Emotional HealthHealing 5 minutes to read

I am fortunate. My family loved the holidays. I know not all families recognize the joy of celebrating. For some, there are memories of poverty and want. For others, it was a time of extremes: abuse or neglect, or as Dr. Ted would say, “Whacks or lacks.” Some people can’t wait for the holidays and others can’t wait until they’re over.

As a child, each holiday was simple for me. Halloween was all about costumes and candy. The Fourth of July was about fireworks and food. Thanksgiving was about family, friends, and food. Same with New Year’s (plus football!). Easter was about sunrise services, food, family, and friends. But as a child, I most cherished Christmas—the Christmas Eve midnight service, the tree and decorations, plenty of snacks and food, and the great anticipation of presents! (These descriptions beg for another blog about food—but that’s another story!)

Some holidays are politically motivated. Some come from our religious histories. But the purpose of all holidays is to remind us of something. I am reminded of Joshua and the people of Israel crossing the Jordan River on dry ground. In Joshua 4, Joshua tells the men who carried 12 rocks representing the 12 tribes of Israel to pile them together to make a memorial. There were further instructions about a father walking his son by the memorial hoping for the question, “Why is that memorial there dad?” It was meant to be a teachable moment. A moment to honor the history of Israel and passing through the Jordan on dry ground—a wonderful story of identity and the faithfulness of God. 

Some holidays are positive, like Christmas, the coming of Christ. Others, like Pearl Harbor Day or 9/11, remind us of painful losses. All are worthy of remembering. Some holidays are joyful while others are somber. My parents have passed, but I still remember and value their birthdays and the day they passed into eternity. These personal memories are worth remembering and honoring those whom we have loved.

But there is another biblical teaching on celebrating. Two verses stand out: 1 Thessalonians 5:16 says, Rejoice always; and Philippians 4:4 says, Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice!

When I was a young Christian these verses didn’t make sense. I kind of skimmed over them. I mean, how do I rejoice when I am sick? Or when someone I love has died? Or if I have lost my job? Or if my husband/wife has been unfaithful or left me? How do we rejoice in these circumstances?

I first thought maybe I didn’t understand the word “rejoice.” Both verses use the same word and it literally means “to be conscious (glad) of God’s grace and be glad of His grace in your life.” So I was not misunderstanding the word. But clarity didn’t come to me until I had a conversation with Michael Dye.  

Michael and I were talking about restoration and what it really means. Michael told me, “Harry, restoration is really about accepting life on God’s terms.” I was blown away by these words. Michael wanted to continue the conversation but I stopped him. At that moment, I believe I heard God through Michael. 

We all have a clear choice: trusting the circumstances or trusting God.

This is not always easy. All of the senses in the body are geared for evaluating circumstances. In just the last few days, we had record high temperatures of 108, 113, and 116 degrees. Our average high is only about 80 degrees this time of year. Added to this, I have a disease and don’t do well with heat. So I had a clear choice: to either trust God or trust the circumstances. I chose to trust both. The temperatures were real, so I protected myself from the elements. Thank God for air conditioning! But I also trusted God that He would not leave, abandon, or forsake me; and He didn’t. He is my Good Shepherd (and yours too!).

This is key for us. God promised us He would not leave or forsake us. He promised to be with us always. This is evident in both the Old Testament and New Testament (Psalm 23 and John 10). Jesus Christ is our Shepherd and watches over us no matter what our circumstances. From the most joyous to the most painful, He is with us. We might not recognize His presence, but He is there. For us, the answer will come from choosing to exercise our faith.

Our certainty is not based on circumstances. Circumstances will always be in flux. We live in a flawed and uncertain world. All humans, whether saved or not, must battle the uncertainty of this fallen world. In fact, one of the major areas of sin that needs to be expressed is the need for certainty of circumstances. It can actually become sin. Your faith will be impacted by exercising your faith (like a muscle) or choosing to not exercise it (loss of muscle). Years ago, a mentor of mine wrote the book, Use It or Lose It: The Word of Faith. I believe he was right. Faith can only be exercised in uncertainty. When we avoid taking risks, we avoid exercising our faith.

But we have hope in Christ Jesus. He is not only with us but in us. Galatians 2:20 says, 

…and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Galatians 2:20 HCSB

He lives inside us. He goes through everything we go through! He has already been tempted in every way (Hebrews 4:15), so He can identify with our difficulties and struggles and help us through every circumstance. He loves us and has empathy for us.  

I have come to believe that even as I grow older, as my body gives me unwanted limitations and as I go through unwanted circumstances, I can trust in God. I can celebrate His goodness and rejoice that He is with me through eternity!

Harry Flanagan

Harry is a Pastoral Sex Addiction Professional and a Clinician at Pure Desire Ministries. He has been with Pure Desire since 1993. Harry is a licensed pastor who has served in ministry for 30+ years. He also contributed to Pure Desire resources: Seven Pillars of Freedom and Connected.

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