Today I’m coming at you with one of my favorite mugs.

It’s one of my favorite mugs because of the nostalgia. The painting on the mug is of the “castle sands,” and castle ruins, in St Andrews, Scotland. Our first apartment was about a two-minute walk from this view (although it looks quite a bit different today).

However, it’s even more nostalgic because it’s the same painting that was hanging in our apartment. Here’s the only picture I took of it, with some books I was reading at the time in the foreground.

Fun fact: if you’ve tuned into the “mini-Synergy” a couple of weeks ago when I talked about faith, some of the ideas in that talk where sprouted by one of these books: Salvation by Allegiance Alone, by Matthew Bates. I’d highly recommend it!

This is a prayer I’ve posted here before, but I love it so much. Let’s pray this a few times through as we approach Philippians, today.

O God, grant that we may desire you, and desiring you seek you, and seeking you find you, and finding you be satisfied in you forever. Amen. (Prayer from Francis Xavier)

Throughout this journey through Philippians, we have closed the studied the writings of a man who desired, sought, found, and was ultimately satisfied in God. Closely studying a book like Philippians gives us an insight into Paul’s life and, more importantly, how we might “imitate him as he imitates Christ.”

As we’ve seen, Paul is writing this book from jail and he’s undergone quite a few trials in recent times. Which makes it all the more astounding that he wrote today’s verses:

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:4-7)

Paul is emphatic: rejoice!

Rejoice is one of those weird words that we say a lot, but may not easily be able to define. What does it mean to rejoice? In the New Testament, the word refers to a state of being. Specifically, it referred to a state of happiness, gladness, or joy. From his jail cell, Paul is encouraging us to be in a state of joy.

This is not always easy. We tend to say: “how can I rejoice when x is happening in my life?” Maybe it’s the illness or death of a loved one. Maybe it is financial struggles. Maybe it is some major life event that is happening in our lives that make our lives more difficult. Whatever it is, Paul invites us to rejoice.

He does this not to diminish suffering—he himself knows suffering well. He knows the sting of suffering, too. Yet, he knows Jesus. He knows the cross and he knows resurrection. In fact, he says “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection” (Phil. 3:10). I think these verses today have to be read in that lens. Only with that desire can we hope to be in a state of being called “rejoicing.”

So does this mean we have to be happy all the time? I don’t think so. We grieve when grief is called for. We lament the evil in the world, death most of all. We pray for Christ to come. These are right and holy postures, but we—even in the middle of hardship—rejoice. We are in a state of desire for Christ and his resurrection. Even if we are at the foot of the cross, we know that Sunday is coming.

I like listening to old hymns. There’s an artist—Page CXVI—that covers old hymns, and one in particular has stuck with me. You might remember signing this song as a kid: “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart.”

Well, in this cover, it has a much different feel. She is singing these words, but in a tone of sadness and wrestling with hardship. This cover illustrates well the tension of rejoicing while we lament or while we’re sad. There is tension, but not contradiction.

However, if we are being honest, most of the time the biggest barrier to rejoicing isn’t moments of deep sadness or grief. Instead, it’s those little annoying moments that happen to us throughout our days. It’s when we get cut off in traffic or when your coworker is being super annoying or when your roommate keeps leaving a mess.

As difficult as it is to rejoice in hardship, it’s almost more difficult to rejoice when we’re just plain annoyed.

The so-called daily grind of life can make rejoicing difficult because it sells us on what’s happening now as being the most important thing. But this is a lie. Paul was able to rejoice because Paul set his gaze on Christ and his resurrection. He knew that though there is pain in the night, “joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

In other words, in order to always rejoice you have to have your eyes always on Jesus.

This isn’t always easy. Again…daily grind. But thankfully, Paul promises help. The peace of God—which surpasses understanding!—will guard our hearts and minds in Christ (v. 7). This is a peace beyond human comprehension. Yet, this will guard us in Christ.

One of the most helpful practices I’ve found to help me onto this road of keeping Christ ever before me is the practice of repeated prayer. During the margins of my day—when I’m driving or walking or in the shower or making lunch—I try to repeat the same little prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This is now called the “Jesus Prayer”—it comes from Luke 18:13—and repeating this prayer is commonplace throughout the Christian tradition.

It doesn’t have to be the Jesus Prayer. One variant I’ve heard is just “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” Today, I’m recommending that you try the prayer from Francis Xavier: “O God, grant that we may desire you, and desiring you seek you, and seeking you find you, and finding you be satisfied in you forever. Amen.”

Repeating small prayers like this can be a way to keep Christ in front of us all the time. You’ll never be perfect at it—and that’s ok! Some days, I don’t pray the Jesus Prayer at all. But on the days I do I can feel it shaping my mind and heart.

So the challenge for today is just to develop a habit of repeating a short, easily memorized prayer. This habit can go a long way towards helping you follow Paul’s advice at all times: rejoice!

Grace and peace, see you tomorrow!

Christian Student Fellowship