Navigating through the ups and downs of life can be undeniably hard and challenging. Each of us has encountered our share of struggles, whether they be personal or influenced by the ever-changing circumstances that surround us.
Over the past year, my wife, Barbara, and I have faced profound losses that reshaped our lives. We both lost our mothers and contracting Covid last summer further disrupted everything as we battled the virus and its lingering effects. Even now, a year later, I find myself grappling with the daily limitations of ‘Long Covid,’ a constant reminder of life’s unpredictability.
Now, with the upcoming release of my book on Philippians, Paul’s teachings have challenged me once again. I am finding that my daily experience of grace and joy needs to ‘catch up’ with my new challenging circumstances, and I’m having to relearn the very lessons of joy that I wrote about!
The letter Paul wrote in Philippians is well-known for its expressions of joy, which is remarkable given the fact that Paul wrote it while in a Roman jail. But really, joy is not the center of Paul’s message. Instead, Philippians centers around the truths about Jesus and what He has done for us.
In such a hard season with so many losses, hanging onto joy has not been easy. But Paul is not just writing to the church he started in Philippi; he is also writing to you and me, no matter what situations we find ourselves in.
Here are just a few ways this journey is strengthening my grip on Christ and my determination to live a life of joy:
I find that joy comes when I intentionally ‘rejoice in the Lord.’
In Philippians 3:3, Paul beautifully explains the concept of ‘rejoicing.’ There he says I can worship by the Spirit to glory in Christ rather than in my own abilities or efforts. The word ‘glory’ here is often translated as ‘boast.’ As I delve into Philippians 2 and 3, it becomes clear why I can honestly and gladly boast about Jesus.
Learning more about who He is and the profound depth of what He has done, making me righteous before God sparks joy in my heart.
The richness of this knowledge uplifts my spirit and fills my life with newfound joy, even amidst difficult circumstances. Like Paul, l don’t have to be in denial about my sin or suffering. But at the same time, no matter what, I can intentionally rejoice in the midst of it.
Paul rejoiced and called Jesus ‘Lord’ even though he was a prisoner of the Emperor Nero.
In our day, we might miss Paul’s audacity here. In a Roman jail, under guard, awaiting a death sentence in Nero’s Rome, Paul says to the Philippians in the most Roman of all other cities, “…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
Paul, as a citizen of heaven, proclaims the Lordship of Christ even in his imprisonment. No wonder the praetorian guards listened. The victory and the coming revelation of Jesus make me rejoice in Him. Even today, in all our present turmoil, my heart keeps singing, ‘King of Kings. Lord of Lords. And He shall reign forever and ever.’
When I center my focus on Jesus as the gospel reveals Him, every aspect of my life takes on a new perspective through the lens of my relationship with God.
I find myself living out of my new identity as a cherished child and a ‘citizen of heaven’ (Philippians 3:20). With Paul, I too confidently call Jesus, ‘Lord.’ This secure faith viewpoint has the power to transform my expectations, reveal to me my rightful place with God, and infuse my life with a renewed sense of purpose, even when I feel imprisoned in my own difficulties.
Philippians reminds us that God will complete what he started.
I want to be honest with you: I often forget this truth. My focus shifts from what God has done and is doing to what I think I should be doing. I must remember and believe that God began a good work in me, and He will bring it all the way to completion, on His good timeline. (Philippians 1:6)
While His work in us is not yet complete, He is not worried about where I am at this moment. I am not alone, and it is not up to me.
Our God comes to His people, opens their eyes, gives them faith to believe, and draws them to Himself. And then God makes sure that nothing—not suffering, not their own sin, not the sin of others against them—ever separates them from His love again.
Right now, God is working in us. We are firmly in the grip of His grace. And that is worth rejoicing about.
Through the crucible of pain and loss, as I re-learn these profound truths, it’s becoming clear again to me that the true joy I seek can only come from setting my heart to rejoice in the Lord at all times.
And that only He will carry me through each day.
I hope you’ll join me in studying Philippians. I would be delighted to hear how God is using your study to illuminate the path of joy and deepen your understanding of rejoicing in the Lord.
Together, we can discover the profound ways Jesus brings us closer to experiencing lasting joy amidst life’s trials and tribulations.
Philippians: Finding Joy When Life is Hard by Josiah Bancroft and published by New Growth Press is now available.