Several months ago, I was praying for a friend who had been in the midst of some great challenges. As I prayed, one of my go-to passages popped into mind: Philippians 4:4-8. But, somehow, I didn’t get far past “rejoice in the Lord.”
Actually, I got hung up on one word: in.
It’s easy to fly over that phrase and not truly stop to ponder what it means. “Rejoice in the Lord.”
Okay, Lord, let me see what I can be thankful for right now. It’s hard, because I’m overwhelmed by the circumstances, but I’ll try. Maybe. Yes…here goes. Oh, Lord, HELP!!!!
Unfortunately, that’s usually how it sounds when I try to start my prayer with thankfulness. But, here’s the problem. I’m still focused on circumstances. I’m just trying to find some way to be thankful for them.
And there’s another problem. Thanksgiving is not actually what this phrase commands. The whole thankfulness instruction comes later in the “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving” part. For now, it is simply “rejoice in the Lord.”
Now, to come back to the word “in.”
You see, so many times we get stuck on word “rejoice.” We stop there and wonder why it is so hard to obey that simple command.
I confess I have to laugh a bit as I process through this. Why? Because this is a grammar issue more than a heart or mind issue. And as an editor, I’m all about grammar! Will you bear with me for a moment while we look at this phrase through an editor’s eyes?
For those of you who aren’t too fond of grammar, here’s a quick two-part side note. First, an imperative is a command, often encapsulated in a single word. Second, a preposition is a word that lends a sense of direction, like in, of, for, to, under, over, etc. It is followed by a noun called the object of the preposition, telling you to whom or what the direction relates (under the table).
Now, back to the passage.
The opening of this passage is not just a single imperative word with no further modification. It is a phrase with an imperative verb followed by a prepositional phrase. And a preposition always has an object.
Rejoice (imperative) in (preposition) the Lord (object of the preposition).
What happens if we don’t stop with the imperative, but continue on to the prepositional phrase? What if we truly rejoice in the Lord?
I know what happens to me. I get a refocus. I find myself in the center of Him instead of in the center of my circumstances. I am moved. Transformed. Lifted. The circumstances don’t change, but I do. And it makes all the difference.
When I rejoice in the Lord, the following commands come much more easily:
– let your gentle spirit be known to all men
– pray with thanksgiving
– think on these things
Yes, it’s all a natural progression, but only if I start by truly rejoicing in the Lord.