You don’t have to feel happy to rejoice

Brian Janz

Rejoicing is one of the commandments most often misunderstood in the Bible.

There are myriad verses in the Bible that speak about rejoicing. Rejoice always! Rejoice in tribulation! Rejoice in the Lord! The list goes on. (Philippians 4:4, 1 Thessalonians 5:16, 1 Peter 1:6)

But for my part I find it hard to feel joy all of the time. Is it even possible to feel happy all the time?

Emotions aren’t sin

Not even close. I’ve never met anybody who was like that. Rejoicing is different than simply feeling happy. Happiness is an emotion, like any other emotion. And we are built to feel and experience a whole range of emotions. For example, sadness is a healthy response to loss and tragedy. Even Jesus felt sadness and anger and sorrow. (John 12:27, Hebrews 5:7, Isaiah 53:3, Matthew 21:12)

I cannot let my sadness turn into despair or hopelessness or cause me to lose faith in God.

But emotion cannot rule me. My emotions cannot make my decisions for me. They can’t get power over me. I can feel sadness and embrace it and accept that I feel that way but I cannot let my sadness turn into despair or hopelessness or cause me to lose faith in God.

It’s okay to feel a wide range of emotions. It’s okay not to feel joy sometimes. But I still have to rejoice always.

Be on guard

Emotions are tricky. And they twist my perceptions of the world. The same things I experience while feeling happy can seem completely different when I look at them in the midst of sadness. This is why it’s important not to let my emotions rule over me. They cannot be what I base my decisions on.

There is a lot of freedom in being a human being but there is also a lot of danger.

While feeling sad I can never allow any discouragement to slip in. While feeling bored I can never let any ingratitude slip in. While feeling happy I can never let selfishness slip in. There are a whole range of emotions I feel and they have all been tainted by sin. There is a lot of freedom in being a human being but there is also a lot of danger. The corruption of sin can never be given even a finger.

“We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-10.

It may seem like a fine line to walk but the key is to always have the death of Christ working in my body; in other words that I put to death the thoughts and feelings that are sin. (Colossians 3:5) Then the life of Christ can come forth in me and I can experience what it’s like to feel perplexed, but not in despair. Persecuted but not forsaken. Struck down but not destroyed.

How rejoicing works

Rejoicing means taking delight in something. But I don’t necessarily need to feel delighted. I can feel sad. I can feel bored. Maybe I just don’t feel anything in particular at all. It’s not really up to me. Nobody can choose what they feel. But in all that I can take delight in the Lord.

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials.” 1 Peter 1:6.

God is working every situation towards my best so that I can use my trials and rainy days to be transformed.

Rejoicing is knowing and believing that regardless of how I feel, God is there. His promises are true. There is a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11) God works everything to my best. (Romans 8:28) There is an eternity waiting for me where I will be together with Jesus and the saints in peace, in harmony, and not least, in joy.

And every situation in my life is working towards this goal. Every situation is preparing me to enter into this eternity. (Romans 8:28) God is working every situation towards my best so that I can use my trials and rainy days to be transformed; to make myself ready for my eternity. I rejoice in my spirit knowing that God is working to bring me into an eternal joy.

One day I will be in a place where nothing can ever make me sad again.

Rejoicing is also that hope that I will one day be in heaven for eternity with no more crying and no more tears. No more sadness, no more grief or sorrow. (Revelation 21:4) It’s okay to feel sadness on earth. It’s a way to help deal with the corruption that sin brought into the world. It is a healthy response to loss, to tragedy. But to rejoice means to cling to that hope that one day I will be in a place where nothing can ever make me sad again. Nothing can ever steal my joy.

And knowing that, knowing that that’s what’s waiting for me, is like having an anchor in heaven, and no matter how much the different waves of emotions carry my feelings this way and that I know that my hope is in heaven. I hold fast to God’s Word.

I will be with the people I love, the people I’ve lost. Peace and joy will radiate in heaven and there will be nothing but happiness. Nothing but pure, unadulterated, indelible, unfading, unwavering joy, and that in abundance.

That’s why I can rejoice. Even when I’m not feeling happy.

This post is also available in: Norwegian Bokmål

You might also be interested in our theme page about Overcoming sin.

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