I’m currently experiencing a season of obvious, visible blessing from the rich storehouses of God’s mercy and grace. God has been expressively pouring out one clear example of his goodness after another upon me and my family. We are floating in a sea of joyful goodness. We are basking in the warm glow of generous grace. We are dining at a full table and drinking from an overflowing cup.
As God’s kindness has wrapped us up and carried us along in this season of life, I’ve repeatedly told my wife, “Oh, I don’t want to take anything for granted! I don’t want to miss one thing! I don’t want to be ungrateful for any one piece!” In so many ways, grateful joy and expressive rejoicing has been easy in this season of life for us.
As I’ve contemplated all these wonderful blessings, God has reminded me of two truths I need to keep close at hand, one from Old Man Job and the other from Dear Saint Paul. First, he’s recalled to my attention that he gives and takes away. Both blessings and trials pass by his throne room for permission. Our circumstances do not change his authority—or his praiseworthiness—one bit.
In my Bible reading, I just finished the book of Job. God gave to Job. Then, God took away from him. God allowed Satan to remove his wealth, his children, and his health (see Job 1-2). As he wrestled with the experiences of loss and the arrogant (and ignorant) correction of three friends, he defended his own righteousness and integrity (see chapters 3-37 for the back and forth between Job and his friends). But when God began to question him (chapters 38-40), reminding Job of his tiny place in the great providence of his creation, Job concluded,
3 …”Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? 4 I lay my hand on my mouth. 5 I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.”
Job 40:3-5 ESV
Two chapters later, after another round of God’s sovereign correction (chapters 40-41), Job again responded,
2 “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 4 ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ 5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; 6 therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
Job 42:2-6 ESV
The only response we should ever have to God is submissive repentance and expressive praise. Job’s circumstances, even in their most dire, didn’t justify any other reply.
Which leads me right to the second lesson God has been taking me back through.
1 Thessalonians 5:16
Right now, for me, it’s easy to rejoice. Just about every circumstance is “good” by how we typically look at “good” and “bad” in human terms.
Paul had read the book of Job though. Paul had lived on top of the mountain and deep down in the valley (see Philippians 4:11-13). Paul had been honored by the lips of men and pelted by their stones too (see Acts 14:19-23). He knew trial, tragedy, and terror (see 2 Corinthians 11:16-33). This man, who knew life at both extremes, commands, “Rejoice always.”
Always. There’s no wiggle room in that word. No exclusions. No exemptions. No exceptions. Paul commands us to rejoice regardless of the circumstances, the trials, or the difficulties. He commands us to rejoice when we want to rejoice and when we don’t want to rejoice. Like Job, Paul had learned that whatever shapes our “always” never affects God’s worthiness. Like Job, Paul knew God’s sovereign power and great majesty deserve our joyful worship when God gives and when God takes away.
Tomorrow may be a different day for me. I assure you, I’ve had days when his visible goodness wasn’t quite like this season now. I, like Job, have justified my “righteousness” in trying times only to have God remind me that I will never hold him accountable. It’s as if Dear Saint Paul looked into Old Man Job’s story and concluded, “Let’s just bypass that whole self-pity or self-justification stage altogether. Rejoice always. Yep. That’ll do it.”
Are things good? Rejoice! Are things not-so-good? Rejoice! Either way, God’s worthy of it! Always!