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A choice to rejoice

Every Sunday I go to the prison chapel for fellowship and to worship God. One Sunday the chaplain preached on Psalm 118:24: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” It challenged me spiritually.

It’s easy to rejoice when everything is going great. But how do I rejoice when I’m locked up behind razor-wire fences with a long prison sentence?

I understand in my head, intellectually, that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed to anyone and that each day is a gift from God. Emotionally, however, because of my fears and anxieties about the future, I look at tomorrow for relief. But my tomorrows won’t meet my needs for peace and for freedom from the world’s entrapments. They only keep me from knowing the peace and joy of abiding in Christ today.

The same psalm tells me in verse six: “With the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can mortals do to me?” God can turn everything that happens to me around. He can make it all work out for my good, even prison. I think of Romans 8:28: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

But I do have a part to play, and it begins with a choice: to despair or rejoice, to falter or stand, to act in fear or faith, to be defeated or delivered.

When I make a choice to rejoice, I stop fretting over circumstances and start focusing on the positives instead of the negatives. Tests and trials come to every single one of us. Difficult times are going to come, Jesus said: “In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).

Circumstances change, but God stays the same. God’s goodness and mercy are inexorable. They never change. Every new day is an opportunity to experience God more.

Therefore, I can be glad for the razor-wire fences because in prison I found salvation. In the difficult places God is often able to make me into what God wants. “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, but the Lord tests the heart” (Proverbs 17:3).

Moreover, because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross I have eternal life. Jesus said we who are his are in the world, yet do not “belong” to the world (John 17:14). We don’t have to live as the world lives, wringing our hands in despair when we face tests and trials. We have the Word of God. We can rejoice.

Rejoice about what? About the God of salvation. God is on our side. Nothing or no one can defeat God’s purposes for our lives.

When I make a choice to rejoice in God, I’m worshiping God instead of questioning. I’m declaring God is in control and that it’s not about me but about Jesus. I’m telling God that he knows what’s best for me and that I trust him completely—unconditionally.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). God was with David in his difficulties, and God is with us in ours.

The same words used to begin Psalm 118 are used to end it: “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!”

Not many psalms end with the same verse they began with. This opening-ending verse helps me to make verse 24 real. When I’m giving thanks to God, recognizing God’s goodness and that God’s steadfast love endures forever, I am actually making a choice to rejoice.

When I begin the day rejoicing and end it rejoicing I am saying: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

This week's front page features:

Mighty fortresses: Visible and invisible walls. Change happens in the heart, which is where walls begin.’ (Photo at right.)

Backyard and beyond: Young people discern, discover, serve.

Can-do collector: Johnson helps Ronald McDonald Houses.

LWR continues fair-trade initiatives.

Also: Four presidents to step down.

Also: Names.

Also: Being devoted to the word.

Read these articles at our front page > > >

Discuss walls:

Join ELCA pastor Terry Boggs (right) to discuss the article "Mighty fortresses: Visible and invisible walls." Boggs was a discussion leader at a November gathering in Wittenberg, Germany, that fostered discussion about the church's role in breaking down visible and invisible walls.

In the article, Boggs says:

“Having deep, intense and difficult conversation is a sign of deep respect. Love without power leads to sentimentality. Power without love leads to totalitarianism. And it’s a tough journey.”

The conversation runs today through Feb. 13.

Consider reading "Mighty fortresses: Visible and invisible walls" before joining in.


This week on our blog:

Andrea Pohlmann writes about those who find themselves cold, hungry or homeless.

Amber Leberman blogs about the "fatherly advice" Deepak Pandya gave his daughter before she embarked on a six-month sojourn 200 miles above the Earth.

Kathy Kastilahn (right) writes about the death of "irrepressibly irreverent" Molly Ivins.

Julie Sevig blogs about a New York Times article on Roseau, Minn.

Sonia Solomonson writes about her congregation's first use of Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

Check out our blog > > >

Share your evangelism tips:

Reader George C. Weirick challenged the staff of The Lutheran: "Tell us about programs that work, or unusual or new evangelism methods."

Send us your tips via email, with a brief description (two or three paragraphs), along with contact information for those wanting more background.

The staff will review submissions and start publishing the best as a regular item on the “Currents” pages.

Members: Respond online > > >


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SEPTEMBER issue:

Reinventing Sunday school

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