“Rejoice in the Lord always; again. I will say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4)
Paul penned these words from prison, confined by the government for the trouble he was stirring in his missionary work. It is interesting that now, given certain government authorities’ proclamations regarding social gatherings, that the church in America, in places, might feel a similar pressure. During this holiday centered around thankfulness, are we truly thankful? Are we just posting about our gratefulness on Facebook and hiding our true sentiments? Perhaps this matter requires some further self-reflection.
“We are lucky in all the areas that matter.” I said these words to my wife a few weeks ago without fully believing them. I understand these words to be true, but my heart betrays my attitude towards the way life has been treating us. Somehow, I have managed to be discontent with my awesome marriage, my happy and beautiful baby boy, the food we have every day on the table, the roof over that table, and, ultimately, the Lord and Savior that calls me his son. I have also noticed certain reoccurring heart issues that have plagued me with this dissatisfaction.
For me, perhaps, the most difficult heart issue in my life is pride. I feel as if I deserve so much more than what has been given to me. I tend to look at the blessings in others’ lives, and I tend to believe these blessings belong to me instead. This causes me to forget my own blessings almost completely, and my hearts begins to marinate in this anger, further sending me down this spiral of discontent. People say that pride comes before the fall, but I believe that we are already fallen if we are prideful.
The truth is that I do deserve far more than I have been given, but this is not to my benefit. I deserve to face the full wrath of God. I deserve my true wages, and I need not read farther than the fourth chapter of Romans to discover what those wages really are. My pride blinds me to the reality of God’s grace and mercy, the greatest gifts ever given. Our salvation should humble us to the point where we can always rejoice in the Lord.
Are we more upset about the unimportant aspects of life? This is a difficult question to ask ourselves because it challenges our emotions. If somebody cuts me off in traffic, my initial reaction of anger would have someone believe that this person slapped me across the face while insulting my mother. This unwarranted reactions surely will lead me away from thankfulness or joy and will bring me closer to discontent. Is this traffic issue really that important?
Of course, it is not. However, we tend to treat our most current disposition as the most important. Instead of thinking about how I have people in my family that always love, support, and encourage me, I think about this stranger that probably meant no ill will towards me. Even in more serious matters, prioritization is key in being thankful. I remember thinking to myself about how unlucky we were when my wife got laid off from her job only a week after moving into a house rental that was more expensive than our previous residence. I did not count myself lucky that I had a loving wife in the first place who has been my greatest support in the most difficult moments of my life. I prioritized financial security over family, and instead of being thankful, I felt unlucky.
We tend to forget that we can be thankful for the blessings in other people’s lives. This is a difficult practice because, as self-centered creatures, it is hard to focus on the welfare of those around us. Almost linked to my first point, instead of being jealous of others’ blessings, we can join in with their thankfulness. In most of Paul’s letters, after he introduces himself, he writes about how thankful he is to God for the blessings of the congregation to whom he is writing. Even to the church in Corinth, a particularly disobedient congregation, he writes, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus...” (1 Corinthians 1:4) Instead of being thankful for the blessings in the lives of those around me, I tend to focus on where my life is lacking, and I miss out on this shared gratitude.
Ultimately, Paul would tell us that we are always in a position to rejoice. As Christians, we can be eternally thankful that Christ has extended his hand toward us even though we don’t deserve it. There are so many times in my life where I have fallen short, and just thinking about his forgiveness and grace should fill me with the greatest gratitude. I am loved by God, and for this reason, I can always rejoice. Always.