Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Philippians 4:4 (NIV)
It is time to address an imbalance. Historically, much has been said about Paul’s command to “pray without ceasing,” but what about “rejoice always?” What does it mean to “rejoice always?” When things are good, rejoicing is almost a given, but how can we expect to “rejoice always” when life gets hard and we are put to the test?
Rejoicing is rooted in our emotions and just like any other emotion, there can be varying degrees of intensity and depth. One definition of rejoice: “to be in a state of happiness and well-being.” While we may rejoice when our favorite athletes or sports teams are successful, for all but the most fanatical of devoted fans, the pleasure soon passes as they move on to other things. Certainly, if we rejoice in anything except the Lord, sooner or later we will be disappointed.
If we allow emotion to control us, there will be no consistency in our rejoicing. As with prayer, consistent rejoicing is a discipline. To “rejoice always,” we cannot be dependent upon present circumstances or situations. Anyone can rejoice when things are going well or during a celebration, but that leads to an up and down, emotional roller coaster that alternates between rejoicing and grieving.
How then can we maintain a life of rejoicing? R. C. Sproul offers this insight:
That brings us back to this matter of how we can be joyful as a matter of discipline or of the will. How is it possible to remain joyful all the time? Paul gives us the key: “Rejoice in the Lord always” (emphasis added). The key to the Christian’s joy is its source, which is the Lord. If Christ is in me and I am in Him, that relationship is not a sometimes experience. The Christian is always in the Lord and the Lord is always in the Christian, and that is always a reason for joy.
It is imperative that we understand that “rejoicing always” requires an extended vision. A vision that looks beyond the present circumstances and to the future. Paul writes: “Rejoice in our confident hope” Romans 12:12 (NLT). We can rejoice in difficult times because we have hope for our future.
If we have a purpose and a goal we are pursuing, we can maintain our joy through all kinds of trouble. “…we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance” Romans 5:3 (NET). It is not the sufferings we rejoice about, but what they produce. That is what it means to have an extended vision. In Hebrews, we read, speaking of Jesus: “…Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross…” Hebrews 12:2 (NLT)
Sometimes, the only way that we could make sense out of our present situation is to look ahead to the promises and rewards we have in Christ Jesus: “If some friends went to prison, you stuck by them. If some enemies broke in and seized your goods, you let them go with a smile, knowing they couldn’t touch your real treasure. Nothing they did bothered you, nothing set you back.” Hebrews 10:34 (The Message).
If we agree that we should be looking forward to the promises of God while we are in the middle of trouble, what can we do to gain the discipline needed to stay the course and “rejoice always?”
Two analogies come to mind: solid foundations and deep roots. Jesus taught about the wise and foolish builders. Those who build their life on the foundation of the solid rock (Matthew 7:24-27; Luke 6:47-49) can withstand the storms of life. It takes effort and discipline to clear away the sand, soil, and debris so that we are established firmly.
A plant or a tree that has deep roots can withstand the wind and other forces that are determined to remove it from where it has been planted. Enduring joy requires good soil to establish good roots. It is interesting that in the parable of the sower (Luke 8:4-14), the seed that fell upon rocky ground, received the word with joy, but it did not last because it did not have deep roots.
Rarely, at least here in California, do we find naturally good soil that does not require preparation to make it suitable for planting. To be successful you need to sift through the rocks and even amend the soil, but when you take care of those things, life will flourish. And speaking of planting, we must not forget that “joy” is a fruit of the spirit.
Rejoice—the Lord is King! Your Lord and King adore!
Rejoice, give thanks, and sing and triumph evermore!
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice! Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!
Finally, it may seem that praying has garnered more attention than rejoicing, but they go together. Along with giving thanks, praying and rejoicing form a particularly important triumvirate: Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 (NIV)
 William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1074.