Sometimes, rejoicing is difficult; sometimes it seems that this verse seems directed at us personally, for that sense of blessing has left. We grow weary, we have feelings that are ruling over us and telling us there is no reason to rejoice.
Cultivating a habit of remembering what causes God to rejoice, and what He calls us to rejoice in, will carry you through the seasons in which Paul would easily say to you “where is that sense of blessing? Why do you not continue to rejoice?”
When the the question of “where is that sense of blessing” was heard by the Galatians, they knew Paul was asking about their experience of joy, their experience of God’s presence, of the fulness He promised, of the sealing of the Spirit and the assurance and fortitude that flows from Him. The rivers of living water promised in John 7:38, what happened to your sense of that? Eternal life as spoken of in John 17:3, where is your sense of it?
One particular midwinter, my sense of blessing had dried up, my heart seemed unable to rejoice. But after a little self-examination, and turning to familiar Scripture passages, I was able to move into a time of pondering His timeless truths, and sensed a restored heart of rejoicing.
There are a few questions I find helpful in these times:
What is holding me back? Where has my focus been lately? Through what lens am I viewing my circumstances? Am I simply rehashing them, or am I laying them at Jesus’ feet? Am I so taken by things of this world, that eternal and ultimate truths are not helping me to see Who is in control, and what truly matters? Can He work all things for good, even through this season/situation?
Let us return now to walk through the rest of Galatians 4. Paul has already addressed their reliance on flesh rather than on the Holy Spirit, and will continue to do so in chapter 5. Here in chapter 4 Paul reviews the Gospel, Jesus being born to redeem us, to make us sons of God. He reminds them of the Spirit being sent to dwell in them, so that we might always pray from the heart, “Abba! Father!” He reminds them of their recent return to religious ceremonies that are enslaving their hearts–clinging to ceremonies rather than clinging to the Gospel.
Paul then tells them they are ‘children of promise’ born according to the Spirit. They are “not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.” Having a sense of identity firmly rooted in Christ, in the Gospel, is foundational if we are to endure through these hard times.
Free and Full
What held the Galatians back, taking away their sense of blessing? What lens were they viewing their life through? Did they forget the eternal, in light of the circumstantial? Could these be similar temptations for us? We see the Galatians struggle with striving. And legalism. And celebrating old religious customs rather than clinging to Christ and all that He revealed. They were fooled, or as Paul said earlier in chapter 3 “bewitched,” into believing that God’s blessing was given to those who deserve it, rather than being freely given.
They forgot how free and full His love is.
Some time ago when I wrestled with these very questions, along with a cup of coffee, my journal, and the freedom to write out my prayers, pouring out my heart to Him who holds me so dear (though I did not sense it), I decided to spend a season focused on Scriptures that speak about joy. As a homeschooling mama, it can seem difficult to set aside these much needed times. But it is worth it. After unburdening our hearts in this manner, we can more readily listen–to all that makes our God rejoice.
What does He rejoice in? How does He tell us to rejoice? What would He have me set my mind upon? Luke 10 is a wonderful place to turn to, Jesus “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” and we see Him praise the Father for making Himself known to these seventy disciples, and for revealing salvation to them. This came after those same disciples had been rejoicing in things they accomplished–but Jesus told them that they ought rather to rejoice that “your names are written in heaven.” (see especially verses 17-24)
The underlying reason for our hearts rejoicing at our salvation is that we were in fact separated from the promises, from hope, from knowing and being known by God (see Ephesians 2:12). But in Christ all of this changes! This is the heart behind Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:18-20:
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the mighty working of his strength. He exercised this power in Christ by raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens.
This prayer is one we need to pray for ourselves and one another often. Paul was not praying that the Ephesians would have their hearts enlightened because they were not yet believers. They were already redeemed, they had already been born anew. He was praying this for believers, because it is our moment by moment need, to see life this way:
Having our eyes opened, living with that sense of awe that will always lead us back to rejoicing. This is what we see happen in Acts 2. Sharing that sense of awe, face to face with others, will increase it exponentially, especially when it is waning.
There are many other passages revealing what God rejoices in, as well as many others calling us to rejoice. We look at only one for now, Zechariah 2:10 “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the LORD.” This reminds us of the greatness of Jesus’ coming to dwell among us, and the Spirit now having come to dwell in us, and the future promise that He will take us home. Our true dwelling, our deepest heart longing.
This is all according to what Jesus promised His disciples. Was there a sense of blessing that Jesus’ disciples walked in after His resurrection? Did the Holy Spirit use their rejoicing to build them up, for the hardships they would face? Yes, and this sense of blessing enabled many of them to face martyrdom. Jesus’ death would impact them greatly, yet His joy would come with His resurrection, and their rejoicing would be great:
John 16:22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.
John 20:20 When he [Jesus] had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
Jesus showed His scars, knowing this would lead them into joy, gladness, a sense of blessing, a time of rejoicing. We too have been promised His joy and peace, and the Holy Spirit wants to cause us to rejoice greatly. Meditating on these passages, on Christ’s resurrection and how He interacted with His disciples during that time will become more and more delightful to you.
This does not mean we will not go through mucky circumstances that leave us feeling like we are in a funk. Rather, we will be more apt to trust that He is with us, and that He will help us find our reason for rejoicing that this world cannot taint. This means training yourself to focus on our hope, and all that Christ has accomplished for us, rather than rehashing those mucky thoughts and feelings. Let your heart meditate on Scriptures that will focus your attention on true joy, on His steadfast love and faithfulness, on His grace in meeting us in these times, and on His delight in His people (including you!).
O to be able to say confidently, as David did: “He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.” 2 Samuel 22:20
How can we refresh our sense of God’s blessing? After just one week of 30 focused minutes a day, new neurons begin connecting in your brain. If your tendencies have been away from delight, in just one week, you can begin to rebuild new ways of thinking–thinking that will have you believing that in His presence are fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16). You will be able to more easily call to the mind your true reason for rejoicing, and to carry with you that sense of blessing, even if you are walking through a dark valley.
Set your mind on things above, on things of the Spirit (Colossians 3, Romans 8). Focus on your name being written with indelible ink in heaven; focus on the promises that are ours in Christ Jesus; focus on what Jesus told His disciples in John 14:1-3: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
Daily, weekly, and occasionally.
Once that daily habit has helped you, you can establish a weekly rhythm of rehearsing the Gospel benefits to your soul. Write out a few passages to use during these focused times, or listen to them on a Bible app, or meditate on portions you’ve memorized. Memorizing some of the prayers found in the Epistles can fuel this time. The more you immerse yourself in these truths, the more they will shape your thinking, and your responses to the circumstances that seem to drown out your rejoicing. Saturday is a great day for this; in between chores and preparing for the day of rest, take a break to refresh your soul with Scriptures reminding you about Christ’s great love for you.
Set aside a certain time of year that you know to be difficult for you, and commit to rejoicing in the truths that will counter your usual despairing thoughts. Perhaps an anniversary of a difficult situation or trauma? Perhaps winter, when seasonal affectiveness disorder sets in. Perhaps a time when life feels like the doldrums–that place in the ocean with no wind or current, and boats prior to the invention of mechanical engines would be stuck, sometimes for months. Stuck, nothing propelling you forward, and no real evident reason why. Ephesians is like balm to my soul in these times.
We will all have times when our sense of God’s blessing is being challenged. Throughout our days, some of which will seem weary, our sense of blessing will be refreshed as we ponder the Gospel, and Jesus on His throne working for you, and the Spirit at work in you, and God’s faithfulness to complete the work He has begun in you. And all of this, to the praise of His glory!