[Written in October 2010]
"Rejoice in the Lord alway; and again, I say, Rejoice" (Philippians 4:4)
Reading this verse, it is *quite* easy to follow Paul's command in this verse to "rejoice in the Lord"....but only so long as one stops at the word "Lord", and go no further. However, the Apostle made a key point of adding the word "alway" to that command. That, of course, is where most of us face our difficulties. Rejoicing when one is *not* happy is much more of a challenge (and might even appear a contradiction). Yet it is something that should come much more easily than we would think, if we had the proper perspective.
I, of course, make no pretense of being able to actually take my own advice in this matter. For the last couple of months especially, I have been struggling with "rejoicing" due to certain specific reasons, and part of the reason for me writing this is simply to set down my own thoughts in order. And yet, even though it is difficult to rejoice in trying times, for one who believes in God's providence, we know that "all things work together for good to them that love God" (Romans 8:28). Indeed, even our very sufferings can be cause for rejoicing. We are told, for instance, that the Apostles "rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame" for the name of Christ (Acts 5:41). Or again, Paul wrote to the Colossians that he "rejoiced" in his sufferings for them (cf. Colossians 1:24). He was not simply "resigned" to suffering out of an attitude "Well, I have to put up with it anyway", but rather he positively *rejoiced*. The question is why should we so positively rejoice?
Sometimes the circumstances may make the answer a little more obvious. Even if we are suffering greatly, we might be granted the grace of seeing the fruits of such suffering, which can be a cause of rejoicing. Even if we do not see such fruits, we might at least have a hope of such fruit, in that we can at least forsee circumstances in which something positive may result (even if the circumstances seem unlikely). In other words, at least there is a *hope* within our scope of vision that our suffering is not wasted.
But why should we rejoice when we cannot see even the possibilitiy of something fruitful resulting from our suffering (that is, from our own admittedly limited perspective)? The answer (though not the only one) that I am coming to see more and more clearly is precisely because it unites us more and more to the Crucified Christ, and conforms us more to His image. After all, why was it necessary for Christ to die to atone for our sins, for instance? There can be various reasons given, needless to say, but surely one of them (again, not the only reason, but one of them) was simply to show the extent of his love for us. That the Divine Word who created all things and who even at this moment upholds the universe by the "word of his power" (cf. Hebrews 1:3) nevertheless "humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (cf. Philippians 2:8), dying to atone for the sins of his rebellious creatures does more to demonstrate the astounding fierceness of God's love for humanity than any mere abstract declaration of such love would. A love that expresses itself in sacrifice, with no thought of gain for the one who practicies the sacrifice, is surely a worthy demonstration of that love.
When one has love for another person (whether it be a parent for a child, a husband for his wife or vice versa , a friend for another, etc.) one is willing, and, indeed, eager to demonstrate that love through sacrifice. It demonstrates the reality of the love in a unique way, to put it mildly. So the question that occurs is this: do we have such love for God?
We can, of course, offer God nothing of ourselves. Everything we have is due to His grace, even the love that we have for Him. He is the source of all our good. (And, of course, the good that we do can be "pleasant" to us, something we would do anyway quite apart from love of God, simply because we like that particular good)
Yet if we wish to show our love for God, it may at times be that we express it best through great sacrifice. The sacrifice in and of itself is not pleasant; indeed, if it were, then it wouldn't be much of a sacrifice, of course. This is all the more the case when it seems to be "wasted" suffering (to all appearances that is, though not in reality). But a sacrifice offered in a spirit of "offering it up" to the Lord under such circumstances can be a cause of rejoicing, because it is an expression of love for God, not to mention faith in his Providence beyond our vision. One who loves another person rejoices to be able to express his love in such a way. Not, indeed, that he is always trying to live in a state of permanent suffering, of course. Rather, he is always permanently *willing* to suffer out of love for the other. So can we also, out of our love for God, always be willing to accept His will, however unpleasant it may be, or how "wasteful" any accompanying suffering looks (apart from faith in his promises).
And let us never forget that we are not called to do anything that He has not himself first undergone. "Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?" (Mark 10:38)