Philippians 3:1 “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.”
This is not the first time in the letter that the apostle has referred to rejoicing. Back in the second chapter and the eighteenth verse Paul has already told them to “be glad and rejoice with me.” Neither is our text the last occasion for him to raise this theme because he is going to repeat this command twice more: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). Four times in one letter every Christian is being urged to rejoice. Maybe this was a time of trial in Philippi and the notes of joy and rejoicing which had once been predominant in the congregation were growing faint. It happens in every congregation. Paul needed to remind them of the centrality of Christian joy. This theme pervades the Scriptures. There are over five hundred references to joy in the Bible. I have even read in a book that there are 326 words for joy in the Bible. Perhaps there are, but it all depends what you mean by ‘joy.’ I know that the Puritan John Howe wrote a 250 page book called “A Treatise of Delighting in God” and his text was Psalm 37 and verse 4, “Delight thyself also in the Lord and he shall give thee the desires of the heart.” It is the pervasive mark of the Christian, and the gospel church, so we must continually return to this theme. Paul tells them in our text that it is no trouble for him to again write to them these same things, maybe the same things that Timothy and Epaphroditus had told them, or maybe what he had taught them himself when he had been their pastor in Philippi, or, less likely, he is referring to that exhortation to rejoice that he has already made these few verses earlier. There were false teachers about, and it was salutary for him to call them back to basics again in the entire last half of the letter. He was simply going to tell them what he had told them before. Every preacher must. John Wesley told his preachers to make every item of Christian doctrine plain in the congregation’s understanding; fix it in their memories; write it on their hearts. He said, “I remember my father protesting to my mother, “How could you have the patience to tell that blockhead the same thing twenty times over?” She said, “Why, if I’d told him only nineteen times I’d have lost all my labour.”
Then it has often been pointed out, rather jocularly, that this word ‘Finally’ occurs not at the end of the letter but here, right in the middle, with two chapters to go. In fact the word would be better translated ‘so then.’ There are many jokes told on preachers who say ‘lastly’ but last, and who say ‘finally’ and don’t finish. There is the story of the little boy who asked his father, “Daddy, what does the preacher mean when he says ‘finally’?” His father replied “Nothing!”
But to be serious . . . in this verse we are being challenged whether we are living the Christian life with joy in our hearts, or is it, frankly, a drag. If it is a drag then we are sinning against God. This is a command to every Christian to rejoice, and that command is to be obeyed just as we are commanded not to steal, nor to lie, but to honour our father and our mother. A gloomy Christian is a sinning Christian. A long faced Christian is a sinning Christian, and we have to go to God and we have to confess to him that we have not obeyed his command that we rejoice.
1. THERE ARE SOME MISUNDERSTANDINGS ABOUT CHRISTIAN REJOICING.
Rejoicing in the Lord does not mean we are not to rejoice only in the Lord and not in all of God’s temporal mercies to us. We can trace them all back to the goodness of the Lord. We are told to rejoice in the wife of our youth, in food on the table and full refrigerators, in oil to anoint the face and wine to gladden the heart, in deliverance from dangers, toils and snares, in arriving home at a journey’s end, in healthy newly born babies and in long life, in feasts and birthdays, in the victorious end of just wars, in recovery from illness, chemotherapy and operations, in a harvest safely gathered in, in examinations passed, and jobs obtained. When you have found a delightful present for a family member at the right price you rejoice. When you find something at last that you have searched for half the morning you rejoice. When you look through some old photograph albums, or slides, and see the children as they used to be, and all the joy of earlier times comes flooding back, you rejoice. We join with the world in rejoicing in those things. Rejoicing for us is gratitude to a living personal God who is the author of such blessings and ten thousand more. An acquaintance met a man recently who seemed to regard everything in the world as a bad joke played on us, whether in business, politics or a host of other things. This cynical man said of life in general that he thought it was a cosmic joke. As they parted this Christian said to him, “I hope you’re not banking on life being just a cosmic joke.” All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above.
