My days are filled with problems. They come in all shapes and sizes. Of course, many of these come from time with clients. Even as I sit with family and friends, conversations gravitate toward problems. Some are quickly resolved, many are not. The mysteries of emotional mazes that accompany seemingly simple issues complicate the road home to solutions and intimacy. As Scott Peck, author of “The Road Less Travelled” says in his opening statement, life is difficult.
I have been in countless situations where believers gather for prayer. I am struck by the nature of the inventory of prayer requests. Most have to do with petitions for comfort: relief from health concerns, financial stress, relationship crises, and occupational dilemmas. Let me say at the outset, there is nothing wrong with praying for these issues.
But please consider this. Have you ever had a relationship with friend or family that consisted primarily of them contacting you when there was a problem in their lives? What quality of relationship is it, when the only common ground is somebody’s difficulties? How excited are you to hear their voice when they always seem to want something from you?
Now, I am sure that God is always eager to hear from us. I know that there is no limit to his patience, and our troubles do not exhaust him. Still, there is something to be said for balance in our relationships, whether human or divine relationships.
Paul opens his letter to the Philippian church with a declaration of joyful prayer. In it we see gratitude for the church and its faithfulness, and joy for their faithful alliance with him in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We hear his faith in the ability of the Holy Spirit to complete his work in them until the end of the age. Joy. Gratitude. Faith. These opening statements must have made the Philippians smile. Such prayers must make God smile.
Gratitude is linked to so many positive spiritual outcomes in the Bible. When we are grateful in offering our prayers and petitions, supernatural peace guards our hearts. Grateful prayer preceded the resurrection of Lazarus. At the last supper, Jesus broke the bread and gave thanks, and a new covenant was established. Paul thanks God for the Philippians, and joy follows.
Joy and happiness are not the same thing, in the Bible. Happiness is more temporary, tied specifically to favorable (but changeable) circumstances. Joy is better because it is anchored in eternity. We know how it all ends, so our troubles in this life are a blip on the radar screen of eternity. Paul did not write about joy as a philosopher, but as a traveler on a long and difficult road. He suffered every kind of persecution known to man, and yet he inhabited joy.
There is a lot to be joyful about. In this world we will have trouble, but fear not, Jesus has overcome the world. Thank God for all he is, for all he has done, for all he has given, for those who travel beside you on the road home to intimacy. And be joyful.
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:3-6