Let's preface this devotional by acknowledging that clinical depression and anxiety have physiological causes, and often require medical help. There's no shame or failure in that. While reading and applying the practice of rejoicing is important, getting the help you need is also crucial.
Military spouses learn many skills while navigating this crazy lifestyle. They become expert moving coordinators; compassionate friendship builders; magical homemakers who can turn base housing into a warm, welcoming place; and even superhuman single parents when their significant others are called away. Each skill is priceless, but above all of them is the military spouse's ability to make the best of a crummy situation.
The more you move, the more deployments and TDYs you face, the more you discover that joy and happiness are often a choice.
"How did you like (insert your least favorite assignment here)?"
"It wasn't my favorite, but, you know, it is what you make of it."
Said every military spouse ever.
When so many of your circumstances are clearly out of your control, you can either spend your energy grumbling over them, or you can energize yourself by embracing them. The ability to search for joy is almost “do or die” in this lifestyle.
But more than being spin-doctors in our circumstances, God calls us to truly rejoice. More than simply identifying the good things and ignoring the bad, while going through the motions to get to the end of each day, we are meant to rejoice at a deep, heart level.
We make the best of the hands we're dealt, but are we going so far as to “rejoice always” in the way God is asking us to? Are we applying this skill to our spirits, not just our circumstances?
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7, ESV).
In the Bible, rejoicing goes beyond making the best of a bad situation. Instead, it digs into our posture toward God in difficult situations. Not only that, but it isn’t a suggestion. It’s a command. The verses above reveal that our ability to rejoice affects our ability to accept the peace of God. When we fail to rejoice, we’re cheating ourselves out of the peace God wants to give us.
Do you ever make the best of a situation by compartmentalizing the uncomfortable parts of it? By ignoring them as much as possible? God wants more from us and for us than that. He wants us to rejoice, even over the challenging things, because He’s using them all for our good (Romans 8:28).
That doesn't mean that we won't experience sadness. That doesn't mean we'll walk around being peppy, happy people all the time. There are too many stories and verses in the Bible for us to interpret "rejoice always" as a reason to deny the reality of our experiences. God is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18). Jesus himself experienced anguish in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46). Throughout history, martyrs have suffered for their faith. We get sad. We get frustrated. We get lonely.
Even though they sound similar, rejoicing may not always be accompanied by joy.
God's call for us to rejoice asks us to keep our eyes on Him. It's a call to trust that He's moving in every circumstance. It asks us to sit in a posture of gratitude. You can feel lonely during a deployment, while trusting that God is refining your spirit through that experience. You can be miserable and yet rejoice that God is in control and drawing near to you.
Paul is the perfect example of what it means to rejoice when joy feels distant. When he wrote Philippians, he was imprisoned in Rome, awaiting trial with the awareness that he might be executed. But even still, he wrote:
"Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored by my body, whether by life or death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:18-21, ESV).
Even in the face of death, Paul sees God's good. Either he'll be able to go on sharing the Gospel, or he'll be welcomed home in heaven. In either case, he sees a reason to be grateful to God — a reason to rejoice.
As military spouses, we already have the tools we need to rejoice always. This lifestyle forces us to sift through difficult circumstances, searching for something good to cling to. All we need to do to transform that skill into rejoicing in the Lord requires is sift through those circumstances, even the parts we hate, with our spirit.
Instead of just looking forward to visiting family during a deployment, look for the ways God can use the entire deployment. Instead of just finding the best road trips near an upcoming assignment you're dreading, remember that God never sends you anywhere on accident. Thank God for your circumstances, even when they're hard. Praise Him for all of the ways He pursues you in this military life. Don't just look for the good — look for God.
And then, rejoice.
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What are some difficult circumstances in your life right now?
How can God use them to bring you closer to Him? How could those circumstances teach you more about God or your relationship with Him?
Why does it matter that “rejoice always” is not just a suggestion, but a command? What does that mean for how you rejoice in daily life?
The Bible says that the joy of the Lord is our strength. It tells us that when we rejoice in the Lord, He will give us peace that surpasses all understanding. So, this week, let’s look at what the Bible tells us to rejoice over. As you read each day’s scriptures, ask yourself: based off what this verse says, what do I have to rejoice about?