Again, rejoicing in the Lord is not the same as having fun. It does not mean that a church with gales of laughter is a church rejoicing in the Lord whereas a quiet sober church is not. We live in a land characterised by the restless and relentless pursuit of pleasures such as those afforded by sexual activities, drugs, drink, gadgets and entertainment. That is the predominant characteristic of the affluent Western world. What is this attitude saying? “We have no joy.” So they are replacing it with fun.
Another observation I want to make is this: rejoicing in the Lord always does not mean that it is wrong for the Christian ever to be sad. There must be great lamentation when a Christian is murdered for his faithfulness to Jesus Christ, nor that the sight of multitudes of men pouring out of a football match does not give us a lump in the throat as we think of the destination they are heading for, nor that we don’t shed tears because many false teachers live as enemies of the cross of Christ (v.18), nor that when we are in the presence of great tragedy that we sit silent for even a week before we say a word, nor that we have to turn every funeral service into a celebration. There are times when a Christian can howl with pain and a broken heart, and that such a response glorifies and pleases God, and our Saviour understands and sympathises. There was a time in the Garden when he sweated blood. At those times of pain the devil will come and quote our text to us, and say “Why aren’t you rejoicing?” just as he will accuse us of sinful levity when we are with our families at birthdays, and weddings, and at Christmas time. We can rejoice in the Lord and we can also rend our hearts, and we do both to God’s glory. So, this exhortation is not to the end that Christians are to have permanent grins on their faces. Let preachers and deacons on the church door have a pleasant countenance and a friendly welcoming smile, but an empty grin – no thanks.
Rejoicing in the Lord is not the key to the person with the jolly personality of whom men say that there is never a dull moment when he is about. Paul is not referring here to a certain temperament. Rejoicing is a by-product of other things. There is little analysis of the psychology of joy in the New Testament. I don’t know if there is anything like that in the Bible. There is, though, much about the Lord Jesus Christ, so that rejoicing in the Lord is the consequence of knowing, serving and being with the Lord. Let us seek to fulfil Paul’s exhortation by reminding ourselves about our great Saviour.
2. REJOICING ‘IN THE LORD’ IS REJOICING IN THE COMING OF THE LORD.
There were men who lived hundreds of miles to the east of Jerusalem about 2,000 years ago. They studied the sky at night and one evening they saw a fabulous new star which was slowly moving westward. They somehow had the knowledge that the Creator of that star was announcing to the gentile world through them that a great king, the King of kings, was soon to be born in the west. So they set off and followed it. It was an extraordinary journey. The high star and the general direction alone clear to them. At every fork in the road they had to make a decision, and at every cross-roads, sometimes retracing their steps. Each evening there would a sense of relief if the star appeared over the horizon right before them. It led them all the way to Jerusalem. When they got there the general revelation of God in creation was no longer sufficient. They needed the special revelation of this same Creator who has spoken by his prophets. “Where is your king to be born?” they asked, and they were told that Micah the prophet had been told by this same Creator God that his birth was going to be in Bethlehem. So they travelled on to Bethlehem, and when they arrived there the star appeared again, and it hung over the stable where Jesus was born.
We are told, “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed” (Matt. 2:10). That is not just a throwaway expression used to dress up the Christmas story and give it a bit of seasonal flavour. Those wise men rejoiced at the birth of the Lord. How they did so we are not told. It may be a breathless wonder that this star had led them so far and to this very place where the baby son of Mary was lying in a manger. It may have been joy unspeakable and full of glory. In whatever way their joy was expressed it would not have been merely a show of outward emotion. It came from within them, informed by their minds and shaped by their trust in the God of creation and revelation. There was a joy welling up within them, not a short-lived effervescence like bubbles in a fizzy drink that goes flat after a while. It was a sustained warm strong delight that rarely left them when they went back east to their homes, and that never quite departed from them. The God who made the heavens and the earth had sent a great King into the world. This creation has meaning. Our lives are not in the hands of chaos and chance but under the control of the Almighty Maker of the starry hosts who speaks to men and women through the prophets, and keeps his word.
