our hope is sure that leads us to gentleness and graciousness with others not a manipulative power tripping leadership.  It’s rejoicing in Jesus that enables us to care for the weak and injured not exploit them.

And it’s rejoicing in the Lord that will lead us to be quick to prayer and praise(6-8) when we feeling anxious, because we know he cares for us and wants us to give him our burdens and anxieties.  And so we run to him because our joy is in him.  And what flows from that is peace, an awareness of and a living out of the reality of a restored relationship and being God’s child and in his sovereign care.  That peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Living out of that awareness of who we are stops the shouts of imposter, loser, or failure, that fuel our anxiety and drain us in ministry.

But that’s hard isn’t it.  Paul longs for the Philippians to know peace(7, 9) and he tells them how to practice peace.  Our thoughts often feed our anxieties, they drain our joy, don’t they?  And so he calls on them to think of whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy.   He’s not saying ignore the brokenness of the world, ignore the sin you see and the damage it does.  Keep pastoral crises and complexities at a distance so you know peace, that’s professionalism not godliness.  That’s not what he’s teaching them.  But run to God in prayer so God’s peace – right relationship with him, the joy of being his child, in his care, and it not all depending on you – guards your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  They must train themselves to think about the things around them that are excellent and praiseworthy not just the brokenness.

Are you an optimist or are you from Yorkshire, sorry, I mean a pessimist?  When you think about your church what comes to mind?  Isn’t it often the failures, the families that have left.  The person who showed interest but was dragged back into their old way of life, by drugs, or alcohol, or an unhelpful relationship.  Isn’t it how you are short of musicians, or leaders, or diversity, or money?  Or the spiritual immaturity of the congregations, the lack of growth, the unwise decisions?  Don’t we often see the don’t haves?  And then there’s all the pastoral needs, the marriages creaking or cracking, the couple struggling with childlessness, the family mourning a suicide, the widower who seems stuck in a well of grief.

If we want to be able to rejoice, to keep going we need to train ourselves to see the good things God is doing in our churches, because I think this is what this about – it’s not about looking at excellent theology and the praiseworthiness of God, still less is it about what you watch on your Netflix account!   But to think about what is praiseworthy as we look for the gospel at work around us, because look at (9)he gives that call and then talks again about putting into practice what they have seen in him – living a life worthy of the gospel.  

When did you last sit and go through your church prayer diary, or your list of members and name something for each that you are thankful for – even if it’s just that they’re not as bad as they could be?  That they turned up to hear you preach, again!

When did you last help your church to see their growth in or living out of the gospel that you see in them?  Try it, it’s so helpful for you and them.  It will bring you joy and spur them ion in rejoicing in the Lord.  Don’t be deluded, don’t lie, but do be thankful even for the small evidences of what is trust, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellence or praiseworthy.

I was preaching on a passage a while back and it’s an area where God has been multiplying growth at Grace Church, and I highlighted that in my sermon and said how great it was to see and how thankful to God I was for what he was doing and was longing to see more and more of it.  And a friend of mine who was visiting and has been in numerous churches said to me afterwards they had never heard a pastor share what encouraged them, what bought them joy about their church from a passage before.

I found that really convicting, because so often I just see what needs to be done, where we aren’t perfect.  But we need to see what God is doing, the evidence so growth and grace and help our churches do so too.  Just pause for a minute, I want you to think of 3 or 4 places where you can see that happening at your church, they may be small, they may be incremental, they may be embryonic but where are they.  Where can you see something you can praise God for?

And as Paul closes his letter he models what rejoicing in the Lord looks like.  Because we can’t help our churches have what we don’t enjoy. I think this is so helpful to see when we think about rejoicing.

Paul rejoices in the Lord because they (10)have supported him and sent their gift(15-19).  He’s not rejoicing in the gift, that’s not what is giving him joy, we can fall victim to that can’t we – we rejoice just in the better bank balance, or the new family who join us.  But Paul rejoices in Lord because of the gift because it’s evidence of the gospel at work in them(18).  It is God’s provision for him through them.  He sees what they give as yet more evidence of the Lord’s work and love and growing his kingdom.  And that fuels a radical contentment that rejoices in the Lord no matter what he has, whether plenty or not a lot.  And he models that to them, and he sees God as a super abundant blessing God who delights to give joy for his glory. 

How do we know joy in ministry?  How do we keep going?  What do our churches need?  How do we lead them well?  We need to be rejoicing in the Lord – how are you rejoicing in the Lord?  How have you designed your week so that you can rejoice in God?  How are you sharing with others in partnership so your sorrows are halved and your joys multiplied?  Are we regularly making time to rejoice in the evidence of God at work in our churches, to treasure what he is doing through Jesus?  And are we doing what Paul does here; leading our churches to rejoice in the Lord and his work and our part in it?

Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again rejoice!


One thought on “Joy for the realist

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s