the choice to rejoice

©2020 michael martin |

when life is hard...

Life is hard. Like Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say, "it’s always something. If it’s not one thing, it’s another." Very rarely does everything go "our way." It’s easy to think of our difficulties as though things have gone "wrong" for us, but Scripture tells us to expect it:

1 peter 4:12-13

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.

We shouldn’t be surprised when things are difficult for us, but when it happens, there is always the question of how we should respond. Let’s consider some options...

section 1

indifference and apathy

It may be possible sometimes to simply not care when challenges come our way. Instead of meeting our challenges, we can withdraw into a shell of complacency, hoping that our ignorance will shield us from difficulties and discomfort. What does Scripture say about apathy, indifference, and inaction?

revelation 3:16-17

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

my notes:

romans 12:9-12

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

james 4:17

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

Clearly, indifference and apathy are not appropriate responses to our trials and challenges.

section 2

complaining and grumbling

How easy it is to respond to our difficulties by grumbling and complaining! We protest the fact that things haven’t unfolded in the way that we would prefer. But, to whom are we protesting?

philippians 2:14-15

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, "children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation."

exodus 16:8

Moses also said, "You will know that it was the LORD when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD."

1 corinthians 10:9-10

We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did —and were killed by the destroying angel.

Complaining and grumbling are ultimately always complaints against God, who is sovereign over everything that happens to us, and the Bible is very clear that this is not the way to respond to our difficulties.

section 3

taking offense

It’s easy to get upset when something unpleasant is said, or to get frustrated or angry when circumstances don’t unfold as we prefer. But what do the Scriptures tell us about this?

proverbs 19:11

A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.

james 1:19-20

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

romans 12:17-21

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

section 4

fear and worry

Of course, there is always the option to worry. We can respond or react to difficult situations with fear; either the fear that God won’t orchestrate our circumstances in our preferred way, or fear that our own actions will somehow "ruin" God’s plan.

psalm 37:1-8

Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong;

2 for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.

3 Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this:

6 He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.

7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.

8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret —it leads only to evil.

my notes:

matthew 6:19-34

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

my notes:

2 kings 6:15-17

When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. "Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?" the servant asked.

16 "Don’t be afraid," the prophet answered. "Those who are with us are more than those who are with them."

17 And Elisha prayed, "Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see." Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

exodus 14:10-14

As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. 11 They said to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!"

13 Moses answered the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still."

psalm 118:6-9

The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?

7 The LORD is with me; he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies.

8 It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in humans.

9 It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.

The world can make you uncomfortable, and it can change your address by ending your life and sending you to heaven. That’s it.

matthew 10:28-39

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

32 "Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

34 "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn

"‘a man against his father,

a daughter against her mother,

a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law —

36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

37 "Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

When we fear and worry, we are doubting that God is in control, working for our good. We want to be in control instead of God. In a sense, as the Scriptures say, we are disowning Him! Clearly, this is not the right response.

well, that didn’t help...

Indifference, complaining, offense, and worry are all natural (sinful) human responses to adversity, but none of them are obedient or helpful. So now, let’s examine the response that God’s Word commands of us; a response that doesn’t seem natural at all. What is needed is for us to exchange our natural responses for a supernatural response.

joy: the right response

section 5

We are guaranteed to have trouble in our world, and none of the responses we’ve discussed can help us with that. Rejoicing doesn’t make the discomfort of our problems disappear, but it does remind us who has overcome our problems.

john 16:33

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

"I have overcome the world." Past tense. Jesus has already overcome the world. The outcome is not in question. If you belong to Christ, you’ve won, because He’s won!

2 corinthians 4:16-18

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Eternal glory is promised to us who belong to Christ! And yet, for right now, we’re suffering! How are we to respond?

my notes:

philippians 4:4-9

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.

8 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. 9 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.

On the surface, it may seem absurdly simplistic to rejoice as these verses have told us. After all, the problems and challenges and hardships we face are real, and they are really painful. What are we to do about that?

my notes:

section 6

ignore the pain?

