Puritan writer Matthew Henry was once robbed by thieves and recorded in his journal:
“Let me be thankful first because I was never robbed before; second, although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, and not someone else.”
How could Matthew Henry rejoice after being hijacked? Because he didn’t derive his joy from his circumstances, but took joy in the God of his salvation.
Paul and Silas freed a slave girl from a spirit of divination that had afflicted her for a long time. Deprived of their cash cow, her owners dragged Paul and Silas before the local magistrates and riled up a mob who proceeded to give Paul and Silas a fine Philippian pounding. Then they tossed them into prison, in the inner prison, and fastened their feet in the stocks.
The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them (Acts 16:22-25).
Paul and Silas are chained up in a filthy Philippian prison and they’re singing!
I have never been stripped, beaten, thrown into prison or fastened in stocks. But if I were, I don’t know if my first inclination would be to sing “I Just Want to Thank You.” That’s not usually the first thought that comes to my mind when my car starts to make a grinding sound or my wife asks if we can talk about something (and I can tell it’s the kind of “talk” that’s going to take a while).
The reason Paul and Silas could worship in the blockhouse was because they didn’t derive their joy from their circumstances, but took joy in the God of their salvation.
For believers in Christ, the source of our joy is Jesus himself. He’s our fountain of life, our chosen portion, our beautiful inheritance. He’s our meat and drink. And he never changes, no matter how much our circumstances fluctuate. I once flew from Pittsburgh to Toronto. It was overcast and snowing in Pittsburgh, but when the plane rose above the clouds, the sun was blazing in all its glory. When we descended in Toronto it was grey and snowing again. I had a flash of revelation (that’s right folks, it had never dawned on me until that very moment): the sun is always shining above the clouds. And like the sun, God is always blazing with goodness and kindness and power and love for us, no matter what our circumstances “down here” are like. He hasn’t changed any more than the sun changes when it’s raining. As it says in Lamentations 3:
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. (21-23)
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I’m not saying that believers in Jesus should never weep or grieve. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 says that we grieve when fellow believers die. Yet in our grief, we have hope that we will see them again. Yet we grieve. We weep when our children suffer. Sometimes we grieve when we suffer unjustly because of the sins of others. Believers suffer loss, get sick, and go through many different kinds of pain. Jesus himself, cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” in great agony of spirit on the cross (MT 27.46). But in every circumstance and in the depths of our pain we can still give God praise and thanks for his love has not ceased for us. His mercies have not come to an end. He is still faithful to us, despite the fact that we may not sense it at the moment. He is still shining above the clouds in our lives, though they be dark and terrible. And someday we will see how he was loving and faithful to us in those moments. Someday he will personally wipe away every tear from our eyes.
If you have not yet called upon the Lord Jesus Christ to save you from your sins, and give you eternal life, I urge you to do so right now. For those of us who do know Jesus, be glad and sing praises, like Matthew Henry or Paul and Silas, no matter what’s happening “down here” in our lives. Remember, the sun is always shining above the clouds, and the steadfast love of our God will never cease.