Maintain Your Joy in Jehovah’s Service
“Always rejoice in the Lord. Once more I will say, Rejoice!”—PHILIPPIANS 4:4.
1, 2. How were one brother and his family able to maintain their joy despite losing everything they owned?
JAMES, a 70-year-old Christian living in Sierra Leone, had worked hard all his life. Imagine his joy when he had finally saved up enough money to purchase a modest four-room house! Some time after James and his family moved in, however, civil war broke out in that country, and their home was burned to the ground. They lost their house, but they did not lose their joy. Why not?
2 James and his family kept their minds focused, not on what they had lost, but on what yet remained. James explains: “Even during the time of horror, we held meetings, read the Bible, prayed together, and shared what little we had with others. We were able to maintain our joy because we focused on the wonderful relationship we have with Jehovah.” By counting their blessings, the greatest of which is having a close personal relationship with Jehovah, these faithful Christians were able to “continue to rejoice.” (2 Corinthians 13:11) Of course, their distressing circumstances were not easy to endure. But they did not cease to rejoice in Jehovah.
3. How did some early Christians maintain their joy?
3 The early Christians encountered trials comparable to those experienced by James and his family. Yet, the apostle Paul wrote these words to Hebrew Christians: “[You] joyfully took the plundering of your belongings.” Paul then explained the source of their joy: “Knowing you yourselves have a better and an abiding possession.” (Hebrews 10:34) Yes, those first-century Christians had a powerful hope. They confidently looked forward to receiving something that could not be plundered—the unfadable “crown of life” in God’s heavenly Kingdom. (Revelation 2:10) Today, our Christian hope—be it heavenly or earthly—can help us to maintain our joy even when we face adversities.
“Rejoice in the Hope”
4, 5. (a) Why was Paul’s advice to “rejoice in the hope” so timely for the Romans? (b) What might cause a Christian to lose sight of his hope?
4 The apostle Paul encouraged fellow believers in Rome to “rejoice in the hope” of everlasting life. (Romans 12:12) That was timely advice for the Romans. Less than a decade after Paul wrote to them, they came under severe persecution, and some were tortured to death by order of Emperor Nero. Their faith that God would give them the promised crown of life undoubtedly sustained them in their suffering. What of us today?
5 As Christians, we too expect to be persecuted. (2 Timothy 3:12) Further, we realize that “time and unforeseen occurrence” befall us all. (Ecclesiastes 9:11) An accident can take the life of someone we love. A fatal illness can strike down a parent or a close friend. Unless we keep our Kingdom hope clearly in focus, we may be endangered spiritually when such trials occur. Accordingly, we do well to ask ourselves, ‘Do I “rejoice in the hope”? How often do I take the time to meditate on it? Is the coming Paradise real to me? Do I see myself there? Am I as eager for the end of the present system of things to come as I was when I first learned the truth?’ This last question deserves serious thought. Why? Because if we are in good health, earn a comfortable living, and live in a part of the earth that is more or less unaffected by war, food shortage, or natural disasters, we could—at least for the moment—lose sight of the pressing need for God’s new world to come.
6. (a) When Paul and Silas suffered tribulation, on what did they focus their thoughts? (b) How can the example of Paul and Silas encourage us today?
6 Paul further counseled the Romans to “endure under tribulation.” (Romans 12:12) Paul was no stranger to tribulation. Once, he saw in a vision a man who invited him to “step over into Macedonia” to help people there to learn about Jehovah. (Acts 16:9) At that, Paul, together with Luke, Silas, and Timothy, set sail for Europe. What awaited those zealous missionaries? Tribulation! After they had preached in the Macedonian city of Philippi, Paul and Silas were flogged and thrown into prison. Clearly, some citizens of Philippi were not merely indifferent to the Kingdom message—they were bitterly opposed. Did this turn of events cause the zealous missionaries to lose their joy? No. After they had been beaten and thrown into prison, “about the middle of the night, Paul and Silas were praying and praising God with song.” (Acts 16:25, 26) Of course, the pain from the beating gave Paul and Silas no joy, but that is not what the two missionaries focused on. Their thoughts were centered on Jehovah and the ways in which he was blessing them. By joyfully ‘enduring under tribulation,’ Paul and Silas served as fine examples for their brothers in Philippi and elsewhere.
