A few years ago, and for what lasted a few years, this was me: a wife and mom so overwhelmed by the cycle of daily life that I had sunk into the quicksand of sorrow. I excused myself from Sunday worship often. I said no to playdates. I went to bed as soon as my kids did. I stopped changing out of my pajamas. I quit my hobbies. And if you would have told me to rejoice in the Lord, I would have said, “You don’t understand.” I would have told you I was in God’s Word. I would have told you I was praying but that it wasn’t working. What it was, though, is that somewhere along the way I had stopped striving to rejoice. Thus, I wallowed in a pit of self-pity.
Now that my feet stand firm as I’m in a habit of rejoicing, I wish I could go back to my exceedingly sorrowful self and help me see the truth from God’s Word about rejoicing—that it takes work, but we can rejoice in trouble. If we fail to, we will sink. I am proof of that. Having learned these things, however, can help prevent a future fall, and it can help others from falling as well.
Maybe former me is who you are now. You can’t see any goodness around you, and maybe there isn’t much tangible good to be seen. There may be a lot of conflict, sickness, and sin in your life, and that may be all you see. As a Christian, I bet you know you should be rejoicing, but perhaps you think joy should come on its own and are confused about why it hasn’t.
According to Philippians 4:1–4, rejoicing in the Lord is a necessity to standing firm in the Lord.
If you’re struggling to rejoice as I once did, here’s what I want to tell you:
Having sorrow isn’t sinful. You should have sorrow over your sin and the desire for repentance, but sometimes this may overwhelm you. You should also have sorrow over the effects of the fall on the world around us. Moreover, you should have sorrow for the lost, for loved ones who are suffering, and when someone dies. It’s the excessive sorrow that sends us into a downward spiral, unable to stand firm in the Lord.
There’s nothing innately wrong with you if you feel sorrowful. Jesus was perfect and was described as a man of sorrows (Isa 53:3). 1 Peter 4:12 tells us to not be surprised by trials. Instead, we should expect them. And Ecclesiastes 3 says there will be seasons like this. Don’t beat yourself up for having such sorrow. You should “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet 4:13).
After Paul tells the Philippians to stand firm, and after he encourages two women in conflict to agree in the Lord, he tells them to rejoice in the Lord—and he tells them twice! Perhaps you can sing the song many children learn that says, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again, I say rejoice!” It’s like Paul anticipates the church’s “but” in response. The repetition itself implies it’s not easy.
Yet because this is a command to rejoice, that means there is a choice to rejoice. You may feel like you can’t. You may read these verses and think “but.” But when God’s Word commands you to do something, then you, through the power of the Holy Spirit in you, can, and if you want to grow as a Christian, you should. Don’t expect joy to come without work. Choose to rejoice!
The reason you become overwhelmed with sorrow comes down to what you’re focusing too much on. You may be focusing too much on your sin and not on God who forgives you when you repent. You may be focusing too much on your trials and not on God who promises to never leave you during them. You may be focusing too much on how you feel and not on God who changes hearts.
When sorrow comes, you must turn your focus less off what’s making you grieve and more on our sovereign God. When your whole self has already sunk in your sorrow, it’s harder to climb up than when only your foot sinks. Tackle sorrow with truth when it first shows up. This doesn’t mean there’s no time to grieve, but it does mean we must be careful to not let it become the focal point.
To relent to rejoice means to give in to rejoicing. Everything about your circumstances may be telling you not to, but you must rejoice or “take heed lest you fall” (1 Cor 10:12). Relenting to rejoice takes work. My pastor encouraged us this way:
- Determine the source of sorrow and respond biblically.
- Don’t let sorrow keep you from doing what you know is the will of God—praying, going to church, reading the Bible, etc.
- Make God the focal point.
Lastly, look to Christ, our Great High Priest. We may not have others around us who understand what we’re going through, but Christ does. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” Then verse 16 encourages us in this way: “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Christ understands our sorrow. He says he will show us mercy and give us grace when we need it. Believe it, and relent to rejoice!