“I want happiness,” a friend told me. He’s one of many people I know who want to be happy and yet often look for happiness in the wrong places. As I write this chapter, Amazon’s search engine produces over fifty thousand results for books about happiness. Yet even with all this self-help available, people are chronically unhappy.
For example, pervasive unhappiness is seen in the form of negativity in the workplace. Forbes magazine recently published an article stating that “disengaged employees are the norm” and that “where there are disengaged employees, there’s usually complaining, gossiping, and griping.” The author continues, “Whether you occasionally struggle with a victim mentality or have had your fair share of true bad breaks, it’s reassuring to remember that when it comes to your own behavior, you hold all the power and you always have a choice.”
“You always have a choice.” Did you catch that? And that’s counsel from a secular magazine. How much more should a scriptural exhortation grab our attention! Philippians 4:4–5 make up a command from God. Consider the two admonitions that are given and their connection to each other.
Rejoice in the Lord at all times.
This directive for the congregation in Philippi continues the theme of the epistle overall: rejoicing (see Phil. 1:18; 2:17–18, 28; 3:1). Biblical joy is both a feeling—an unanticipated emotional response to something wonderful—as well as an action that can be commanded.2 Keep in mind that Paul is in prison awaiting the outcome of his trial when he exhorts us to rejoice at all times. He demonstrates firsthand how we must choose to look to the Lord as our ultimate source of joy. In other words, true joy is not dependent on our circumstances. Lasting joy is found only in the Lord.
Let your gentleness be evident to all people.
The word reasonableness in verse 5 may also be translated gentleness. Gentleness fits well, since it is a preeminent characteristic of Christ—the one in whom we are called to rejoice. There’s only one point in all four gospels when Jesus describes his humanity in personal terms. It’s when he says, “I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29). Gentleness is a Christlike quality. When our joy and gentleness are “known to everyone,” we draw attention to Jesus. Whether you choose to rejoice or complain, your choice impacts your witness.
But what do joy and gentleness have to do with anxiety?
Anxiety is a joy-killer. It feeds on, and often exaggerates, actual problems or potential negative outcomes. The resulting inner agitation that we feel undermines our calm and gentleness. But, as Christ-followers, we should not be known for a negative spirit; we should be known for a peaceful, hopeful spirit. This Christlike demeanor is within our reach, because it begins with a choice—the choice to rejoice.
- Reflect: Do you have the tendency to let circumstances be the basis of your joy (or your lack of it)? Why is that?
- Act: In your journal, list reasons why you should rejoice in the Lord.
[This post is a chapter excerpt from my new book: ANXIETY: Knowing God’s Peace (31-Day Devotional)