I’d like to focus on verse 16 of our text where Paul encourages us to rejoice always. I hope that during Advent we’ll have joyful hearts as we anticipate our Savior’s birth. His birth is definitely worth being joyful over. I think we’d all agree on that.
However, rejoicing always is easier said than done. There is a lot in life that tends to rob us of our joy. It could be sickness or illness. It could the loss of one close to us. It could be work. It could be a whole bunch of things. That’s why it’s hard to be joyful every day. But Paul tells us to rejoice always, even when things aren’t going too well for us.
How can we keep our joy alive, especially during this Advent season as we look forward to Christmas? Unfortunately, I can’t promise us that the things in life that rob us of our joy will disappear. We will always have to experience something in life that puts a frown on our face. Moreover, I’m not a magician. I don’t have a magic wand to wave to make all of our troubles go away. It’s not that simple. However, there are ways to keep our joy alive in spite of the devil’s attempt to prevent us from being joyful over all that the Lord has done for us.
The first thing is having a desire to be joyful. If we don’t have that, then we won’t be joyful. So for such a desire, we turn to the Lord and ask Him to give us a joyful spirit. It all starts by turning to Him and realizing that we can’t achieve happiness on our own. It all has to start and end with Jesus. So we turn to the Lord in prayer and ask Him to give us the desire to be joyful, remembering that He isn’t stingy. He wants us to be joyful, especially when it comes to celebrating the birth of Jesus, and He will give us such joy if we ask.
But I know people who have gotten used to being not joyful. They’ve lost the desire to be joyful. It seems too far out of their reach. They’ve even convinced themselves that they can’t be happy or joyful and that nothing can help them, including the Lord. So what’s the use of turning to Jesus. He can’t help. Some people don’t believe in the power of Jesus. "How could He ever lift me out of the doldrums?" Because people doubt, that’s where they stay.
Here is where there is no room for doubt. Jesus says no one should expect to receive anything from God if he doubts. We need to believe that the Lord wants us to be joyful. Paul wouldn’t have commanded us to be joyful if that weren’t God’s will and desire for us. I would encourage us to pray to the Lord and ask Him to give us a desire to be joyful. All things are possible with the Lord. If He created the world from nothing and rose from the dead, He can certainly create a desire to be joyful in our heart.
It goes against reason not wanting to be joyful. What does a person gain by wanting to remain in a state of unhappiness? Nothing. Besides, God wants us to welcome and celebrate His coming with joy. I’ve never heard of a sorrow party. "Let’s celebrate Jesus birth by being sad. I don’t want to feel good about it." Have we ever heard of anything like that before? It’s hard for me to even think that way.
No, the Lord wants us to be joyful and will give that joy to us if we don’t already have it. Turn to Him and ask for a desire to be joyous during this Advent season as we anticipate Jesus’ birth.
Secondly, once God has given us joy, we need to keep it going. And God is the fuel to keep it going. Those of us who own a car realize that it takes fuel to keep the car running. What happens when the car runs out of fuel? It doesn’t go anymore. It has to be refilled in order to move again. We have to constantly put gas in the car to keep it running. In the same way we need to fill up with God in order to keep our joy going. Life in general tends to deprive us of joy. It wears us down. If we don’t fill up with God, our joy will stop running.
In our text, Paul says "rejoice always." How can we do that? By filling up with the Lord. He is the high-octane fuel that keeps us going.
Unfortunately, people will try to cut corners, even we Christians at times. We’ll try to fill up with entertainment to keep our joy going. We’ll turn to alcohol. We’ll turn to money in the hope of keeping our joy up and running. But in the long run these things won’t keep our joy alive. They may work for a little bit, but eventually we’ll come to realize that they don’t work forever. We need a quality fuel, which is God, to keep us going.
Some people buy ethanol to run their car instead of buying the gas that is recommended. The ethanol is cheaper. The ethanol works for a while but it can ruin the engine of a car that isn’t made to run using a high concentration of ethanol. Plus, the ethanol doesn’t contain the same amount of energy that gasoline does.
We can cut corners for a while. But in the end, we won’t come out ahead. We can try finding joy and happiness in other things besides God, but in the end we’ll be disappointed. Our joy won’t last forever without God.
And thirdly, we need to focus our joy on Jesus Christ and what He did for us. The reason we can be joyous in the first place is because of what He did for us on the cross. He saved us from extinction. He came into the world like one of us to give us an eternal joy that no one can take from us. He rose from the dead to give us hope. No one can change or take away from us what Jesus has done for us. Why not focus our joy on something that lasts forever and not on some fleeting pleasure?
So, let me summarize what I’ve said regarding joy. First, we need to desire to be full of joy. We turn to the Lord and ask Him to give us that joy. Secondly, we need to keep that joy going. God Almighty is our fuel. He keeps us running. And thirdly, we focus our joy on Jesus, who is our everlasting joy. I believe we all want to celebrate our Savior’s birth in a spirit of joy. His birth is very much deserving of our joy.
If we are joyful, we fulfill Paul’s exhortation to rejoice and be joyful always in our text. This doesn’t mean that our joy is to be a kind of escape from reality. I know people who stress the positive at the expense of dealing with issues. It’s a way to ignore the reality of problems. No one likes to deal with problems because it’s a hassle. But problems often times don’t just go away. They have to be dealt with. Paul is not encouraging us to put a fake smile on our face and walk away from problems. He’s not preaching a skin-deep or plastic joy. Instead, he means a genuine rejoicing based on the goodness of God, a joy rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I pray that our joy will be rooted in the love of Jesus. May that joy show itself in our joyful celebration of Jesus’ birth.