By Ronald Bartanen
Have you had much cause for rejoicing lately? Maybe you’ve recently lost a loved one or a dear friend, and the days since have been filled with grief? Or perhaps you or a family-member has been diagnosed with some dreaded disease? Or have you lost your employment, and don’t know where to look for another job? If these unwelcome situations have invaded your life, you likely will find it difficult to even “put on a happy face” for a few minutes. If you are facing none of these tragedies, you may still find life frustrating and disappointing. Life may be good, but we always seem to anticipate a situation where it could be better. We may go to great efforts to make it better, only to find that satisfaction with life is always elusive..
It reminds me of a “ Nancy ” cartoon of several years ago, where we find Nancy seated at her school-desk. She says, “If I were out on the playground right now, I’d be happy.” In the next caption we find her on the playground, thinking, “If I were playing on the swings, I’d be happy.” When on a swing, she says, “Where is everybody? If a bunch of us had a baseball game going, I’d be happy.” When she gets on the ball field, she says, “If somebody would hit a ball over here, I’d be happy.” When a ball does bounce toward her, she says, “If I were sitting in a nice, cool classroom, I’d be happy.” In the last caption she is again seated in her classroom, thinking, “If I were out on the playground right now, “I’d be happy.” The cartoonist thus pointed out a common failing—true joy in life is not so dependent upon where we are or what we are doing as it is upon the state of one’s heart.
Happiness, by its definition, depends upon what happens. Good circumstances give us times of wellbeing, even elation. Bad circumstances drag us down emotionally. Better words for the Christian are words such as “joy” and “rejoice.” True joy is possible even in the most adverse circumstances of life. When Christ’s apostles were persecuted, being beaten and told to cease preaching in His name, we find them “rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41). It was while Paul was in prison that he wrote the Christians at Philippi , “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). Some might object that it is not natural to rejoice in times of trouble, and they’re right. Rejoicing of this nature is only “in the Lord.” It is second only to love in the list of the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22. He enables us to focus. not on the circumstances we face in a fallen world, but on the unseen, as we “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Whether situations in life are esteemed good or bad, we can take assurance in Jesus’ admonition to His followers: “Rejoice, for your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). After his acceptance of Christ in baptism, the Ethiopian of Acts 8 was able to go “on his way rejoicing” (v. 39). The psalmist, David, prayed, "Let those also who love Your name be joyful in You” (Psa. 5:11). Whatever else happens in our world or in our individual lives, we have cause for much rejoicing in Christ and His promises.
- Ronald Bartanen is a retired minister who for many years served the Lord's church in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee. He may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org