To be sure, Scripture tells us how to minister to those who are in the midst of suffering. We’re not expected to artificially smile and laugh our way through every painful trial:

romans 12:15

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

1 peter 3:8

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.

galatians 6:2

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

As we can see from the small sampling above, Scripture does not ask us to ignore our pain or the pain of others, covering it all in a facade of happiness. Consider Job, who at hearing the news that he had lost all of his wealth and his children, responded this way:

job 1:20

At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said:

"Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised."

Job famously worshiped and praised the name of the Lord, but he did so from the depths of his grief, having torn his robes and shaved his head as signs of mourning.

Job (initially) exhibited joy in the midst of terrible grief. How? To help us understand, let’s examine what joy really is...

section 7

what is joy?



a feeling of great pleasure and happiness; delight

The dictionary defines joy as a feeling. Oftentimes, we humans believe that feelings are beyond our control. How, then, can we be commanded to feel joy? That’s where the word "rejoice" comes in...



feel, give, take or show great joy or delight.

While "joy" is a noun that describes a feeling, "rejoice" is a verb; an action that we, as humans, are capable of voluntarily taking.

This has a profound impact on how we should live. While we have little or no control over the people or circumstances that shape our lives, we do have control over our joy! Look at the actions we’re told to take in Scripture:

1 thessalonians 5:16-24

Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

romans 15:13

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

my notes:

philippians 4:12-13

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Look at all the action verbs contained in these verses. Take delight. Rejoice. Give thanks. Trust in God. Be content. These are actions that we are told to take, because they are within our power to take them!

How is this possible? To understand this, we need to clearly understand where joy comes from.

section 8

where does joy come from?

Do you feel joy when you’re with certain people? Are you joyful when you have money or possessions? Do you feel joy when your circumstances are to your liking? Wonderful! But what happens when the pleasant people, finances or circumstances aren’t there? Where does your joy come from?

from people?

If our joy comes from other people, then our joy is subject to their behavior and actions. Our joy, then, would be in the hands of any number of sinful, selfish people.

psalm 146:3

Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.

jeremiah 17:5

This is what the LORD says:

"Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the LORD.

from possessions and wealth?

If our joy comes from our wealth or our possessions, then our joy is completely subject to the whims and swayings of an ever-changing economy.

matthew 6:19-21

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

luke 12:16-20

And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 "Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, "You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."’

20 "But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

from circumstances?

If our joy comes from our life’s circumstances, then it is subject to countless variables that are beyond our control and ultimately, is temporary at best.

james 4:13-14

Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

job 14:1-2

"Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble.

2 They spring up like flowers and wither away; like fleeting shadows, they do not endure.

none of the above...

At this point, we should draw a distinction between rejoicing and enjoying:


take delight or pleasure in (an activity or occasion).

To be sure, we can enjoy people and pleasures in our lives. These are things that joy can come through, but the key is to understand where true joy comes from.

psalm 37:4

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Delight in the Lord! True joy only comes only from God!

james 1:16-17

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

What great news this is! If our unchanging, eternal God is the source of our joy, then our joy is also unchanging and eternal! Our joy is beyond the hindrances of our fallen world!

Going further, since our joy comes from God, then our ability to take joy or to rejoice is directly related to our relationship with God.

section 9

from God alone...

1 timothy 6:6-8

But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

psalm 16:11

You [God] make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Indeed, we can enjoy many things. But the things we enjoy are merely conduits through which the actual, true, everlasting joy flows. We are filled with joy in His presence–a presence that all believers enjoy, as God’s Spirit and His Presence dwells within them! And those pleasures are unwavering and eternal.

Don’t settle for the cheap imitations. Genuine joy, the kind that isn’t subject to the instabilities of this world, comes only from God. It’s available to you right now. You need only to take it!

completeness of joy...

The completeness of our joy relies only on our willingness to completely embrace it. In doing so, we are not merely victorious. We are more than conquerors, inseparable from our Savior and our joy!

my notes:

romans 8:31-39

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died —more than that, who was raised to life —is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

"For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

john 15:10-13

If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

galatians 5:22-23

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

my notes:

section 10

and that is why Scripture can tell us this...

