Rejoice in the Lord Always – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Br. Geoffrey TristramPhilippians 4:4-9

Jane was a member of my congregation when I was a parish priest in England.  She was a remarkable woman with great faith, but who had suffered so much over the past years as her husband struggled with cancer.  She was brave, courageous, resilient, but it was clear the light had gone out of her life.  But I remember, on one New Year’s Day, she came up to me in church and said, “Geoffrey, I’ve made a New Year’s Resolution – or rather a new year’s prayer.”  I remember thinking, O good – maybe she’s going to travel or get a new job.  “No, she said, not that.  I’m going to ask God for JOY again in my life.  I want the gift of JOY.”

I’d never heard anyone say that to me before – but I can honestly say that God did answer her prayer, and as the year went on, I saw her come alive again.  God gave her the gift of joy.  It was beautiful to see.

Joy.  “Rejoice in the Lord always, I say, and again I say rejoice!” (Phil 4:4)  These wonderful words from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  I don’t know any other book in the Bible which is so infused with joy.  And yet this letter of joy is written by Paul from prison.  In the midst of great suffering and possibly of death, here’s Paul absolutely overflowing with joy!  He writes, “I am constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for you all.” (Phil 1:4)  “Yes, I will continue to rejoice – I rejoice greatly in the Lord.” (Phil 4:10)  How could he be so joyful when his outward circumstances were so dire?

Clearly joy is not the same as happiness.  Happiness is triggered externally – when things are going well, when life is good.  But joy, it seems to me, comes from within.  You can know joy even in the most appalling circumstances.  Joy comes from within, and Paul tells us that joy is a gift from God, one of the gifts of the Spirit – a gift which is there for the asking.

So how did Paul get this gift of joy, bubbling up within him, and more to the point, how might we get joy.  I believe I know what joy is in my life – but I also know what it’s like when I am joyless.  So what is your experience of joy?  Are you joyful?  Some of you here today might be feeling that you have lost joy – that the light has gone out of your life.  Or maybe you’ve forgotten what it was like to be filled with joy.  Maybe some circumstance, some event in your life, or some experience of loss or diminishment, and you have kind of forgotten what it was like to be joyful and full of life.  But the truth is, that God does want to fill us all with joy.  In John’s Gospel chapter 16, Jesus says these beautiful words to his friends, “You will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy – and no one will ever take your joy from you.” (John 16:20)  That’s a promise.  The joy God longs to give us cannot be taken away by any external circumstances, however dire.  God longs to give us the gift of joy.

So today, if you find yourself, like my dear friend Jane, longing for joy again – how do you get it back?

Well, Paul, in this short passage from Philippians chapter 4 verses 4-9 gives us three very clear, practical ways to recover this gift of joy.

First, he says in verse 6, and it’s a great motto to learn and remember, (I had it on a card), he says, “Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything.”

I said earlier that I believe happiness is triggered by external circumstances – and so is unhappiness.  Each day is full of things that make us happy but also anxieties and events which make us unhappy.  Up and down.  But if you start the day with a quiet time with Jesus, in prayer, in stillness, something very amazing happens.

Happiness is triggered by the external events of the day – but joy, I think, at least for me, comes when I make peace with who I am, and I make peace with why I am.

In the morning I re-establish who I most truly am.  My deepest identity.  In my prayer with Christ, I know again that I belong to him, that I am his, that I am beloved, redeemed, set free.  This re-confirmation of who I am can fill me with joy.  Whatever happens in the day can’t take that away.

And this time of prayer also helps me make peace with why I am.  I am here for a purpose: to love and glorify God and to be Christ’s body in the world.  And that gives me joy.

If you know who you are and why you are, there is a joy and a freedom given – which no one and no circumstances can take away from you.

