Dim lighting, cool damp walls, thick musky aromas…a prison cell. Lonely, uncomfortable, overwhelming. Death hovering like a shadow. No promises of tomorrow. And yet Paul a soldier for Jesus sits in this cell thousands of years ago and writes in his letter to the Philippians in the Bible, “Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS; again I will say, Rejoice…the Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
How easy has it been in our lives in the past to rejoice when things are going well? When are jobs are successful, we have everyone’s approval, and the income is flowing. When our kids are healthy and performing like little “stars?” It’s not too difficult to find joy when we have expensive cars, a beautiful home and plenty of “things” to keep up with everyone else. But joy shouldn’t be based on circumstances or it will fluctuate.
What happens when our marriages fall apart and the one who committed to love you forever is trying to leave and take your last penny? What happens when the doctor tells us our parent or child is dying of cancer and may be gone in a few months and there is nothing they can do? What happens when our “dream” job turns out to be the biggest mistake we could have ever made and we feel like a failure? Or what happens when the simple monotony of life is swallowing you whole and you forgot what exactly you were living for anyway?
As I sit here writing, my mind skips over several people I know personally, broken and searching for joy today. A single mother caring for special-needs child because her husband has left her. She hopes she can let go of her disappointment but even after 8 years, it is still easy to cry. A young teenage boy fighting for his life against his battle with lung cancer, wishing he could lace-up his cleats for another soccer game but he can barely walk down the hall of the hospital. An elderly man caring for his wife stricken with Alzheimer’s on an hourly basis, loving her but missing his “real” wife who will never return again. A husband who drives hours every day to and from work to provide for his family, surrounded by co-workers who degrade him for his beliefs and encourage unethical and immoral behavior instead.
Where is the joy in this? Paul (writing in prison) tells us Philippians 4:11-13 “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
And it is as simple as that. EVERY situation, EVERY day, EVERY problem, He is big enough, strong enough, he is at hand. We must rejoice because although our circumstances change and collapse underneath us, he does not. Though we grow tired, he does not slumber or sleep. Though we fall down, his feet are steady.
Just typing this profound truth has given me renewed joy and hope. I have lost my father to a horrifyingly aggressive brain cancer at age 45. I have watched my mother suffer from sickness and fatigue for years and struggle through a very difficult lonely second marriage. Tommy’s parents divorced when he was six, and he had to divide his life in half as well. He has had brothers who have struggled with severe addictions, causing strife and worry for years. And their cure is still uncertain. We spent thousands of dollars on achieving a degree/job that I completely left to start over from scratch again and pursue something different. Now we are buried in thousands of dollars of more debt. Tommy and I struggled for years with no children and two miscarriages. We pray for 2 children in Ethiopia that we hope to be ours but have no assurance of who they are yet or if we will meet them and call them ours. The circumstances in our lives have been amazing and awful but God has never changed. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. And we REJOICE, because rejoicing brings peace and understanding that only God can provide to help each and every one of us pull through the dark, cold prison cells of our lives.