“The 19th century Oxford scholar Henry Liddon traced no fewer than 332 Old Testament prophecies fulfilled by Jesus. These covered his family’s social status, his lifestyle, his general demeanour, his teaching and his extraordinary powers. Even more amazingly they included minute details of the events surrounding his death. The prophets said that he would be forsaken by his followers, betrayed for thirty pieces of silver (which would then be used to buy a potter’s field), wrongly accused, tortured and humiliated (in response to which he would not retaliate), executed alongside common criminals, and put to death by crucifixion (a form of execution never carried out by the Jews). They also said that at the time of his death he would pray for his executioners. None of his bones would be broken, his body would be pierced and people would cast lots to see who would get his clothing” (John Blanchard, “Why Y2K?”, Evangelical Press, Darlington 1999, pp 49&50). The great Creator had promised that in time he would break into history, and become the final prophet, priest and king, meet his people’s deepest needs and establish God’s righteous reign on earth. We rejoice that that is what God promised, and this is what Christ achieved. Rejoicing in the Lord is in the coming of the Lord.
3. REJOICING ‘IN THE LORD’ IS REJOICING IN THE DYING OF THE LORD.
There was once a man from Ethiopia who was in the cabinet of the Queen of that nation named Candace. He travelled to Jerusalem in his carriage and worshipped God there. This was just over thirty years after the Wise Men had been there. He purchased some Old Testament prophecies in large scrolls and he was a clever man, he was able to read them in Hebrew. He was eager to know what they said because as he travelled back to Africa he read them aloud, but he couldn’t understand what was the meaning of those Scriptures. He was reading aloud these words, “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth” (Isaiah 53:7&8 as quoted in Acts 8:32&33). One of the early Christians called Philip was guided to that spot by God and he heard the Ethiopian read those words. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked him. “How can I?” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Philip began at the very passage of Scripture, and he told this African the good news of Jesus.
Here in the Old Testament, one of the 39 books was written by the prophet Isaiah. It speaks of God’s suffering Servant who would be put to death, but not for his own sins: “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). And when Philip heard such words being read aloud he spoke to the man from Ethiopia about Jesus. In other words, the Lord Jesus Christ was the one spoken of by Isaiah. He fulfilled this prophecy in an extraordinarily detailed way. I have used J. Alec Motyer’s illustration on an earlier occasion because it is so memorable. He says that it is like a landowner going up into the dusty attic of his old mansion and finding in a dark corner a stack of paintings which had been made by one of his great great grandfathers, a notable artist. He is turning over one after another, pictures of the old house, and horses, and various members of the family, and then to his amazement, as he turns over one painting he discovers that it is incredibly like his daughter on her wedding day. The resemblances are uncanny. His great-great grandfather, two hundred years earlier, had captured her face and dress with all the correct detail. He has the right colour of the bridesmaids’ dresses and the number. His painting of the groom is exactly like the son-in-law. Yet this painting was made years before the daughter’s wedding day. Now that, says Alec Motyer, is what Isaiah has done in chapter 53 of his prophecy – this chapter that the man from Ethiopian was reading when Philip came by. Isaiah has described in incredible details the suffering and death of the Lord Christ. “Of whom is the prophet speaking?” he asked Philip. “Jesus, of course,” said Philip, and he told him of the Son of God born in Bethlehem, who lived in Nazareth and who died this death, as prophesied by Isaiah. The Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world, not just the sin of Israel, but the sin of Samaritans and Greeks and Ethiopians. He has died that death and his sacrifice is entirely and completely acceptable to God.
