2nd April 2020
Over the past few weeks I have found myself thanking God for things I had never thanked him for, prior to the Corona Virus hitting the UK:
“Thank you God there is milk in the supermarket.”
“Thank you God for the bin men emptying my bins.”
“Thank you God for Whats App…and Skype…and Zoom…”
In addition to these there are the things I have thanked God for many times, but now my gratefulness has increased significantly:
“Thank you for my health, for spring, that I have food in the cupboard, for my church, for my family and friends…” My list could fill this page.
Paul wrote in Philippians 4v4,
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice!”
This wasn’t the only time he gave his clear instruction to this particular church. He said the same thing at the start of the previous chapter,
“Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord!”
Paul was writing these words whilst under house arrest, in some ways a situation similar to our current national lock down, but with the addition of a Roman soldier at his door, preventing him going out even if he wanted to exercise or do essential shopping. Was it just that the people he was writing to were a particularly miserable lot? No! He gave a similar message to other churches he wrote to, including,
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5v16-18
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12v12
Rejoicing wasn’t just an optional extra – it was an instruction. And just as we may have to repeat an instruction to children when they don’t really want to do what we are asking, Paul was having to repeat himself, so the church really heard what he was saying and got on with it.
So how were they and more importantly, how are we, to rejoice? The song writer Matt Redman wrote,
“Blessed Be Your Name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name.”
Spontaneous rejoicing often occurs when we hear good news, when a baby is born safely, when we see God answering prayer or when results come back clear from the hospital. But though it is incredibly important to rejoice in these situations, this thankfulness is circumstantial. Paul wasn’t simply instructing the church to say “thank you” to God when things turn out as we humanly think is best.
Yes it is absolutely right to bring our thanksgiving to God for His immeasurable goodness to us, demonstrated in the abundance of physical blessings we experience every day. Yet rejoicing goes far beyond being grateful for our circumstances or the physical stuff we are surrounded by in our Western culture. As the song continues;
“Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name”
Even in suffering, even when we have questions, even in the uncertainty of our present global situation, we ca be thankful because nothing can separate us from the love of our God.
But there is even more rejoicing than this...We are told to rejoice in the Lord – not in ourselves, or others or stuff or circumstances, but in God. Why?
Because He is unchanging, all knowing, forever constant.
He is compassionate, slow to anger and just.
He will never leave us or fail us or disappoint us.
He is love, He is right, He is forgiving.
He has chosen us, called us, adopted us.
He gives to us a glorious inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.
He has poured out the Holy Spirit, into our lives, the deposit guaranteeing what is to come.
And even if we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He is there right besides us.
At this moment, when the whole world is in the grip of this devastating pandemic, our God is reigning and His reign will never end!
Faith enables us to believe this. Faith enables us to rejoice. Faith enables us to be still, knowing that today we have one who is interceding at the right hand of the Father for you and for me, one who completely understands our struggles.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 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.” 2 Corinthians 4v16-18
The Corona Virus is having an unprecedented impact on every one of our lives, but it is temporary. One day the lockdown will be over, one day we will be able to visit our friends and families again, one day we will physically meet as church on a Sunday morning and what a celebration that will be!
Faith enables us to not lose heart. Faith enables us to cling on tightly to God when we are struggling or unwell, when we are lonely or bored, or when having the whole family in the house for another long day is becoming too much. Faith enables us to watch the news and not become fearful. Faith stirs us to pray.
As Christians we can rejoice as we fix our eyes not simply on the end of this pandemic but on the eternal glory that awaits us as children of God. We have the hope before us of eternal life and everlasting peace, a place where there is no sickness or death, or mourning or crying or pain. We can look forward to an eternity where there is no isolation or social distancing but where we will be part of the great multitude, from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne of God. And together in glorious unity we will worship Him.
This is our eternal hope. This is why today we can rejoice in our Lord God Almighty, the one who is seated on the throne, the one who is worthy of all praise and all glory, for ever and ever!