I’m generally happy; but that’s because I work at it, especially when I don’t feel like it. Being happy starts with my choice to be thankful. It is a discipline of the mind to force myself to find something to be thankful for, and to focus on that rather than the negative thing that can tear me apart inside if I let it. It is an act of faith in which I force my mind to think on Scripture, in which I am “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). The battle is constant, and I usually win; but that’s because I’ve been working at it for years, meditating on Scripture, all day, every day, and applying what I’ve learned.
If I’m not careful, I can easily fall into a pattern of complaining, and this can prove harmful, not only to me, but those around me, for my life influences others, for better or worse. Scripture states, “Do all things without complaining or arguing” (Phi 2:14). That’s a big order. How do I do this? By an act of faith; that’s how. Though the pressure can be great at times, I consciously make the choice not to complain; instead, I choose to “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; and in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you [me] in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:16-18). In these verses Paul uses three verbs in the imperative mood, which is the mood of command. A command assumes intellectual capacity to comprehend, the ability to obey, and present or future opportunity. The verbs are rejoice (χαίρω chairo), pray (προσεύχομαι proseuchomai), and give thanks (εὐχαριστέω eucharisteo). The first two commands relate to time: rejoice always, and pray without ceasing. The third command relates to circumstances: in everything give thanks. In short, these are to be executed all the time and in every situation. And to make the commands emphatic, Paul adds, “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:18b). These divine expectations appear elsewhere in Scripture, as we are called to “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phi 4:4a), “Devote yourselves to prayer” (Col 4:2a), and “Give thanks always for all things” (Eph 5:20a).
These commands are relatively easy to accomplish when life is good, and we should certainly praise God for His many blessings. But what about those times when life is difficult; such as when we’ve lost our health, work is overly stressful, or we’re experiencing unjust persecution? Are we to rejoice, pray, and give thanks even during those times? Yes! Especially during those times. It’s in difficult moments that we need to operate by faith, not feelings. In fact, feelings can work against us when we’re experiencing difficulty. When feelings rise up, faith must rise higher. As we commit to obeying the Word, our feelings will eventually get in line. It’s only when we understand and obey these commands by faith that we rise above our difficult circumstances. Though we aren’t physically removed from the hardship, mentally we’re lifted above it and experience a joy that is free from it. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt 5:11-12). This is exactly what the apostles did when they were persecuted and flogged, for Luke tells us, “So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). And when Paul and Silas had been beaten and thrown into jail, we’re told they “were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Act 16:25). In places Paul wrote, “we exult in our tribulations” (Rom 5:3a), and “I rejoice in my sufferings” (Col 1:24). And James wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials” (Jam 1:2). One of the reasons we can rejoice in suffering is because we know God is using it to develop our character in order to mature us spiritually (Rom 5:3-5; Jam 1:2-4).
This may seem impossible to do, especially if we’re accustomed to living by our feelings and reacting to circumstances. However, living by faith is possible, and is the only way Scripture can be obeyed, especially in difficult circumstances. Living by faith is quit liberating, because it frees us from the tyranny of difficult circumstances over which we have no control, and from the knee-jerk reaction of hurt feelings that naturally rise up in such situations. If we stay the course of learning God’s Scripture and living by faith, we will reach a place in our spiritual development where God’s Word becomes more real than our circumstances and feelings, and this is the place of freedom and joy, as long as we remain there.
Dear Father, thank You for the many blessings you have bestowed on me that have enriched my life, and thank you for the difficulties that help develop my character and advance me toward spiritual maturity. Thank you for Your Word which defines reality and equips me with the viewpoint, commands, and promises I need to walk with You; all of which liberates me from the tyranny of difficult circumstances over which I have no control.
Dr. Steven R. Cook