Living on a Prayer
Spiritual Maturity | Part 3 of 6
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” (Phil 4:4). Saint Paul offers first-century Philippians—and us—a dramatic challenge: Rejoice!
But what if we can’t? What if our road is difficult or dangerous? Would Saint Paul understand what our lives are like today? Won’t we look foolish if we “rejoice in the Lord always”? With problems like earthquakes and wars, trouble close to home, and deception and distrust at work and even among friends and family—will we look like we’re missing something if we rejoice?
Watch TV talk shows, listen to call-in radio programs, or sample blogs on the Internet. Clearly not everyone is rejoicing. We complain. We point fingers. We easily identify trouble all around us. What can we do about real problems?
If we rejoice, we will look countercultural. If we act to change things—if we live with hope—we will certainly look different from those around us. We may look like we are naive or like we know something different.
Yet we have a spiritual compass in the midst of our chaos and suffering—Jesus Christ, who has experienced the same depths of human experiences we have to the point of death on a cross. His brokenness brings us new life.
When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, he was not naive. He wrote from prison (1:12–13) and intimately knew struggle and hardship. He was aware that choosing to rejoice meant to give thanks even in the midst of strife.
We can come to God with anything
Rejoice! We don’t seek the kingdom of God to escape from the world but as a way to enter and change it. Ancient prayers, particularly the psalms, teach us a great deal about divine providence and about our own earthly humanity. In the psalms, David and others cry out to God in agony at moments while praying. In other moments, the sheer joy of living makes the psalmists rejoice. “I thank you, Lord, with all my heart” (138:1). We believe we serve the God who created “the earth…and all it holds” (24:1), a God who accompanied the Chosen People Israel out of Egypt into the Promised Land.
Some psalms may seem shocking as they express lamentation, anger, and sometimes even a desire for revenge: “Blessed the one who seizes your children and smashes them against the rock” (137:9). It can be disturbing to hear the psalmist pray like this. Though the psalms are complicated, they instruct us to be honest in our prayers and entrust God with our lives in times of difficulty and of great happiness. God knows our suffering and frustration and understands the depths of our pain. As we face the depths of life, God will accompany and transform us both in moments of joy and of great suffering.
In earlier reflections on spiritual maturity, we examined the notion that through pain, we can deepen our relationship with God and find that we are not alone in our struggle. Our relationship with Jesus Christ can lead us through any valley, any darkness. (See Psalm 23.)
Maturity is a tall order. Finding our bearings in the face of modern life will depend on mature prayer—on how we grow to trust in Christ.