Y MOTHER PASSED AWAY ONE SABBATH AFTERNOON SIX YEARS AGO. Although she wasn’t always a Christian, or an observer of the Sabbath, she grew to love the sacredness of the Sabbath. In her last, painful days, she prayed that God would allow her to “go to sleep” on a Sabbath. He did, a few months after she returned to her home in Jamaica.
I’ve conducted many funerals in more than two decades of pastoral ministry, but nothing prepared me for my personal encounter with our great enemy, death. I thought I knew precisely how I would grieve, but when the day came, it was nothing as I had planned or anticipated. As I officiated at the service, my eyes filled with tears and a few fell uncontrolled at the graveside. But I felt no overpowering sorrow.
Soon after the funeral I congratulated myself on dodging the unwanted guest named grief. But come it did, with a vengeance that overwhelmed me and sabotaged my health. I lay in bed for a week as the floodgates of emotion finally opened. I sobbed uncontrollably, inconsolable. I fretted that I’d never regain my composure. But after months of prayer and fasting I was finally able to say that the joy of the Lord is my strength.
Believers are not to be dismayed by the pessimism that hangs like a dark cloud over those who have lost the disposition to see beyond this life. Apprehensiveness in saints produces doubts as to the rationality of our faith because a joyless Christian is a strange contradiction. It’s our privilege, if not duty, to rejoice in the Lord always. It is immensely important that our church also reflect and diffuse the eternal light of Christ (John 12:35, 36). So take courage from Scripture, where a radiant hope in God and His goodwill to all are expressed.
Not being one to employ conventional language as an empty form, the apostle Paul commanded the believers in Philippi: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near” (Phil. 4:4, 5).
Note the emphatic repetition of the command that underscores the importance of “Rejoice in the Lord”: “I will say it again: Rejoice!” Joy is the spring of our energy. It kills the taste of sinful pleasures in the mind and excludes anything with which it cannot harmonize in the heart. It enables Christ’s followers to confront persecution and enhances our charm and influence among unbelievers (Acts 16:
22-30). Early believers “broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:46, 47). Their exuberance was infectious because their lives were hidden “in the Lord.” Their rejoicing was not just a passing fancy or a momentary expression of glee, but a gift of grace expressed as a permanent habit.
“Let your gentleness be known to all!” It is difficult to find one word in English to adequately render or reveal the depth of the Greek word epieikeia, translated “gentle spirit,” “moderation,” or “forbearance” in various versions of the New Testament. It actually implies the double significance of fair-minded, reasonable persons who do not stand on their rights but are always ready to listen to the opinions of others (Phil. 2:3-5).
Those gentle in spirit are kind and considerate. They don’t magnify minutiae, take rigid stands on insignificant points, or lay down hard and fast rules for anyone who needs assistance. They are cool, calm, and collected.
Let your gentle spirit be known to everyone because “the Lord is near.” This doesn’t allude to the nearness of Christ’s second coming, but to the fact that He is always with us (Matt. 28:20). In a world where we are expected to “look out for number one,” showing a gentle spirit is not easy, but we press on knowing that the loving “eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry” (Ps. 34:15).
Above all, remember that Jesus commanded us to “rejoice and be glad” (Matt. 5:12).
Hyveth Williams is senior pastor of the Campus Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church in Loma Linda, California.