“Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; And let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” Let the sea roar, and all its fullness; Let the field rejoice, and all that is in it.”
– 1 Chronicles 16:31-32
There’s no doubt that the world is capable of bringing joy to our lives. There are moments of wonder in everything, after all… from the quiet beauty of fine art, the emotional resonance of music, the contentment that comes from a happy family life and good friends to share it with. Nature has a way of making us feel anything from peace and tranquility to a kind of awed wonder, and our habit of anthropomorphizing the animal kingdom allows us to feel a genuine connection with creatures that we’re unable to genuinely communicate with. In so many ways, we can find things to be thankful for, things to be grateful for. As a great man once said, there’s treasure everywhere.
And then there’s the flip side of that coin, because for every moment of genuine happiness and simple serenity, there’s a corresponding moment of sadness and pain. The world can seem a cruel place, and unfair. It’s natural to feel emotionally affected by bad news, whether it happens to us or to others, and those blessed with great empathy can also feel cursed when all around seems bleak, and grief seems to be a constant.
That’s because happiness and joy in the world, in our outer lives, is dependent on circumstance. We’re reactive, not pro-active — our experiences motivate our feelings, not the other way around. We learn to try to make good things happen to offset those moments when bad things will happen to us, because we come to expect the latter and to fear that the former will not be enough to balance it out.
But our outer lives are, and always will be, a shadow of our inner spiritual lives. It’s a pale imitation, because our lives in the Kingdom are the way that we were always intended to live, and so what we experience in the world is, by definition, outside of that Kingdom. And in the Kingdom, we’re pro-active, never reactive. We don’t wait for good things to come to us, nor do we fear the bad, and we have no need to push for artificial moments of happiness to offset some remaindered or expected pain or sorrow. Philippians 4:4 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” and this is one of the maxims that define our walk with Christ. It is natural to feel emotionally affected by circumstance… but we walk in the supernatural, and are gifted to bring joy to circumstance. Where the world walks gingerly, wincing at every step in case the bubble bursts, we step out in song, no matter what occurs.
The modern English word ‘rejoice’ stems from an Old French word, rejoir, the latter half of which of course gives us the word joy. But it’s the tiny, often-neglected prefix re that we as Christians truly represent. It’s an intensive construction that adds not only layered repetition, to do something again (to reenter your home, to reacquaint yourself with someone, to reaffirm your commitment) but also intensity of expression. The French word ‘hausser’ means ‘to raise’… but the word ‘rehausser’ means ‘to heighten’. And ‘rejoice’ means not just to feel joy, but to express joy, to exude joy, to re-experience joy over and over. It’s infectious, a welcome contagion. It shouldn’t be possible, but you can hear a smile over the telephone. That’s the power of rejoicing in our lives, and because we live in the Kingdom, it’s not dependent on circumstance. It’s our default setting.
We’re made for celebration. Everything in us resonates when we give thanks. We’re at our happiest when we exult in someone or something. It’s not for nothing that our birthdays are celebrated by everyone that cares for us, because what better way to honor and rejoice in the life of your friend than to give thanks on the anniversary of their birth? It’s that tangible expression of joy that rejoicing is all about. It’s not enough simply to feel happy. Joy demands that we demonstrate it to the world! When we rejoice, we reveal our happiness to those around us, and that revelation in itself sparks joy in others.
In the Bible, rejoicing is also an intensive construct — a constantly repeated characteristic of the worship of God. Isaiah 66:10 provides an exhortation to “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her; rejoice for joy with her, all you who mourn for her.” Ecclesiastes 3:12-14 allows that, “I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor — it is the gift of God.” Luke 6:23 commands to “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven.” 1 Peter 1:8 tells us that “Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” There are two hundred and thirty-eight instances of the word ‘rejoice’ in the Bible, almost all of which are invitations or exhortations to celebrate our place in the Kingdom.
And just as we are no longer dependent on circumstance to bring us joy, our situation can’t take the rejoicing from our hearts anymore. 2 Corinthians 6, Paul declares that “in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God… as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” Even in the middle of strife, when those infamous trials and tribulations are upon us, we are in the Spirit, and we are capable of great rejoicing and celebration. At a time of great persecution, in his letter to the Philippians (chapter 2 verses 17-18) Paul tells them that “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”
The deep joy of our inner self cannot be sapped or broken, cannot be drained by sorrow or grief. On the contrary, when we dwell in Christ that rejoicing, that passionate exuberance, connects us to God. It opens us up to the reality of our place in his Kingdom. This means that it cannot be otherwise for us… celebration has to be a way of life. It’s not an elective extra — it’s deep in the curriculum, a deep spiritual joy expressed with intensity, radiating from us.
And that necessity means it’s not for the faint of heart. We’re adventurers in celebration, great romantics just as Christ was, and part of a devotion to a life less ordinary is a commitment to that devotion. This is the journey of a lifetime, and it requires training, preparation, and preoccupation over and above other concerns. You cannot drift to the top of a mountain when you are a person of substance in Christ. Drifting is for balloons and feathers, weightless things blown wherever the winds of circumstance take them. We climb, and where the world walks gingerly, we step out in song.
Some of this can seem overwhelming at first. That’s okay — that climb begins with a single step. Remember to keep the song in your heart. If there are circumstances within your life that seem to make a song seem inappropriate, remind yourself that it is the circumstances within your life that are inappropriate. They are the things that should not be. The song, that great rejoicing, is our constant in Christ. Remember the gifts that we have been given. Remember the awe-inspiring, majestic love of the Father, that love that forgives us everything, that sees every part of us and never wavers, always looking for the moment he’s seen coming since before we were born, when He can deliver on His promise to us and raise us still higher. We arrived in the world bound for another world, a greater and higher place. A Kingdom at the top of the mountain, past the clouds, and a life of celebration in the sun.
-Ben at Team Brilliant