How To Be Joyful All The Time
John Henry Jowett, one of the most admired preachers of the early 20th century who pastored churches on both sides of the pond, wrote the following: “Christian joy has no relationship to the transient setting of life, and therefore it is not the victim of the passing day….One day I am at the wedding; the next day I stand by an open grave. One day, in my ministry, I win ten converts for the Lord; and then, for a long stretch of days, I never win one. Yes, the days are as changeable as the weather, and yet…Christian joy can be persistent. Where lies the secret of its glorious persistency?” The answer to this question posed by that godly minister is found in the last chapter of Paul’s letter to the believers in Philippi.
In Philippians 4:4, Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” Rejoicing, or being joyful, is one of the main themes of the book (cf. 1:18, 2:17-18; 3:1). As he concluded his thoughts, Paul repeated his favorite exhortation “rejoice in the Lord” twice for greater emphasis. He was literally saying, “keep on rejoicing.” In other words, “Be joyful or be cheerful not some of the time, or even most of time, but all the time.” It is easy to rejoice when our health is good and our marriage is good and our kids are doing good and our career is going good and our bank account is looking good. But it is much more difficult to rejoice when things aren’t going good. Trials and sorrows and setbacks and disappointments and broken expectations in life make it hard to be joyful. Nevertheless, God commands us throughout His Word to maintain a joyful attitude no matter what happens to us (cf. 1 Thes. 5:16; James 1:2; Mt. 5:11-12; Lk. 6:22-23; Acts 5:41; 1 Pet. 4:12-13). Our joy should remain constant in the ups and downs of life.
Paul himself was a great example of what it looks like to rejoice no matter what. He remained joyful when was persecuted, slandered, falsely accused, mistreated, arrested, imprisoned, and even when he was facing the threat of martyrdom for the cause of Christ. Nothing could steal his joy because he was convinced that all the difficult circumstances he experienced ultimately served to advance the cause of Christ (cf. Col. 1:24). Paul singing with Silas in the Philippian jail epitomized the joy he expressed in all his letters and served as a microcosm of his life and ministry (cf. Acts 16:23-34). What we learn from Paul is that joy is not a mood or an emotion that is based on our feelings, circumstances, or surroundings. Biblical joy is based on what we know to be true about God regardless of how we are feeling or what we are facing.
You might be wrestling with how it is possible to be joyful when you are facing circumstances and situations that aren’t enjoyable (i.e. death, illness, divorce, a layoff, a rebellious child, etc.). Notice Paul didn’t exhort us to rejoice in our circumstances, but to rejoice “in the Lord.” This simple phrase holds the secret to maintaining a joyful attitude at all times. There are times when we experience sorrow, grief, and pain, like when someone we love dies. But at those times we can say with Paul that we are “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (cf. 2 Cor. 6:10). Why? Because even though our heart may be breaking, God is still good and faithful and wise and loving and sovereign. In other words, no matter how awful things may be, there is always something wonderful about God to rejoice in. If nothing else, we can rejoice that He has mercifully saved us (cf. 1 Sam. 2:1; Ps. 13:5; 35:9; 40:16; Isa. 61:10; Hab. 3:17-18; Lk. 10:20). But beyond our salvation, we should also rejoice in all that God has revealed about Himself in His Word. We can rejoice in the Lord’s faithfulness (cf. Lam. 3:22-23). We can rejoice in the Lord’s love (cf. Rom. 8:38-39). We can rejoice in the Lord’s sovereign control over all things (cf. Ps. 103:19). We can rejoice in the Lord’s wisdom (cf. Rom. 11:33). Those who know a lot about the character and attributes of God find it much easier to rejoice in the midst of hard times, whereas, those with little knowledge of God find it much harder to maintain a joyful attitude. We can’t trust someone we don’t know.
This should motivate us to develop a deeper understanding of God by studying who He said He is and what He said He can do. Read books on the character of God (e.g. Knowing God by J.I. Packer, Attributes of God by A.W. Pink, Knowledge Of The Holy by A.W. Tozer, Trusting God by Jerry Bridges). Spending time in helpful resources like these will enable you to have true joy which can be defined as a permanent, deep-down sense of peace and well-being based on your confidence that no matter how bad things may appear, you know God loves you and is in complete control of every detail of your life and is wisely and providentially working behind the scenes to bring Himself glory and make you more like Christ (cf. Rom. 8:28-29).
Again, take Paul for example. His imprisonment was God’s providential way of getting much of the New Testament written. It was during those long, lonely hours in prison when the Holy Spirit inspired him to write many of his letters, including Philippians, which is categorized as one of the Prison Epistles. Through his letters, Paul impacted far more people than he could have ever visited in person, and they continue to impact people’s lives today.
So instead of complaining about what is or isn’t happening in our lives, we should see our circumstances as God-ordained opportunities to further the gospel and in that we can rejoice. Furthermore, if our joy is in the Lord rather than in what happens to us, then our attitude should never change even when our circumstances do because the Lord never changes. The Psalmist modeled joy in the Lord and demonstrated that the secret to always being joyful is always being in the presence of the Lord (cf. Ps. 16:11; 21:6; 43:4). And if we are joyful all the time, that will set us apart from most people in the world. Nothing is more needed today than for those of us who call ourselves Christians to live consistently joyful lives in this uncertain, ever-changing age which will make us bright lights and cause people to be drawn to God and the truth of His Word (cf. Phil. 2:14-16).
In the forward to his classic book Spiritual Depression, Martyn Lloyd-Jones stated that “There can be little doubt but that the exuberant joy of the early Christians was one of the most potent factors in the spread of Christianity….As we face the modern world with all its trouble and turmoil and with all its difficulties and sadness, nothing is more important than that we…who claim the Name of Christ, should be representing our faith in such a way before others, as to give them the impression that here is the solution, and here the answer. In a world where everything has gone so sadly astray, we should be standing out as...people characterized by a fundamental joy and certainty in spite of conditions, in spite of adversity.…That…is the picture which is given of God’s people everywhere in the Scriptures....Those men of God stood out in that way, and, whatever their circumstances and conditions, they seemed to possess a secret which enabled them to live triumphantly and to be more than conquerors.” May that be the testimony of our lives as well, on both the good days and the bad days, and whether the wedding bells are ringing or the funeral bells are tolling.