On Choosing Celebration and Finding Joy

Originally published April 21, 2012.

I am reading through Paul’s letter to the Philippians at night, in a thick hardbound edition of The Message.  I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases Paul’s letters in fresh energetic language that jumps off the page with the sheer force of the writer’s personality.  I picture Paul a lot that way: colorful, energetic, passionate  and driven about his message to the point of being offensive at times….tact was clearly not his strong suit.  But then, when you are an itinerant preacher spreading the good news of salvation to the bulk of the civilized world in the first century, there are more pressing concerns than being “nice.”

I have been parked in chapter 4 for the past few nights.  The middle of that chapter is one of my very favorite “how to live” passages of Scripture anyway, but this week I have been captivated by the way Peterson phrases it: “Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! “  I can picture PauI leaning forward, eyes alight.  His is the voice of experience– in a life without any of the comforts we prefer on a daily basis, he has discovered an ever-flowing fountain of joy, and urges his readers to search it out. Revel in God and there will be no more room for self-pity, or despair, or even run-of-the-mill grumpiness on general principles.  Celebrate the infinite God and you’ll never run out of joy, never come to the end of Him.

We are used to following our feelings, paying attention to them and letting them move us through life…it is the pattern of this world that we have conformed to since birth.  Has it never occurred to us that a woman’s hurt feelings are what got us into this mess to begin with?  And the more we follow our feelings the more mixed up our minds get.  What a surprise to Self to discover that God is far more concerned with our obedience than with our comfort.

No wonder most of Scripture’s practical how-to passages are teaching us how to stop listening to the feelings of Self and instead listen to the Spirit of God, be transformed by the renewing of the mind.  Think first, choose how to respond, then act in a way that pleases God, and the feelings will follow.

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.  Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” 

Philippians 4:6-7

I come back to this over and over, transfixed by that last line.  When I follow my feelings– focus on them and act out of them– I am putting them at the center of my life, making them an idol, letting them control me.  Worry?  Discouragement?  Fear?  Anger?  No good can come from following where they lead.

Choose to do this instead, Paul says… choose to offer up those feelings to the One who made them and put Him in the center of your life where He belongs.  Do this… choose this…it’s an act of the will, an act of obedience.  Let your mind be transformed by Jesus and lead you to what is right, and let the feelings tag along behind.  Paul even leaves me pointers on what to think about if I want a transformed mind– if I want to follow Christ instead of these tyrants of emotion: “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” (Philippians 4:8)

Simply put, I live best when I fill my mind with God’s truth… all He has done for me, all that He is… thankfulness and praise taking the lead.  It’s an every day kind of choice, and some days every minute.  So I keep coming back to Paul’s letter to the Philippians, soaking the reminders in, deep down to the heart.   It’s the best prescription there is for getting emotions back on track.

~~~~~~~

When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse
    everything I know of You,
From Jordan depths to Hermon heights,
    including Mount Mizar.
Chaos calls to chaos,
    to the tune of whitewater rapids.
Your breaking surf, Your thundering breakers
    crash and crush me.
Then God promises to love me all day,
    sing songs all through the night!
    My life is God’s prayer.

Psalm 42:8, The Message

~~~~~~~

Better is a moment that I spend with You
Than a million other days away
I’m running, I’m running
I’m running to the secret place
Hands are lifted high, hearts awake to life
We are satisfied here with You, here with You
Chains will hit the floor, broken lives restored
We couldn’t ask for more here with You, here with You

The Secret Place, Phil Wickham
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