Imagine being stuck in a stinking prison cell, suffering filthy conditions, being cut off from family and friends, having little hope of ever seeing home again. Such was the predicament of the Apostle Paul over two thousand years ago. Humanly speaking, Paul had every reason to complain and give over to despair. Yet he chose to lean into joy as he encouraged his friends with a formula to join him in that leaning:Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)
Life! It can be heartbreaking, nonsensical, and full of frustration. Right now I have family and friends facing enormous challenges with their health, the loss of loved ones, financial challenges they never expected to face. I woke up this morning with news of an earthquake in Canada, a tsunami threatening Hawaii and as I write this, the news is full of a “hybrid storm” named Sandy that appears to be headed to where I live. I have caught myself repeatedly going over lists in my head, but have no answer to the question, “Have I done enough to prepare?” I was grateful to be reminded of Paul’s example and call to Christians across two thousand years to lean into joy despite uncertain circumstances:
Rejoice in the One who is near . . . lean into joy as God’s peace transcends today and every tomorrow to come. Rejoice!
Two posts ago I wrote to you about the difference between loneliness and solitude. The root of loneliness has to do with a longing for companionship. The danger in following the path of loneliness is that, as we become increasingly self-focused, hope and light are drained from the mind and heart. Conversely, solitude is a necessity. We need time alone to think, to pray, to create, to allow God to speak to our hearts. Solitude is to be cherished as a precious commodity.
In my last post I wrote about the value of solitude in prayer, referring to it as solitary leaning. It is through our solitary leaning that the door is opened to intimacy with God with the help of His Spirit and His Word. Solitary leaning urges us to, “Know that the Lord is God . . . His faithfulness continues through all generations,” (Psalm 100:3, 5) to “Be still and know” God, (Psalm 46:10) and to “wait for Him!” (Isaiah 30:18) Such solitary intimacy is what strengthens and matures faith.
Paul’s ability to lean into joy during one of the toughest seasons in his life, was the fruit of consistent solitary leaning on God. There is much for Christians to learn from Paul. We too must lay a foundation of prayerful solitary leaning as the foundation of our faith. We are also called to live and breathe obedient to our leaning.
The true test of living a life that reflects Christ, is learning to lean into joy when things don’t go our way. When our circumstances no longer rule us we are freed to live for, love and serve God with glad hearts.
Paul’s determination to “rejoice in the Lord always” was rooted in the intimate relationship he enjoyed with his Savior. But such joy was never to be hoarded, instead Paul shared it with community to pass on the blessing he had received through Christ Jesus. So how can we consistently lean into joy? Paul gives the answer with clarity and wisdom:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8, 9)
So what are you waiting for? Lean!
All to His Glory!