Facebook is quite an unhappy place to be at the moment. So is the BBC news website. And so is the local Aldi at 9:30pm on a Monday evening. So, in an attempt, as much for my own sanity as anyone else’s, I’m going to try and post a little thought / encouragement on my (not much used) blog each day from the bible…
I’m going to start in the book of Philippians because Paul, the writer, is pretty much a master of encouragement – especially in times that are dark and uncertain like ours. I’ve seen several people on Facebook post a meme with the conversation between Gandalf and Frodo from Lord of the Rings. Frodo says that he wishes that all the terrible things that were happening had not happened during in his time. And Gandalf responds, “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
It is hard to remember, in times like these, that we can decide. That we can choose to respond to things instead of react to them. That we do have a choice in what to do with the time that is given to us. The letter to the Philippians (a small group of people in a church in a place called Philippi) is written by Paul whilst he is chained up in prison. Things are really not going well for him. And yet, somehow, he claims that he has learned the secret of being content – even whilst he’s chained up to a prison wall. I’d like to get me some of that!
The last bit of Paul’s letter to his friends is where he unpacks some of this ‘contentment in a crisis’ strategy so I’m just going to head straight there. You can check it out yourself in his letter to the Philippians in the New Testament (second half of the bible), Chapter 4 starting at verse 4. If you have a bible with subheadings this but is often called “Final Exhortations.” In other words, the bit that Paul really wants his readers to remember.
And here is it. First thing to remember:
“Rejoice in the Lord always.”
Rejoice. Not because some nice, warm fuzzy feeling is swelling up inside of you (that’s hard to muster when you’re stuck in an endless queue for nappies and the person in front of you is shouting abuse at the helpless cashier) but because you can make a choice to find something to be thankful for: the fact that it’s actually stopped raining long enough this week for the daffodils to come out, the phone conversation you had with your Nan, a hot cup of coffee, a house in which to self-isolate into, watching your daughter complete a jigsaw puzzle by herself for the first time (after having done it with her several thousand times first!) some extra time to read the novel that’s been sat on your bedside table for several months.
And, remember, Paul isn’t saying this as some kind of nice, friendly way to end his letter; he’s saying it because it’s part of his strategy. Because it’s good for your soul. Because sometimes when everything is really hard and you’re feeling scared and anxious and overwhelmed by life, saying thank you is the only thing that’s going to stop you from going under.
But, it’s hard isn’t it? This is a moment in time when it’s really quite difficult to think of things to say thank you for and to rejoice in. Especially in that Aldi queue. But that’s why Paul kind of qualifies it a bit. Not just “rejoice” but “rejoice in the Lord.” Don’t just try and make up something to make you happy: remember the God who loves you and who is with you in the middle of the crisis. Remember the God who is the same all the time – pandemic or not. The God who is always good. Always kind. Always loving. Always present.
We do not rejoice because of the difficult things that are happening, we can rejoice because God is with us in the midst of them.