“The terrors of law and of God
With me can have nothing to do;
My Saviour’s obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view.” (Augustus Toplady)
When Isaiah was alive he needed to sacrifice a lamb in atonement for his sins. But those sacrifices were weak sacrifices: they in themselves – as the blood of animals – could not take away the guilt of our sin. They were simply pointing forward to a time when the Lamb of God would come and he would actually do that. He takes away our sins as far as the east is from the west. When Philip Hacking was training for the Anglican ministry he was staying with some non-Anglican Christians, and the man would ask Philip Hacking questions. One was this: “Tell me, Philip, why does this psalm say ‘as far as the east is from the west’ and not ‘as far as the north is from the south’? Philip said, “I’ve no idea.” The man said, “Well, it’s fairly obvious really, You see, there is the North Pole and there is the South Pole, and you can measure the distance. But where is west? And where is east?” That was his simple explanation, and he was fumbling for a great truth, that what Christ has done on Golgotha has taken our guilt and shame from us an immeasurable distance. They are all gone from us, and we cannot even begin to describe how far that is. They are all gone from us so that we will never see them again. You and I in Christ are utterly forgiven, not because of our love for Jesus but simply because of his grace and the work he did by himself on the cross. Every trace of them is gone. All the memory of them is removed from the mind of God There is no shadow of fear that these sins will ever be brought back and charged to us again. Satan himself cannot bring them back. Our sins have been cleansed and forgiven; they have been taken away. There is no sin that has been excluded from the work of Christ.
There is no perversion so strange, no dark deed persisted in that has not been removed. Golgotha is not like a domestic insurance policy in which some things are covered and some excluded. Everything is covered. Everything is removed. Everything is taken away.
Let me us a very simple, even corny, illustration. Suppose you were driving home one day this week and you suddenly heard police sirens and saw the blue flashing light and a police car came zooming past you. In a few minutes you saw the car with its lights outside the supermarket where you were going. So you got out of the car and walked to the entrance, but you couldn’t go in because it was cordoned off by police tapes. A policeman said to you that you couldn’t enter for a while because there had been a robbery. Any idea who did it?” you ask. “Yes. We’ve got evidence that Winston Churchill was the robber.” You shake your head, “Impossible,” you say. “I’ve got evidence that Winston Churchill died long before this crime was committed, more than forty years ago. It couldn’t have been him.”
On Golgotha my sins and guilt were all dealt with by the Son of God, and in Christ I too, the old unregenerate unbeliever, died. That man I was with my guilt and sin has been condemned and put to death in Christ. Before I actually committed any of my sins he took responsibility for me in my blame and shame. I have been crucified with Christ. So when the devil charges Geoff Thomas with sin, or when he accuses me to God for my sins then God says, “No, that is impossible. It couldn’t be. Geoff Thomas died two thousand years ago.” My sins will never be laid it my charge again. They were dealt with and the unbelieving Geoff Thomas has been dealt with on Golgotha, and that is the key to daily joy. I am now the new man in Christ Jesus. That is why I can rejoice in the Lord. I go to the place of death with Christ and know myself to be dead with him there. When Bunyan’s Pilgrim came to the cross the burden he bore on his back came off and tumbled down the hill until it disappeared into the mouth of the sepulchre. Bunyan tells us that then Christian leapt for joy. So when the Ethiopian heard all this from Philip he believed and confessed his faith in baptism. Philip then left him, but we are told this, that on the road back to Africa “he went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39). So rejoicing ‘in the Lord’ is in the dying of the Lord.
4. REJOICING ‘IN THE LORD’ IS REJOICING THAT THE LORD LIVES TODAY.
Christ lives here and now, and so the Christian is neither the victim nor the prisoner of his past. The Christian is neither victim nor the prisoner of his future. The Christian has a living growing relationship with the living Jesus Christ. We are not rejoicing in the memory of the Lord, or the teaching of the Lord, or even the example of the Lord. We rejoice because he is alive now. When he cried ‘Finished!’ on the cross it was his work, not his life that was finished. The one who died was raised from the dead on the third day, and appeared to his people, and then after 40 days ascended to heaven. We know where he is this moment: he is at the right hand of God, and, because he is God, he also comes and meets with us when we gather in his name. In other words, the Lord Jesus Christ is here now. When we speak to him in prayer we are speaking to a real living person. When we sing to him we are singing praise and love to a living person.
