Rejoicing in the Lion's Den
"This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." - Psalm 118:24
This verse rings of happiness. I imagine it being recited by a family of smiling faces diving into a big meal. I see a church worship gathering beginning to sing praise songs and someone exhorting them with this verse. I see a man or woman repeating it to themselves as they gleefully walk into the new job they've been wanting . The passage sounds peppy. It feels lighthearted.
As I wake up to my twentieth straight day at the hospital with my sick son, the question I ponder is: Can I recite and obey this verse? Rejoicing feels foreign when trials and affliction surround us. It is hard to be peppy when your heart is so heavy. Is it possible for this passage be passionately recited from the lion's den or must circumstances improve?
Paul Implores Us To Rejoice
Paul exhorts us from multiple passages to rejoice and always give thanks. In Philippians 4:4 he says, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice." There is no caveat for rejoicing only when things are swell. We are to rejoice always. Paul understood this included unfavorable conditions. He knew pain and affliction all too well (2 Corinthians 11:16-33).
In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul tells the believers, "give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." Paul annihilates any conception of circumstance-dependent thankfulness. Thanksgiving is to be unceasing. The will of God for us in Christ Jesus is that in good or bad, victory or defeat, happiness, or mourning, we give sincere thanks to God. No circumstance should undermine our thankfulness.
Jesus Challenges Us To Be Different
This idea of rejoicing and giving thanks in all situations is difficult, but should not be surprising. The Christian life, as taught in Scripture, is counter-cultural and paradoxical. Jesus' teachings affirm it.
Jesus commands us to forgive when it is hard, because we have been forgiven so much (Matthew 18:21-35). The model example of giving is the one who sacrifices much though they have little (Luke 21:1-4). We are to love those who hate us (Matthew 5:43-45). We are to provide for those who can't repay (Luke 6:32-36). Christians are no different from the world if we act just like it. If we only forgive those who ask for it or deserve it, how are we different? If we only give when we have plenty, how are we different? If we only love those easy to love or who love us, how are we different? If we only provide for people who can repay or invite those to eat who can return the invitation, how are we different? Jesus challenges us to be different.
The same is true for rejoicing and giving thanks when things are tough. Anyone can rejoice and be thankful when times are good - ever see an athlete or entertainer thank God after receiving an award? What makes us different from the world as Christians is we give thanks in all circumstances. We rejoice always, even when always includes bitter sorrows.
Rejoicing Isn't About Being Chipper
This brings me back to my predicament. Can I rejoice from the lion's den? As a new day of uncertainties with my son's health and future begins, can I rejoice and be glad in it? Yes, I can. Why? Because rejoicing isn't about being chipper. To rejoice and give thanks in all things does not mean to pretend things are hunky-dory. I don't have to deny reality or pretend pain doesn't hurt. It does hurt. Sorrow is real.
How can I rejoice and give thanks in all circumstances?
First, I can remember all the blessings I have received. David preaches to himself in Psalm 103:2, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits." I have been given infinitely more than has ever been taken away. I have countless reasons for rejoicing, even in the midst of trials.
Second, I know Jesus is forming me into his image. As we endure pain and suffering we are refined. The refiners fire purifies us and strengthens our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7). Trials breed endurance, and endurance matures us and makes us complete (James 1:2-4). As William Cowper wrote, "Behind every frowning providence, He hides a smiling face." He works through our pain for our good (Romans 8:28), and for this we can rejoice.
Third, I can reflect on the reality that God is near. Psalm 34:18 reminds me, "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit." He is near. Scripture echoes this sentiment everywhere. I am not to fear, for He is with me (Isaiah 41:10). I cannot go anywhere where He is not (Psalm 139:7-12). He is with me always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). God is in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:24-25). The Lord may never be as close to us as He is in our pain, but He is unmistakably always with us. This is cause for rejoicing.
Rejoice and Be Glad Today
You may be on the mountain top today, or you could be in the valley. But regardless of where you find yourself, remember and seek to abide by Psalm 118:24: "This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." I choose to rejoice in the lion's den.