“Always Rejoice in the Lord”
As told by John P. Sioras
“NATION will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom . . . ” I could not ignore those words of Jesus Christ recorded at Matthew 24:7 after observing the earthshaking events of World War I. They impelled me to find out more about this and other prophecies of the Bible. But first, I had to obtain a copy of the Bible in the language I best understood—Greek. That took two years. In the summer of 1914 I had seen the “Photo-Drama of Creation” in Lewiston, Maine. I was deeply impressed by this remarkable showing of Bible history in slides and moving pictures. But somehow I missed contacting those who were giving this wonderful presentation.
Two years later a special speaker of the Seventh-day Adventist church gave a series of public lectures in our city hall. Again my interest in Bible study was stimulated, especially in the Bible book of Daniel. I started reading the Bible regularly and, in fact, I learned many passages by heart—something that was to prove quite valuable to me in later life. However, I was still failing to gain a clear understanding of the Bible’s message. I needed help.
Then in 1917 one of the Bible Students (now known as Jehovah’s witnesses) placed with me a book entitled “The Divine Plan of the Ages.” Next, I heard a public lecture by J. F. Rutherford, who represented the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, the publishers of this and many other Bible-study aids. It was of special interest to note that this meeting was attended by many clergymen of various denominations.
With the end of the war in 1918 I had an excellent opportunity to get down to a thorough reading of the Society’s publications, many of which I had by then acquired. I had moved to a small town where there were no Bible Students, but I kept in touch with the Watch Tower Society’s Brooklyn office. My daily work lasted from 4 p.m. until midnight each weekday. That gave me an ideal time for study and meditation—in the silence of the night, at least until 4 a.m.
Having been schooled by the Greek Orthodox Church, I had been taught that Christian faith is based on the Holy Scriptures and the traditions of the Apostolic fathers, with the Apostolic fathers taking first place. I used to wonder what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote: “Always rejoice in the Lord.” (Phil. 4:4) There had been little to rejoice about in my former religion, and the distance seemed so great between us ordinary people and God and Christ. Now what a joy to learn that the hope of salvation taught in the Bible was something that every repentant sinner could lay hold of—and not merely those on good terms with the “saints” of the Greek church! And now I began to see why the Orthodox priests made no real effort to teach the whole Bible to their parishioners, when I came across the text at 1 Timothy 2:5: “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, a man Christ Jesus.” So all those other “mediators” and “saints” were useless!
Not content with reading the Bible and the Society’s helps, I hungered for association. As soon as I learned about it I started to attend a congregation of Bible Students in a town some forty-five miles from my home. Here is where I really began to rejoice as I shared with others in taking in spiritual food. And here I learned about the responsibility that accompanies knowledge of God’s purposes. Yes, I came to realize that God and Christ expected me to share with others the good things I was learning—not just selfishly keep them to myself. So, in my own little town I started talking to people and offering them literature. It is difficult to express the joy and satisfaction that I experienced as a result. I was doing God’s will, and that was my greatest wish.
The year 1919 was a particularly joyous one to me. I will never forget it, for then was when I attended a Bible Students convention at Cedar Point, Ohio, and then was when, in company with two hundred other believers, I was baptized in token of my dedication of my life to God. That, too, was the year when the Society’s new magazine, The Golden Age, appeared. I immediately subscribed, and have read every issue of it up to this day. Of course, it is now known as Awake!
What has always amazed me is the marvelous way that Jehovah God has fulfilled toward those who demonstrate their love for him the promise recorded at Proverbs 4:18: “The path of the righteous ones is like the bright light that is getting lighter and lighter until the day is firmly established.” Yes, by gradually revealing to them his purposes Jehovah has given his people today reason for rejoicing. And this reminds me of the fact that he made a gradual supply of manna for the Israelites in their wilderness trek. (Ex. 16:21) But ours is a spiritual manna, a rich source of nourishment for heart and mind.
I scanned every issue of the Watchtower magazine as it came to hand, for I had learned that the magazine provided information on Bible prophecy that Jehovah wishes his people to have—information that would encourage and strengthen them for the work of preaching the “good news of the kingdom.” (Matt. 24:14) Through the years we have rejoiced to receive in its columns verse-by-verse explanations of such Bible books as Daniel, Revelation, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Ruth, Esther, and others. And always, in the course of the years, the understanding became clearer and clearer. We had the joyful assurance that Jehovah was with his people to direct them in the right way.
JOYOUS SERVICE PRIVILEGES
Soon after my dedication to serve God I moved to Detroit, Michigan, where I received more real blessings. I was associated with a large congregation, and there was a much larger field of service—for here were people of all races and nationalities. My eight years in Detroit helped me to mature in knowledge and to learn much about organization of the Kingdom preaching activity. Unless due to circumstances beyond my control, I never missed a meeting. My faith grew strong. I was even privileged to serve fellow members of the congregation in various capacities during that period of time. Surely more cause for rejoicing!