In heaven he is seated, and that is the proof that his work is all completed, and totally accepted. God is not saying to him, “Prepare for another return visit to suffer and atone for what you failed to atone for on your first visit.” No, it is “Sit at my right hand.” It is, “Never leave me again my beloved Son. I am giving you a name that is above ever name.” Christian hope is to see this Christ, and be with him. There was a little Christian boy, seriously ill, and someone said to him, “Where are you going?” “To heaven,” he said. “Do you want to go there?” “Oh yes,” he replied. “Why?” “Because Jesus is there.” “But what if Jesus should leave heaven?” this person asked rather unkindly. The little chap was not phased: “Oh, I’d leave with him,” he said. Heaven is Jesus Christ, being with him. Later on that sick boy was asked if he wanted anything. “I’d like a golden crown,” he said. “What would you do with a golden crown?” they said. “I’d put it at the feet of Christ,” he said. The devil tells us a lie when he says to us the life will never be better than it is now. It is my hope looking forward and my confidence looking back that things are going to become far better than our fears imagine. God is going to work all things together for our good.
What does the Lord do there in heaven? He is in control of things. The mind of Christ underlies everything that happens in the universe: every explosion on the face of the sun; every sparrow that falls to the ground; every birth; every death; every marriage; every estrangement; every pleasure; every pain that men know. All these things are in the mind of Christ and he rules the universe, determining its movements and its every change
The living Christ is the Lord of providence, that is, he preserves and governs every creature and every action. He is at the helm of this world and he is guiding it through space. He is bringing this great cosmos to its appointed destination. When things are at their most chaotic, Jesus is still in control. When prayer seems to be unanswered, our God reigns. When Twin Towers are destroyed by evil men and loved ones are killed, Christ still has all authority in heaven and earth. The Carpenter of Nazareth is building coffins for his enemies. When our worst fears are realised, our Lord is still the King of kings. He is head over all things to the church, and head of the church. Whatever is good for the children of God we shall have it. If crosses are good we shall have them. If disgrace is good we shall have that. If embarrassment is good we shall have that. If failure is good we shall fail. If heartache and rejection is good we shall have that, because the main good for every Christian is to be conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus. Christ-likeness is the one great end of our lives, and to further that the Lord will send into our lives whatsoever he chooses. There are those memorable words of John Newton said, “Everything is needful that he sends. Nothing is needful that he withholds.” Every day is his workmanship. Not for a moment does he step down from the throne of the universe so that fate momentarily rules amidst angels and men. I only get what the Lord determines. I will never get what evil alone determines, or what chance alone determines. The Lord Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth. I rejoice in the living Lord who is in control.
Again, this Lord ever lives to make intercession for his people. He prays for them by pleading his merits before God to cover our sins. He and his Father send forth the Spirit into our lives to refresh, invigorate, vitalize, animate, convalesce, toughen and purify each one of us. There was a time when two professors at Westminster Seminary met in the little Faculty Library. John Murray asked Edmund Clowney how things were and he shared some concerns with him about some members of his family. Then before they parted John Murray prayed for Ed, with all that holy familiarity with God and tender appreciation of the great sympathetic High Priest we have at the right hand of God. Ed was mightily moved by that prayer of John Murray. He will never forget it, but as the days went by he found himself saying to himself, “Here am I strengthened by the prayers of a fellow sinner, but at the right had of God the Lord Jesus Christ is continually praying for me.” Rejoicing in the Lord means rejoicing that Christ lives and that he is in control of everything that is happening to me now, and that he is saving me to the uttermost because he ever lives to intercede for me.
