“Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice!”
By Erik Retallick
I don’t know whether you have noticed a trend developing over the last few decades in the lifestyles of rich, poor, middle-class (if there is such a class any more) people, but I hear it revealed again and again in daily conversation. It is found in these kinds of questions: “What are you doing for the weekend?” “Where are you going on vacation?” “Have you seen any good films lately?” and “What are you having to eat tonight?”
These questions may well form part of our daily polite conversations with neighbors, friends and family, but they have one thing in common. They all place an emphasis on enjoying ourselves and indulging in pleasant pastimes and activities which are part of most of our human routines.
However, I think that sometimes, deep down, when we ask these trivial questions, we are making comparisons with others about how pleasurable and happy our lives are compared with those around us. It is as though we have a built-in “Happy-ometer” to measure our score against people we know and meet.
I believe that we live in a Hedonistic society, where pleasure and enjoyment have become a vital ingredient of our lives, and where hard work and looking out for the needs of others are non-essential by comparison.
Psychologists tell us that everything we do, whether it be sport, playing or listening to music, playing computer games, even helping others or doing charity work is all done ultimately for selfish reasons. In our contemporary society, our status and perception of achievement in ourselves and others, is often determined by what we do in our work, what qualifications we have and the kind of lifestyle we lead.
Solomon, in his philosophical discourse which comprises Ecclesiastes, says in Chapter 9:7, “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do.” When we examine his lifestyle in the Old Testament, we see that Solomon was extremely knowledgeable as well as being noted for his God-given wisdom (1 Kings 3:7-12), which is the ability to apply extensive knowledge in God’s right ways to further His purposes, for one’s own good and the benefit of others.
Solomon certainly also knew how to chill-out (enjoy himself) and could probably relate to the hedonistic days in which we live! Read Ecclesiastes, and you will get a good snapshot of his thinking, action, and interests in life.
Near the end of his book, Ecclesiastes, Solomon sounds a note of caution: “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them.” “ Sadly, we see through Bible history that Solomon was led to worship idols later in life because he married women who were not followers of the One true God, who led him in the wrong direction, (see 1 Kings 11).
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with our de-stressing and having enjoyable pastimes as Christians, as “God has given us all things richly to enjoy.” (1 Timothy 6:17b, KJV). That may be material gifts, talents and abilities, or watching ball games on television. Our great God of grace is so amazing that He gives us so much, often more than we can use, and this gives us the opportunity to help and share what we have with others to bless and encourage them in their walk with the Lord.
I was taught in College that there is a basic difference between middle-class and working-class values (neither of which probably still exist!). Whereas the working-class person looks for instant gratification, that is, taking his week’s wages and spending them on beer, wine, spirits, or gambling, the middle class person is willing to defer his gratification, stay in full-time education for longer and look for future gains, for example by entering a profession or becoming a business manager.
This is (was?) a form of investment for family and personal improvements in standard of living which could hopefully be passed on to the next generation.
I believe that things have changed to such an extent, especially in the Western world, that this model may no longer apply in the same form. I would be interested to hear any thoughts or questions you may have concerning this. You have to remember that I live in a post class-ridden society, the United Kingdom!
What may be more important to us in our contemporary world, is the difference between happiness and joy or rejoicing. Happiness is a fleeting feeling of elation produced by the release of “happy” chemicals dopamine and serotonin in the brain in reaction to participating in activities which are pleasurable to us. Unfortunately this can also be produced by prescription or non-prescription drugs, which can present many problems, which I am sure many of us can relate to.
Joy, however, by contrast, is one of the fruits we experience as a result of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) coming to live in our hearts, which is the result of our coming to know Jesus as our Lord and Savior. The fruit of the Spirit will not grow overnight, just as real fruit doesn’t become edible until it has ripened in its season, at harvest-time.
The other characteristic of joy is that it is not dependent on our current circumstances, but is deeply rooted in our hearts and lives by the Holy Spirit.
Joy, like the other fruits of the Spirit, needs to be watered and fed in order to grow. Therefore, if we would rather have the permanence of joy of the Lord in our lives, which is a source of strength in our lives (Nehemiah 8:10) we need to feed on the Word of God and learn to listen to Him, spend time in His presence. In fellowship with our fellow Christians it is good to sing praises to Him and exalt His Name together.
This God will allow to happen in our lives by His grace, it is not something we need to become anxious or self-analytical about, which will cause us to lose rather than enjoy the seed of joy He is already enabling to grow in us!
There is not an either joy or happiness choice we need to make in our lives. The famous Edwin Hawkin’s Singers “O Happy Day,” which is based on an old hymn describes how many people feel when they come to know Jesus, filled with happiness and ready to tell others all about it! In the opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 we see the constant repetition of the word blessed, which I see as a great and lavish mixture of happiness and joy.
This passage moves from concentration on the word “blessed” to “rejoice” in verse 12, which speaks to those who are being persecuted. “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” (Matthew 5:12)
Rejoicing is (and should become) an ongoing activity in our lives, which is why Paul says “ will say it again: RejoiceI” (Philippians 4:4)
How do you see yourself as a Christian? Are you laying up treasure in heaven or living for the pleasure of the moment? Are you aware of the needs of those around you or more interested in watching a film or playing a computer game? I write this as an encouragement not as a put-down or something to make you feel guilty, because we are saved by the grace of God and seek to worship Him and follow Him as He leads us.
If you don’t know Jesus yet but have a desire to know more about the happiness and joy He offers, through His finished work, dying on the cross to take away our sin, please contact me or send an email to email@example.com to find out more.