Some years ago a friend’s husband contracted a rare disease. His battle was valiant, and she and their two children were brave. He died with a 12 year old daughter and a younger son. It was a crushing blow to my friend and a challenge to her faith. One day she was reading her bible and came across this passage:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:4-7 NIV)
To my grieving friend, being told to rejoice, and not to be anxious, was like a slap in the face from God. How could she rejoice in her deep grief? She had two children denied the love and care of their father. Who wouldn’t be anxious with the loss of financial support, and with years of uncertainty ahead? What peace can be found in such troubled times?
The apostle Paul wasn’t saying we should feel joy for the circumstance of grief or other suffering. Nor was he saying we should put on a happy face despite how we feel. The joy named here is deeper and eternal--for it is based on what God has done for us in Christ. Redemption is a hope beyond all that can harm us because it ensures God has the last word in our lives. Ours is a God of wisdom, grace, and mercy whose promises are sure. So we rejoice that in Christ--God promises to lift us up and carry us through all trials. Even death.
When Paul wrote that we shouldn’t be anxious, he was writing from prison facing a death sentence. He was relying on God’s wisdom and care, rather than earthly solutions to his problems. All trust was placed in God for everything. If God were to open the doors of his cell and free him--he would rejoice in God’s power and gift. If the prison sentence ended in death--he would still rejoice for the salvation that is his in Christ. His lived in this world of sin but he centered his existence on God and had different priorities that were beyond the carnal. This is the peace of God--which transcends all understanding.
My friend did realize this with time...saying coming to that place is easier said than done. It takes remembering what God has done in the past, and looking forward to what you know God can do in the future. No matter the struggle, this is why we rejoice and give thanks. We belong to Christ and nothing can separate us from his love and mercy. May the peace of Christ be with you all.