5. ARE YOU A STRANGER TO THIS JOY BECAUSE YOU ARE A STRANGER TO THIS LORD?
You cannot rejoice in the Lord if you don’t know this Lord. It was only when the Ethiopian eunuch believed on Jesus Christ that he could rejoice in the Lord. It was only when the 3,000 on the Day of Pentecost gladly received the word Peter preached that they knew this joy. There is this reality; are you a stranger to it? You are made by God and for God, and strangers to him are strangers to his joy. My Canadian roommate at Westminster Seminary Philadelphia for one year was a missionary’s son named A. Donald MacLeod. His Aunt Eleanor (or Cousi n Eleanor as the family called her) had married the millionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney. She became the family’s claim to fame. They might be as poor as church mice but Sonny Whitney’s wife was their relative. They were related to royalty, or at least the American equivalent of that. Eleanor Whitney sang the National Anthem the night that Harry Truman was nominated at the 1948 Philadelphia Democratic Convention.
Then one day in 1957 it all came crashing down: after sixteen years of marriage her husband found someone new. But Eleanor Whitney survived because the previous year she had come to know the Son of God as her Lord and Saviour. She survived the seamy newspaper headlines and the messy divorce. She later wrote a best-selling autobiography called “Invitation to Joy” and she often spoke in Christian Women’s Clubs across the nation sharing her trust in Christ and encouraging others. This is something she wrote, “I cannot deny that during my sixteen years of marriage my life was full of pleasures. But those pleasures were on the surface; they had no cohesion, no depth, no sure foundation. It was not until I had an inner awakening, and God gave my life a new dimension that I experienced genuine and abundant joy . . . I would come to discover that there are two kinds of abundance: that which appears to be full, satisfying, and abiding, and that which really is radiant and joyful . . . the year 1956 was the prelude to my awakening to new joy” (Eleanor Whitney, “Invitation to Joy,” Harper and Row, New York, 1971, pp.2&3).
The Lord Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you . . .” (Matt. 5:11). When your husband leaves you you can be blessed. “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven” (Matt. 5:12). Other people beside the man from Ethiopia have made the same discovery. The Oxford English professor, C.S.Lewis, explained his own experience of becoming a Christian in an autobiography he called, “Surprised by Joy.”
Which joy do you have? There is that which appears to be full and satisfying but is not, because it keeps the greatest reality of all out of your life – the living God – and it never deals with the guilt of your sin in the sight of a holy God. It cannot survive losses and crosses and death itself. Then there is that joy which truly is radiant and lasting. Its source is an overwhelming awareness of being loved, that God knows all about me, the real me with all my past, and yet he values me, and accepts me as his child, and cares for me. He gives me always what is best for me. The steps of a good man are ordered by this Lord, and the Lord delights in his way.
You must go to this Lord, to the one who was born in time and space and history exactly as God’s servants had predicted, to the one who died as the Lamb of God as a cosmic sacrifice for our sin, to the one who rose and lives as compassionate Lord and sympathetic High Priest. Go to him and plead with him to accept you, and forgive you, and make you a new creature. Pray that prayer, and don’t stop praying it until you know the resources of inward joy.
6. GO ON GROWING IN THE JOY OF THE LORD.
If you are talking about growing in the joy of the Lord you cannot by-pass the inward life of the soul. There is no way that an external change in relationships or in structures can transform our inward relationship with the living God. If joy is not the fruit of the Spirit it is nothing. Every joyful Christian is one who sustains his heart with the living God. Listen to Dr. Howard Taylor describing his father’s life with God as he witnessed him while travelling through China in the book Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret (page 234f.). He writes, “It was not easy for Mr. Taylor in his changeful life, to make time for prayer and Bible study, but he knew that it was vital. Well do the writers remember travelling with him month after month in northern China, by cart and wheelbarrow, with the poorest of inns at night.
