When we're going through a difficult or challenging time, the last thing we want to be told is to rejoice. My instinctive response has often been, "do I have to?" But Paul is persistent. He repeats himself. We might be tempted to say, "if you knew what I was going through you wouldn't expect me to rejoice." We can't use that argument with Paul though, because he's been through the mill - imprisoned, flogged, stoned, shipwrecked, sleep deprived, hungry, sick and persecuted.
If such a man thinks we should be rejoicing through our trials we should pay heed to what he has to say.
The Lord is Near
This little phrase which almost seems to creep into the passage unremarked is actually the core issue. The very fact that the Lord is near gives us cause to rejoice. Whatever is going on we have not been abandoned by Him. He is present with us. Sometimes we find that hard to believe. That is precisely when we should rejoice because the Lord is enthroned on the praises of His people (Ps22:3). When we rejoice we become more aware of His presence.
Do Not Be Anxious
Rejoicing isn't the entire solution, for Paul goes on to tell us not to be anxious. According to this passage, once we have realised the nearness of the Lord we can avoid anxiety by turning to God in prayer. We are told to ask and be thankful. In our anxious state thanksgiving often gets missed, but it is key if we are to find peace. Being thankful for the things God has already done builds our faith that He will act for us on this occasion too. We should also express our thankfulness that the Lord has heard our prayer and that He will respond in His way and in His time.
The promise, if we follow these instructions is that we will have peace. Not that peace may come, so it's worth trying. It is a firm promise. Peace will come. Not the kind of peace that the people of the world know, but a transcendent peace that goes beyond human understanding. It is the peace promised by the Lord Jesus in Jn 14:27.
Prayer College Assignment
Oh what peace we often forfeit,
Oh what needless pain we bear -
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!
There is no need to be subject to fear and anxiety. If we need peace we have a simple plan to follow: rejoice in the Lord, make your request known to Him, be thankful.
I found this to be extremely effective while I was sitting in the dentist chair having a tooth extracted this week. The mistake I made was in allowing anxiety to take hold beforehand!
Determine that as soon as you begin to feel the anxiety rising, you will start the process of combating it by using Paul's method. Don't let it get a grip on you before you start to tackle it.