How do we rejoice in the Lord always?
In his 4th Chapter to the Philippians, St Paul advises: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7). Many decades ago this author’s spiritual father said to the faithful, “If a Christian is not happy, then something is not right – he has not fully grasped the Christian message or learnt to live a Christian life”.
If we are genuinely and honestly striving to be Christ-like, then these endeavours will not only lead us to the Kingdom, but also to happiness and peace in this life. Jesus said, “learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). If we strive to be like Christ and humble, and gentle, without anger and bitterness, then we will find peace, “rest for our souls”. Problems and heartache will be prevented. The Orthodox Christian, who with the help of the Church Fathers has learnt how to truly pray, to deeply experience the Divine Liturgy and other Church Services, and the Sacraments, and who also is growing in virtue, comes to experience “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding”.
He or she comes to deeply understand what St Luke meant when he said, “You have known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence” (Acts 2:28); and what Jesus meant when He said, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Countless Orthodox Christians throughout the ages testify that living close to Christ and His Church is beautiful. The situation is quite different with worldly people, those who constantly give in to sin. At first someone may look at them and see some glamour and excitement. However, if one gets to truly know them one realises that any joy they have is superficial and transient, and sooner or later they realise that their life is empty. Sooner or later their passions lead them to unhappiness, anger, resentments, feuds and other mistakes.
Coming back to “Rejoice in the Lord always”, the word “always” is problematic. It is a fact that all people who live on this earth, if they live long enough, have to go through hardships and suffering. Can one have joy, or at least be content and have peace, in the face of suffering? Being close to the Christ’s Church changes us, and one of the ways we change is that we can say with the Apostle Paul, “we also glory in tribulations” (Romans 5:3). Being close to the Church helps us to see the big picture, to focus on “one thing” that is “needed” (Luke 10:42), to be close to God. We then come to see the hardships of life in a different perspective. We remain positive through those hardships, strive to be at peace, and receive comfort from prayer. Indeed we come to see that suffering becomes redemptive, and promotes our spiritual growth.
† Fr D. K.
Source: Lychnos November/December 2018