How ‘Rejoice Always’ Helped Me
Caroline Hand writes on how reading John Gwyn-Thomas’s Rejoice Always1 helped her.
Why is it we do not always see the fulfilment of God’s promises in our own personal circumstances? Romans chapter 5 tells us that tribulation produces perseverance, character and hope, with the end result that God’s love is poured into our hearts. But my own personal difficulties have so often left me in a spiritually weakened position. This was particularly so after the birth of our son eight years ago.
Just two weeks after his birth, we found him unconscious in his cot. He had a medical condition which meant that he frequently vomited and choked, and would pass out during feeds. On top of this he was a restless and unhappy baby, unable to settle down and sleep, screaming for long periods and uninterested in playthings. This difficult behaviour continued well into toddlerhood, when we started to notice that his development was delayed in several areas.
Prior to becoming a mother I had been impressed by examples of strong Christian parents, including a Christian woman who faithfully continued her daily quiet time at 4 am every day, after feeding her baby. But when it came to my turn, I was far too busy and exhausted to pray at all most days. Our son would wake early and remain awake all day, often until 9 or 10 pm. Feeling weary and run down, I developed a fearful attitude. Our little boy suffered frequent infections and each time I became panicky that something dreadful might happen to him because I had stepped out of line in some way. I did not have any confidence in God’s kindness towards us.
This time was not uniformly black and there were times when I was reminded of God’s faithfulness. My husband and I were able to pray together for people in our church, and saw various needs met. Often it is better to join with someone else when prayer is difficult.
Our son is now a happy and healthy eight year old, and we thank God for him. He has made wonderful progress in both learning and behaviour and is doing well at school. Reflecting on those difficult early years, I wondered why God had not seemed to be there in my time of need. Instead of developing endurance and hope through this trial, I had lost ground and had to painstakingly pick up the pieces of my Christian walk once life got easier.
A short, practical but very wise Christian book helped me to see where I had gone wrong. Rejoice Always, by John Gwyn-Thomas (Banner of Truth), is a practical study of Philippians 4. It is for everyone who feels that rejoicing at all times is way beyond them. In some ways, the secret should be blindingly obvious; it is there in the same passage. We should pray and cast all our anxieties on Him. My response to trials had been the opposite – to shrink from God and avoid prayer. The book emphasises that we can cast all anxieties, even the most trivial, onto our heavenly Father. Sometimes even now I have to force myself to pray, struggling with troubled or uneasy feelings, but I am gradually learning that there is no more effective way of approaching a problem.
Gwyn-Thomas takes the example of Jacob when he was about to confront Esau on his return to Canaan. He cried out earnestly to God for help in a simple and straightforward prayer, which was soon answered when Esau extended friendship and forgiveness. As with Jacob, trials can show us that we are weak and lacking in faith and show us our need of God’s help, but unless we cry out to Him, nothing will happen.
Paul learned to stay close to God and rejoice in prison, when humanly speaking all was lost. His secret was to fix his mind on the wonderful truths which nothing can change, particularly God’s love to us in Christ, demonstrated on the cross. The love of Christ, the hope of heaven, and God’s promise that all things work together for our good, are things which we can rejoice in at all times.
Having spent many years in charismatic churches where the emphasis was on healing and deliverance, supposedly brought about instantaneously during a time of ministry, I had expected God to send help as soon as I prayed. This never happened and I became discouraged. John Gwyn-Thomas’s book throws light on God’s way of dealing with us through trials. He describes it as a process in which God uses circumstances to train us over a period of time. I had often wondered whether other Christians who stood firm in trials were just putting on a brave face, but Gwyn-Thomas draws on his own personal experiences, as well as those of Paul, Jeremiah, and David, to explain that this is not so. These people all had a genuine experience of the love, joy and peace of God poured into their hearts at the most difficult times. The book describes how in addition to prayer, the process of learning and growing is helped along by a disciplined life including meditation on God’s promises, watching over our thoughts, and keeping our minds fixed on all that is good.
Some further help came in the unexpected shape of a book on the Ten Commandments by Peter Masters. This cast new light on the Commandments by explaining that they reveal God’s character. For example, God forbids the worship of other gods because He is our all-sufficient One. His hatred of adultery springs from his own faithfulness. Thinking of these commandments, engraved in stone by God’s hand, brought home His unchanging character of goodness, generosity, faithfulness and truthfulness in a reassuring and comprehensible way that built my faith and gave me more confidence in prayer.
As yet I have not had to face another fiery trial but am trying to put these lessons into practice in the small problems of everyday life. God does restore us gently when we fail and my own experience has taught me to be less judgemental towards others who disappear from church for a while. These helpful books point to a greater experience of God and a greater contentment in all circumstances that can be found if we continue in Him.
Studies in Philippians 4
Caroline Hand writes on how reading John Gwyn-Thomas’s Rejoice Always1 helped her. Why is it we do not always see the fulfilment of God’s promises in our own personal circumstances? Romans chapter 5 tells us that tribulation produces perseverance, character and hope, with the end result that God’s love is poured into our hearts. But […]
Reprinted with permission from Our Inheritance, Winter 2006
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