Rejoice always; I will say it again, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. (Philippians 4:4-5)
Seasons come and seasons go. Fall is settling in, making itself at home. The gray rain falls unceasingly, washing away memories of bright sunlight and blue skies. As nature changes its seasons, so too does my life mirror this pattern of change. Most recently, I’ve gone from being a student to a professional and back to a student again. I’ve transitioned from being a Chicagoan to a North Carolinian and now a Texan. I’ve been primarily a musician, and then a teacher, and now a theologian. I often ponder the season I find myself in, and the way it seems to change almost like clockwork. I know the next season is just around the corner, already encroaching on the comfort I’ve found in this one.
The ebb and flow of seasons is a reality, for God is always doing something new. But in the midst of change, one can find the constancy of joy. Joy need not be just for a season.
“Rejoice,” Paul commands, and he says it again, “Rejoice!” When shall we rejoice, Paul? Always. This is not a suggestion, this is not a proposition, nor is it a plea. It is a command, and of the sweetest kind! For who, in choosing to obey the command to rejoice, is not immediately visited by that Spirit of God that promises to be our joy?
It is not an easy command to say the least. I admit, I am often tempted to despair. I look at my singleness and wonder whether God even has a plan. I look at my finances and question the God who provides every need. I look at my workload and complain of the encroachment on my freedom. The foreboding cloud of anxiety threatens to overwhelm me. And yet, when instead, I fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith, the Savior of my soul, the greatest gift I have ever received, He replaces my mourning, my doubting, my unrest, with joy.
God’s gift of joy may not be what we immediately imagine. Paul follows the command to rejoice with the principle of moderation. Let your moderation be known unto all. Immediately, I question: Why moderation? Shouldn’t our joy be effusive? Shouldn’t it be our joy that is known, and not our moderation? For the Lord is at hand. Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, is returning again. What God began in Him will be brought to fruition. In light of this truth, Paul understands the temporality of this life, of these things, these beautiful things that we see each and every day: the rain that falls in silent sheets, the tree that spreads its arms in gentle grace, the child that stares in curious awe, the words that speak the silence.
These things will come to an end as we know them, but there is an even greater beginning to come that we cannot imagine. Death may be at work in our mortal bodies, but the Spirit of life is also renewing all things. Creation groans as it eagerly awaits the coming King. As children of God, we continue to bear the weight of sin and the suffering of Christ, and yet we are renewed day by day. Both of these realities cause Paul to say he is unceasingly anguished and yet rejoicing always. As incongruous as this seems, this is precisely the heart of our God: that He would know our pain, for it is His pain; and yet He would have us rejoice, knowing that the victory is already won!
Paradoxes upon paradoxes! But isn’t that just the way it is with God? The life of joy lived alongside sorrow. Rejoicing in the truthfulness of moderation. Choosing joy in the midst of this temporal, finite life.
What of this world, then, could demand our total indulgence and passion? What extravagant plans and ideas compare to the future of eternal glory that awaits those who hope in the Lord?
So while I do desire to find the one who will partner with me in this life, I already have the Partner who satisfies in every way. While I work and plan in order to support myself financially, I am also wealthy in ways far beyond the material. While I apply my mind and my energy to the work I encounter every day, I know that God does the growing and the glory belongs to Him. So much of this life is beautiful, and meaningful, and meant to be enjoyed, but again and again, His still, soft voice says: Never more than you delight in Me, my child.
When I retreat to my inordinate passions and indulge in my feelings, clinging to the seen rather than the unseen, I choose to walk away from His joy. When I choose to abide in the will of God, the truth of God, the love of God, His joy is mine through faith in Jesus Christ. That is the unfailing promise God gives and the promise I hold onto. This choice presents itself every day: receive the promise of His joy or deny His gift. For me, saying yes to Jesus may mean saying no to the 50 things on my to do list in order to sit in the presence of my God and receive from Him my daily bread. It means laying down the mounting anxiety in my mind as the day ticks away and the interruptions pile up, remembering that in His strength and time, all things will be done as they should. It means closing my eyes at the end of a day, with loose ends galore and questions still unanswered, and letting the peace that transcends all understanding wriggle into my heart and wrap around my mind.
The seasons of my life will continue to change; of this, I have no doubt. Yet, His joy will always be available to me; of this, I also do not doubt. All I need to do is choose Him.
Jessica Sun is a violinist and creative currently residing in Texas. She never thought she would end up there, but God has His plans. She is a crazy cat lady.