“Often with only one large room for coolies and travellers alike, they would screen off a comer for their father and another for themselves, with curtains of some sort; and then after sleep at last had brought a measure of quiet they would hear a match struck and seek the flicker of candlelight which told that Mr. Taylor, however weary, was pouring over the little Bible in two volumes always at hand.
“From two to four a.m. was the time he usually gave to prayer; the time when he could be most sure of being undisturbed to wait upon God. That flicker of candlelight has meant more to them than all they have read or heard on secret prayer; it meant reality, not preaching but practice.
“The hardest part of the missionary career, Mr. Taylor found, is to maintain regular, prayerful Bible study. ‘Satan will always find you something to do,’ he would say, ‘when you ought to be occupied about that, if it is only arranging a window blind.’
George Mueller also is noteworthy for his faith and joy. In his autobiography he has a section entitled, “How to be Constantly Happy in the Lord.” He complains how for years he used to try to pray early in the morning and found that his mind wandered again and again. Then he made a discovery. He records it like this: “The point is this: I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, howl might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished.
“Before this time my practice had been at least for ten years previously as a habitual thing to give myself to prayer after having dressed in the morning. Now I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the word of God and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, while meditating, my heart might be brought into experimental communion with the Lord. I began, therefore, to meditate on the New Testament from the beginning early in the morning.
“The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord’s blessing upon his precious word, was to begin to meditate on the word of God, searching as it were into every verse to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the word; not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon; but for the sake of obtaining food for my soul. The result I have found to be almost invariably this, that after a very few minutes my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication; so that though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer. When thus I have been for a while making confession or intercession or supplication or have given thanks, I go on to the next words or verse, turning all, as I go on, into prayer for myself or others, as the word may lead to it; but still continually keeping before me that food for my soul as the object of my meditation.
“The result of this is that there is always a good deal of confession, thanksgiving, supplication, or intercession mingled with my meditation and that my inner man almost invariably is almost sensibly nourished and strengthened and that by breakfast time, with rare exceptions, I am in a peaceful if not a happy state of heart.
‘Now that God has taught me this point, it is as plain to me as anything that the first thing the child of God has to do morning by morning is to obtain food for the inner man. As the outward man is not fit for work for any length of time, except we take food, and as this is one of the first things we do in the morning, so it should be with the inner man. We should take food for that, as everyone must allow. Now what is the food for the inner man? Not prayer, but the word of God; and here again, not the simple reading of the word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water runs through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it, and applying it to our hearts. By the blessing of God I ascribe to this mode the help and strength which I have had to pass in peace through deeper trials in various ways than I have ever had before; and after having now above forty years tried this way, I can most fully, in the fear of God, commend it. How different when the soul is refreshed and made happy early in the morning, from what it is when, without spiritual preparation, the service, the trials, and the temptations of the day come upon one!”
In 1897, George Mueller sent a letter to the British and Foreign Bible Society in which he had to excuse himself from attending a meeting in Birmingham. He said, “Will you have the kindness to read to the meeting that I have been for sixty-eight years and three months, viz., since July, 1829, a lover of the word of God and that uninterruptedly. During this time I have read considerably more than one hundred times through the whole of the Old and New Testaments with prayer and meditation.” If we are going to rejoice always we must move in the direction of Hudson Taylor and George Mueller.
What blessing come from a rejoicing church. It makes Christianity more attractive. Let your light of joy shine before me. Here is a community of people whose one joy is in the Lord who came, and died and lives and reigns. It makes Christianity credible, as the world meet Christians each day like Joni Eareckson Tada who has have turned great pain into triumph, contentment and service. It makes Christianity energizing. In contemplation of the reigning joyful peaceful Christ our fears vanish and we can run with patience the race that is set before us. We are sustained by his joy. Of its fulness we daily receive, and that is our strength.
8 December 2002 GEOFF THOMAS