7. Why should our prayers include thanksgiving?
7 Paul wrote: “Persevere in prayer.” (Romans 12:12) Do you pray when you have anxious moments? What do you pray about? Likely you mention your specific problem and ask for Jehovah’s help. But you can also include expressions of thanksgiving for the blessings you enjoy. When problems arise, reflecting on Jehovah’s goodness in his dealings with us helps us to “rejoice in the hope.” David, whose life was far from trouble free, wrote: “Many things you yourself have done, O Jehovah my God, even your wonderful works and your thoughts toward us; there is none to be compared to you. Were I inclined to tell and speak of them, they have become more numerous than I can recount.” (Psalm 40:5) If, like David, we regularly meditate on the blessings that we receive from Jehovah, we will find it impossible not to be joyful.
Keep a Positive Spirit
8. What helps a Christian to stay happy when undergoing persecution?
8 Jesus encourages his followers to keep a positive spirit when they meet with various trials. He says: “Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you for my sake.” (Matthew 5:11) What reason do we have for happiness under such circumstances? Our ability to withstand opposition is proof that Jehovah’s spirit is upon us. The apostle Peter told fellow Christians in his day: “If you are being reproached for the name of Christ, you are happy, because the spirit of glory, even the spirit of God, is resting upon you.” (1 Peter 4:13, 14) By means of his spirit, Jehovah will also help us to endure and, as a result, to maintain our joy.
9. What helped some brothers to find reasons for joy when in prison for their faith?
9 Even when we are in the direst of circumstances, we can find reasons to rejoice. A Christian named Adolf found that to be so. He lives in a country where the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses was banned for many years. Adolf and several of his companions were arrested and sentenced to serve long prison terms because they refused to renounce their Bible-based beliefs. Prison life was hard, but like Paul and Silas, Adolf and his companions found reasons to give thanks to God. Their prison experience, they noted, helped them to strengthen their faith and to develop valuable Christian qualities, such as generosity, empathy, and brotherly affection. For example, when a prisoner received a package from home, he shared its contents with fellow believers, who viewed these extra provisions as coming from Jehovah, the ultimate Giver of “every good gift and every perfect present.” Such acts of kindness brought joy both to the giver and to the recipients. So the very experience that was intended to break their faith actually made them stronger spiritually!—James 1:17; Acts 20:35.
10, 11. How did a sister handle relentless interrogation followed by a long prison term?
10 Ella, who also lives in a country where the Kingdom work was long banned, was arrested for sharing her Christian hope with others. For eight months, she was subjected to relentless interrogation. When finally brought to trial, she was handed a ten-year sentence in a prison where there were no other worshipers of Jehovah. Ella was only 24 years of age at the time.
11 Of course, Ella did not look forward to spending most of her young adulthood in a prison cell. But since she could not change her situation, she decided to change her viewpoint. Accordingly, she began to view the prison as her own personal witnessing territory. “There was so much preaching to do,” she says, “that the years passed very quickly.” After more than five years, Ella was interrogated again. Realizing that prison bars had not destroyed her faith, her interrogators told her: “We cannot release you; you have not changed.” “But I have changed!” was Ella’s firm reply. “I am in better spirits now than when I first went to prison, and my faith is much stronger than before!” And she added: “If you do not want to release me, I will stay until Jehovah sees fit to deliver me.” Five and a half years of confinement had not robbed Ella of her joy! She learned to be satisfied in whatever circumstances she found herself. Can you learn something from her example?—Hebrews 13:5.
12. What can bring peace of mind to a Christian in difficult circumstances?
12 Do not conclude that Ella possesses some unusual gift that allows her to face such challenges. Referring to the period of interrogation that she underwent in the months before she received her sentence, Ella admits: “I remember my teeth chattering, and I felt like a frightened sparrow.” However, Ella has strong faith in Jehovah. She has learned to put her trust in him. (Proverbs 3:5-7) As a result, God is more real to her than before. She explains: “Every time I entered the interrogation room, I felt peace come over me. . . . The more terrifying the situation, the deeper the peace became.” Jehovah was the source of that peace. The apostle Paul explains: “Do not be anxious over anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God; and the peace of God that excels all thought will guard your hearts and your mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.”—Philippians 4:6, 7.
13. What assures us that if tribulation comes our way, we will have the strength to endure?
13 Ella, who has since been released, maintained her joy despite hardship. She did this, not in her own strength, but in the strength that Jehovah provided her. The same was true of the apostle Paul, who wrote: “Most gladly, therefore, will I rather boast as respects my weaknesses, that the power of the Christ may like a tent remain over me. . . . For when I am weak, then I am powerful.”—2 Corinthians 12:9, 10.
