Rejoice in the Lord always

Phil. 4: 4

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4) exclaims St. Paul joyfully and adds: “Be anxious for nothing (Phil 4:6).

And I, all tensed up because of many worldly cares and constant uncertainty, think: how can we rejoice, O good Apostle, when there seems to be so little cause for joy? Wherever we turn to, wherever we go, wherever we look, everything seems to be just the opposite of joy. No matter how hard we try to pinpoint the problem, the total lack of joy is ever-present.

Take, for example, our people, the Serbs. We have never been in a worse position since our beginning of our existence as a nation. We have never sunk lower than this, but the bottom is still nowhere in sight. We have even forgotten when exactly it was that all these misfortunes began, since they are all around us now, all the time. “And gladness is taken away and joy out of the plentiful field; and in the vineyards there shall be no singing , neither shall there be shouting” (Is.16:10).

Nothing but thorns and briars upon the land of my people (Is. 32:13).

If we look further than our own people, what do we see? Nothing but sorrow, troubles, terror and death. Laws and justice have disappeared. No one is even trying to stop tyrants and criminals. No one dares raise his voice against them.

Recently we saw our land destroyed and devastated by these tyrants, we saw it robbed and terrorized, and we heard them call this unprecedented violence “liberation.”

Who is next, we ask ourselves, which nation will they crunch under their boots next?

Then there are the mortal diseases for which no explanation or cure has been found as yet. What can we do to prevent contacting such a disease? Nothing much, short of not breathing…

And if we were to begin talking about our personal problems and worries, about our anxieties and insecurities, about our bills, mortgages and debts…

But the Apostle’s call is still there. He has said it and he has repeated it: we are to rejoice and we are not to worry about anything.

One would think that the Apostle had been lying on a silk-cushioned couch when he wrote his postulate about unconditional joy. No, nothing can be further than the truth. If anyone suffered on this earth, it was the holy Apostle Paul. He endured a lot of pain. He came close to death on many occasions. He was imprisoned more than once. Of small stature and slight build, from the Jews he received five times forty stripes minus one. “Three times I was beaten with rods,” he says, “ once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren, in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness (2 Cor. 11:23-27).

The Apostle is telling us to rejoice in the Lord and to leave aside the illusion of joy, found in trinkets and knick-knacks, even if they are the size of a mansion, a yacht or a limousine. All this is empty, there is no real joy in it. Do not the many examples of unhappy millionaires who have bought or stolen all imaginable earthly possessions prove this?

There is only one joy that can completely fill a human being, and that is the joy that only God can give us. “For the Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God,” says the Apostle (Phil. 4:5).

The God-fearing Hezekiah received a letter from the powerful king of Assyria telling him not to attempt to avoid slavery, for there was nothing he could do to stop his land from falling into the hands of the Assyrians. “And Hezekiah received the letter of the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up into the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord” (2 Kings 19:14-15). And the Lord helped him.

The holy Apostle also tells us to spread our troubles before the Lord.

We so often see our friends and acquaintances with troubled and unhappy looks on their faces, bent over with the burdens and cares of this world. When you ask them what the matter is, they tell you they are depressed, that they don’t feel like living any more.

They are the ones that want to carry their burdens by themselves and of course, they stagger and sway beneath these burdens.

They are set on unearthing the answers to the most complicated questions by themselves and they try to explain everything under the heavens with their small and limited human minds. Yet the answer to their problems is so simple: “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” (Phil. 4:6-7).

If you want to restore lost peace and joy, return to the Lord, spread your troubles before the Lord. Do not be afraid, He knows what you need, but He wants to hear it from your heart.

There is nothing we cannot trust Him with, nothing that we cannot tell Him and there is no problem that he cannot solve.

“Anyone, except a Christian, can say that God is far away. Because when He became incarnate in the human flesh, the Lord our God came close to all of us. He is no longer some inaccessible, transcendental God somewhere far away, beyond the heavens, He is right here near us, with us and in us, the God of our immediate reality and experience. He is Emmanuel – God is with us.” (Mt. 1:23, St. Father Justin).

We mustn’t think that the Apostle is advising us to sit back and relax and be without a care in the world. Far from it. In fact, the Apostle himself did not live that way. What he means is that, when we have done what we could with our limited human resources, then we should turn to the Lord in prayer and ask Him to take our troubles and burdens away from us, casting all our cares upon Him, for He cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7). Or as King David puts it, “Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and he shall bring it to pass” (Ps. 37:5).

You have just heard how joy and gladness is restored so that broken bones may rejoice (Ps. 51:8). Let us shake off all unnecessary thoughts, worries and burdens, let us unravel the knots of worldly cares in our hearts and let us spread our troubles before the Lord and our peace will be restored, the peace that transcends every mind.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13).