Let There Be Joy!

Scripture can be found here

Sometimes, we can feel like prisoners of our own thoughts. (And I’m not talking about things like serious depression or anxiety that may need medical intervention… I hope you see your doctor when that happens. I’m talking about the everyday whirl of painful, upsetting self-talk that can sap us of our sense of abundant life.)

When that happens, the apostle Paul has some advice for us. After all, the writer of the letter to the church at Philippi—the home of the Philippians—sends his advice from an actual prison—probably in Rome, probably serving a sentence that will end with his death.

But Paul has found a way to be free from anxiety-producing thoughts, even in prison. He gives us a simple, three-step formula.

First: Rejoice! Embrace joy. Joy, as distinct from happiness. Happiness is a fleeting thing, a transitory thing… I am happy when something good or fun or exciting happens to me. Joy, on the other hand, is a state we embrace as a spiritual discipline. Joy is a choice, and it has to do with affirming the firm foundation on which we stand, which is to say: the love of God. The provision of God, in good times and in bad. We are able to choose joy, because we trust in that love and provision.

Second: Be gentle. Be gentle with everyone! These are rough and tumble days we live in. It is the era of the viral, stinging tweet, the verbal or virtual stand-off, nastiness drawn like the guns at the OK Corral. In such times, it’s gentleness that comes as a shock. We are expecting a cutting rebuke, and instead, we receive kindness, and grace. Paul connects gentleness with the nearness of the Lord… Maybe that’s something like, how do you want Jesus to find you, when he returns? On the other hand, maybe it’s a reminder that everyone… even the one we don’t particularly like, or agree with… is made in the image and likeness of God. Gentleness, like joy, is a choice we can make. Let your gentleness be known to everyone… the Lord is near.

And Third: Take your worries and turn them into prayer and thanksgiving. Nothing can divert us from focusing on the things that worry us quite as beautifully as the things for which we are grateful. A daily practice of gratitude, in addition to turning over the things we are worried about (and can’t do anything to change) into God’s care…this is the final note in Paul’s prescription for being free. Free from despondency. Free from the need to hurl a zinger. Free from worry, but bathed in thanksgiving.

If, today, you are a prisoner of your thoughts, give Paul’s three-ingredient recipe a try:

Joy, gentleness, and thankful prayer. I say it again: Let there be joy!

Thanks be to God: Amen.