If we are called to weep with those who weep, we are also called to rejoice with those who rejoice. As we weep by learning how to lament, we rejoice by understanding what joy is about.
In recent years, there has been a wealth of research gatheredPages 100-101
supporting the value of gratitude and thanksgiving. Paul’s letter to the Philippians is, ostensibly, a thank you letter for their support. I remember when I was younger that after every Christmas and birthday, I’d get to choose some notes or cards to send to those people who had sent me presents; today it’s more likely to be a text, but there is something about a handwritten note which conveys thanks in a more significant way. Gratitude is the expression of appreciation for what
someone has and can be both a mood and a personality trait; we can feel grateful, but we can also make the decision to be grateful through practices such as gratitude journals or using the popular hashtag #threegoodthings on social media.
Studies have consistently shown countless benefits for physical, social, spiritual and emotional health – from providing protection from stress and depression, increased life satisfaction, lower reporting of aches and pains, to increased empathy, better sleep and higher levels of resilience.
Gratitude in and of itself can increase our joy, but I don’t think that’s why Paul expresses thanksgiving so readily in his letters: his interest lies not in the positive psychological benefits, but in putting his present situation in an eternal perspective – and encouraging others to do the same.
In a similar vein, he writes in his letter to the Roman church:
‘I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed’ (Romans 8.18–19). At first glance, it can feel like a get-out clause for the problem of pain and faith, that what we go through on earth is irrelevant compared to the glories of heaven; but Paul writes as one acquainted with pain. Paul is
not talking from a life without trouble. Most of the letters we have included in our Bible written by Paul are written from a prison cell. I don’t think he is diminishing the suffering we share in life: he’s saying that the suffering, although great, is nothing compared to what is to come. He’s also not saying that suffering is a prerequisite to glory. What he is setting out is a vision for something so beautiful and so indescribable that our pain can’t compare – hope. Hope is the reason for
our thanksgiving, because Jesus is hope incarnate.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4: 4-7
Sometimes we remember the first instruction of this scripture, to not be anxious about things, but we forget that it is about the peace of God that transcends. Paul is not saying we shouldn’t have the natural fight or flight response we have when we are in danger, but he is saying we should bring it all to God, and that is how we can have joy – by sharing.
In Pauls second letter to the Corinthians he talks again about troubles. He says we have treasure stored up in jars of clay – the power is from God and not from us. We may be pressed in on all sides and the walls my be closing in on us BUT we are not crushed, in despair or abandoned.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.2 Corinthians 4: 7-9
We find true joy in our closeness to Jesus and sometimes in the depths of our sorrow.
The language of joy is found in our thanksgiving. We can’t be joyful about that which we do not celebrate. The scriptures tell us that we need to be full of gratitude. This type of gratitude is not fake but notices where Gods fingerprints are through creation. Through scripture we see different ways of practicing joy. From music, food, feasting, community and most importantly prayer. Joy is found in communion with God, our creator. We must understand that life can be hard and yet God is good and nothing we face can extinguish the love and the light of Jesus.