In October 1929 I received an invitation to come to the Society’s headquarters and become a member of its staff, a member of the Bethel family in Brooklyn, New York. Without hesitation I accepted. I had not even hoped for such a privilege. At first I was assigned to make a circuit of Greek-speaking congregations twice a year. It was arranged that I spend three months on the road visiting these groups, and then three months at headquarters engaged in other activities required by the organization.
In 1937 came quite a change—a change, I may say, for the better. All the foreign-language congregations were amalgamated with the English congregations. Greater harmony and greater activity resulted. Of course, my schedule was altered, but there was much other work to be done in a rapidly expanding organization, and I was enjoying my work at the headquarters. Life in Bethel is a joyful one if a person considers the privilege of being there as coming from Jehovah, and if he really wants to live in harmony with Bible principles. And there were many fine examples for us—men and women who came here in their youth and continued loyally until they “died in a good old age, old and satisfied,” like Abraham.—Gen. 25:8.
What a vantage point Bethel has been from which to watch the growth of the organization of Kingdom publishers in all the earth! I recall how in 1929, when I came to Bethel, there were but a few publishers in a very few lands. Today the work is being conducted world wide in 200 lands and by a joyous throng of 1,155,826 proclaimers of the good news of God’s kingdom. As we have viewed the developments, it has all been so thrilling! God alone could have furnished such wonderful growth and effectiveness.
YOUTH TOO CAN REJOICE
When I look around at the expanding opportunities for youth in Jehovah’s grand work, I call to mind my own youth. From an early age I wanted to know more about God and the right way. I was interested in finding out about God’s will. Why was there so much wickedness in the world? Why did clergymen show so little concern for the Bible and so much concern about money collections? Were there some genuine Christian ministers somewhere? These are some of the questions I used to think about.
At seventeen years of age I began really searching. I attended different churches, only to be disappointed time after time. The pastors in Christendom had nothing but husks for their flocks. It was not difficult to see these false pastors as the ones spoken about in Bible prophecy at Ezekiel 34:10: “Here I am against the shepherds, and I shall certainly ask back my sheep from their hand and make them cease from feeding my sheep, and the shepherds will no longer feed themselves; and I will deliver my sheep out of their mouth, and they will not become food for them.”
Yes, I felt sure God’s truth must be somewhere. Surely there must be people studying the Bible with the help of God’s spirit and doing so for the unselfish purpose of proclaiming it to others. I thank Jehovah and rejoice that he brought me into contact with his Witnesses while I was still in the vigor of youth! And now it brings me great gladness to see young people eagerly grasping the Kingdom message and quickly arranging their affairs to spend their full time in the preaching of it. Some of them have been aided by godly parents, but others have taken the right course on their own, wisely ‘remembering their grand Creator in the days of their young manhood.’ (Eccl. 12:1) They will never regret taking that step.
Personally, as I look back to the time of my dedication in 1919, my heart fills with joy. Just think! Being able to spend the greater part of my life in the service of the Creator, happily rescued from the vain course of life in this old system of things! And to top it off, now beholding this multitude of young folk breaking their ties with the old system and offering themselves willingly for Jehovah’s service.
Of course, we grow older and are unable to do as much as we once did in the Lord’s work. Does that diminish our rejoicing? No, but it only serves to impress the lesson on our minds that it is in Jehovah’s strength and by his power that we can go on overcoming the pressures of Satan’s wicked system. We gain his strength by studying his Word and by going to him in prayer. This is how we build a strong faith—the kind of faith that renews our strength in later life, just as the Bible promise expresses it: “Those who are hoping in Jehovah will regain power. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not tire out.” (Isa. 40:31) Remember how it is said of Moses at the age of 120 that “his eye had not grown dim, and his vital strength had not fled.” (Deut. 34:7) His own aged eyes saw the land promised by God to Israel.
Today, too, Jehovah strengthens his servants as they grow old. Not always does this help come in a physical way, but it does come in a spiritual way. Unlike those who are without God, those who get tired of living and feel that they are too old to learn and have something to look forward to, Jehovah’s servants are kept mentally and spiritually youthful. Every day offers them privileges of honorable service to the grand Creator. And their future is attractive, yes, inspiring.
What a wonderful and joyous privilege to be alive and in God’s service at this most critical hour in human history! God’s king is enthroned now in the heavens. Already he has directed a worldwide proclamation of the Kingdom to a point where it is almost completed. The next item on his program is to rise up and destroy all the enemies of truth and righteousness, visible and invisible. That will be a grand salvation for all who love and serve God and Christ. Now is the happy day of which it was foretold: “In that day one will certainly say: ‘Look! This is our God. We have hoped in him, and he will save us. This is Jehovah. We have hoped in him. Let us be joyful and rejoice in the salvation by him.’”—Isa. 25:9.