Since joy comes from God and from being in His presence, living in obedience to Him, then we can confidently affirm these words of James when our circumstances become difficult:

james 1:2-3

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

even on a sinking ship...

This world is continually moving closer to its end. We’re all on the Titanic. The ship is going down, and for a time, we’re going to sink with it. In itself, that won’t be enjoyable. But God, our true joy, will work through it, and in Him we can rejoice! We’re not going under. Jesus is our lifeboat, and He will take us home!

The ship itself is lost. We can try to fix things and slow down the sinking, but the ship is definitely going down. So let’s show as many people as possible how to be saved.

jude 23

Be merciful to those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

my notes:

our joy is our witness

section 11

Scripture is clear that we are to share the Good News and make disciples of Jesus. This requires us to live in obedience to God’s commands to love. But as we love others, let’s also consider this:

matthew 5:16

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

1 peter 3:15

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect...

It’s right to be prepared to give an answer to those who might ask you why you have the hope that you have. But how will anyone know to ask you about your hope if they don’t see your joy?

my notes:

consider these questions to ponder:

questions to ponder

Q. In my heart, have I forfeited complete joy in exchange for fear, worry, or anger? (Colossians 3:1-4)

Q. What is most evident to others in my life; fear, worry, anger, complacency, or joy? (Philippians 4:4-6)

Q. Do my expressions of fear, worry, or anger outweigh or outnumber my expressions of joy? (James 3:10)

Q. Are my speech and my prayers lacking in expressions of joy and thanksgiving to God? (1 Thess. 5:16-18)

Q. Am I serving others in love? (Galatians 5:13)

Q. Am I spending more effort trying to get others to agree with me, or to show them Christ? (2 Timothy 2:23-24)

Q. In light of all this, do I need to confess or surrender anything to God? (1 John 1:9)

my notes:

be a conduit!

All of these questions should lead us to consider how we can bring joy to others.

We have already discussed how true joy comes only from God, sometimes flowing to us through some of the people and circumstances of our lives. They are conduits through which God’s joy can flow.

The challenge for us, then, is to be conduits for Godly joy. We cannot run out of joy by pouring it out to others, because we are not the source of our joy. The more joy we pour out, the more flows into us fron God. We are only conduits through which God’s joy should freely flow. Open the valve by aligning your life to God, and let God’s joy flow to others through you!


section 12

Our life’s circumstances are beyond our control. Sometimes they will be pleasant, and sometimes they will be difficult.

The one thing over which we do have control is how we will respond.

We could be indifferent, but then we’re not thinking enough about how we can bless.

We could complain and grumble, but then we’re grumbling directly against God.

We could take offense, but then we’re thinking too highly of ourselves.

We could be worried or fearful, but then we’re not thinking highly enough of God.

We can easily think or respond wrongly, making our joy completely subject to the whims of a fallen and sinful world that is beyond our control.

Or, we can take joy.

To take joy is to acknowledge and accept that we are small and God is big. It is to realize that, even in our discomfort, God is genuinely, actively working for our good.

Trouble will come. Discomfort will come. Challenges will rise, and man’s sinful kingdoms will continue to teeter on a fulcrum of instability.

And none of it; not one bit of it, will be able to change our unchangeable, loving, sovereign God, or the joy that comes from being His children. And so, for God’s family, the bad news cannot endure:

psalm 112:7

They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the LORD.

like the man said...

And so, we see that joy is not a naive, overly-simplistic cliche´ of a response to life’s hardships. Joy in the Lord is, instead, a powerful, informed, and obedient answer to all of life’s challenges.

To conclude, then, we will repeat the words of Paul, who from the discomfort of a gloomy, cold dungeon, still understood that nothing could take away his joy in the Lord.

His body was chained, but not the gospel. Not his hope. Not his joy. Despite his suffering, Paul was able to pen one of the most uplifting messages in all of Scripture. They are words that didn’t flow merely from his pen, but from his heart. May it flow from our hearts as well.

philippians 4:4

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!