14. Illustrate how a Christian could take a positive view of a trying situation and what the result might be.
14 The pressures you personally face today may be somewhat different from those we have here considered. Still, whatever form they take, pressures are difficult to cope with. For example, your employer may be very critical of your work—far more so than of the work of employees who belong to other religious faiths. It may not be possible for you to look for other employment. How might you maintain your joy? Recall Adolf and his companions, whose prison experience taught them to develop vital qualities. If you make a sincere effort to satisfy your employer—even one who is “hard to please”—you will develop such Christian qualities as endurance and long-suffering. (1 Peter 2:18) Furthermore, you may well become more valuable as an employee, which may increase your chances of obtaining more satisfying employment some day. Let us now discuss some other ways in which we can maintain our joy in Jehovah’s service.
Simplifying Leads to Joy
15-17. What did one couple learn could relieve stress, even though its source could not be completely removed?
15 You may have little choice in the type of secular work you do or about where you work, but there may be other aspects of your life over which you can exercise some control. Consider the following experience.
16 A Christian couple invited an elder to their home for a meal. In the course of the evening, the brother and his wife confided that of late they had been feeling overwhelmed by the pressures of life. Although they both had demanding full-time jobs, they were not in a position to look for other work. They wondered how long they would be able to cope.
17 When asked for advice, the elder responded, “Simplify.” How? The husband and his wife were spending up to three hours each day commuting to and from work. The elder, who knew the couple well, suggested that they consider moving closer to their place of employment, so that they would be able to reduce the amount of time that they spent traveling to and from work each day. The time saved could be spent in caring for other important matters—or just getting some rest. If life’s pressures are robbing you of a measure of joy, why not see whether you can get relief by making some adjustments?
18. Why is it vital to think carefully before making decisions?
18 Another way to reduce pressure is to think carefully before making decisions. For example, one Christian decided to build a house. He chose a very complicated design, although he had never built a house before. He now realizes that he could have avoided unnecessary problems if he had ‘considered his steps’ before choosing the design for his home. (Proverbs 14:15) Another Christian agreed to back a loan for a fellow believer. According to the agreement, if the borrower was unable to repay the loan, the one backing it would be obliged to do so. At first, all went well, but in time the borrower began to renege. The lender became alarmed and demanded that the backer repay the entire loan. That put great pressure on the backer. Could it have been avoided if he had given more careful consideration to all factors before he agreed to assume responsibility for the debt?—Proverbs 17:18.
19. What are some ways in which we can reduce stress in our lives?
19 When we get tired, let us never conclude that we can reduce the pressure on us and regain our joy by cutting back on personal Bible study, field service, and meeting attendance. Why, these are vital ways in which we can receive Jehovah’s holy spirit, a product of which is joy. (Galatians 5:22) Christian activities are always refreshing and usually not excessively tiring. (Matthew 11:28-30) It is far more likely that secular or recreational activities, not spiritual ones, are contributing to our fatigue. Learning to go to bed at a reasonable hour may help put us back on track. A little extra rest can go a long way. N. H. Knorr, who served as a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses until his death, used to tell missionaries: “When you get discouraged, the first thing to do is to get some rest. You will be surprised how much better almost any problem seems after you have had a good night’s sleep!”
20. (a) Summarize some of the ways we can maintain our joy. (b) What reasons can you think of for being joyful? (See box on page 17.)
20 Christians are privileged to serve “the happy God.” (1 Timothy 1:11) As we have seen, we can maintain our joy even when we are beset by serious problems. Let us keep the Kingdom hope before us, adjust our viewpoint when necessary, and keep our life simple. Then, whatever situation we find ourselves in, we will respond to the apostle Paul’s words: “Always rejoice in the Lord. Once more I will say, Rejoice!”—Philippians 4:4.
Give Thoughtful Consideration to These Questions:
• Why should Christians keep the Kingdom hope sharply in focus?
• What can help us maintain our joy in difficult circumstances?
• Why should we try to simplify our lives?
• In what areas have some simplified their lives?
[Box/Pictures on page 17]
Additional Reasons for Being Joyful
As Christians, we have many reasons to rejoice. Consider the following:
1. We know Jehovah.
2. We have learned the truth of God’s Word.
3. We can have our sins forgiven by means of our faith in Jesus’ sacrifice.
4. God’s Kingdom is ruling—the new world will soon be here!
5. Jehovah has brought us into a spiritual paradise.
6. We enjoy wholesome Christian association.
7. We have the privilege of sharing in the preaching work.
8. We are alive, and we have a measure of strength.
How many other reasons for joy can you mention?
[Picture on page 13]
Paul and Silas were joyful even in prison
[Pictures on page 15]
Is your sight focused on the joyful prospect of God’s new world?