And into that precious place of quiet with Jesus, you can bring all your cares and worries, and anxieties, and give them to him.  “Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything.” (Phil 4:7)

And the second way to get joy into your life comes from verse 8.  “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable…think about these things.”  These beautiful words are actually about practicing mental discipline.  Paul is saying that what you choose to think about, to read, to look at will have an effect on you.  What we look at, what we gaze at, what we listen to, what we imagine effect our souls.  In our world of social media and information technology, Paul’s words are particularly instructive.  If you have no guard, no discipline about which images and how many images you allow to bombard your imagination, this can do violence to your soul, and can take away your joy.  “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is pure, think about these things,” says Paul.

So, I would say, practically, when you wake in the morning, don’t open your internet, or read the papers, until you have first said good morning to God.  Have a prayer, or a psalm that you say first thing, to greet God, to reaffirm who you are, and why you are.  Rediscover joy first thing in the morning: think on what is true, and lovely, and honorable and pure, before you face the world – and Facebook.

Then thirdly, the 3rd way Paul wants us to get joy into our lives is at the very end of verse 6.  “Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything” and pray with thanksgiving.  Paul is always giving thanks.  To the Philippians he says “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy for all of you.” (Phil 1:3-4)  Even when things go wrong, even when he is suffering he gives thanks.

I thank my God in all circumstances.

In my own experience, when I start giving thanks, instead of moaning or complaining, that’s when something inside changes, and in a mysterious way I open myself to receive the gift of joy.  I think Paul would say, if you want joy in your life, start practicing giving thanks.  A good time to start is when you wake up.  Greet God, and give thanks.  Maybe choose 5 things, and say I am not going to think of anything until I’ve named 5 things for which I am thankful.

But then the end of the day is a wonderful time to give thanks.  Spend a little bit of time gently reflecting on the day: what happened.  What gave you joy?  Keeping a spiritual journal can be a great way of reflecting on the day – and giving thanks.  This practice of giving thanks for everything helps you remember the simple things: the food you’ve eaten, people you’ve met, a kind word, the sounds of nature.  Thank you Lord for this amazing day.  And that gift of joy may come bubbling up.

The Letter to the Philippians is a beautiful letter – my favorite of Paul’s letters, as you may have guessed.  I commend it to you to read and pray with.  As you pray with it, listen again to Paul’s wise words about how to rediscover joy.

  1. Don’t worry about anything – pray about everything.
  2. Whatever is true, pure and lovely – think on those things.
  3. Pray to God at all times with thanksgiving.


Seek joy – and the peace of God, which passes all understanding will guard
your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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  1. Boyd on October 23, 2022 at 11:39

    Thank you, Brother Tristram for your joyful message. I am going to turn to Philippians today.

  2. Nick on October 22, 2022 at 08:00

    I thank God, and I thank you, Geoffrey, for this reflection — just what I needed this morning!

  3. Peter in NH on February 23, 2021 at 13:14

    Recently, I’ve been wondering when I should pray the morning office: First thing in the morning immediately after getting up, or after I’ve had breakfast and read the morning paper (when I’m more awake and attentive). The latter has been my standard practice for a while.

    I think your blog post here has helped me make up my mind: First thing in the morning it is!

    After all, the saying goes: “Lord open our lips, and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.”

  4. Laurel (Wallace) Williams on February 23, 2021 at 11:51

    I have gotten into the habit of checking my news feed every morning over the last 4 years. But I’m trying to ease that fear and feel safe. In God I am safe and I want to feel it as well. Thank you for reminding me that cultivating joy and gratitude is the way to peace.

  5. Elizabeth Clifford on February 23, 2021 at 11:16

    An attitude of gratitude – a sure pathway to Joy! Thank you, Brother Geoffrey, for this beautiful meditation and reminder to awaken always – and go to sleep each night – with prayer and thanksgiving in our hearts.

  6. Lee Graham on February 23, 2021 at 08:57

    Thank you Br. Geoffrey for all the reminders you so aptly pointed out in your sermon. I especially like the concept of remembering “who you are” and “whose you are”. Today is the first day of my seeking to regain my Joy. I arrived at the top of a mountain yesterday to retreat and meditate on where my Joy has gone. God is my Joy and my deepest longing. You have echoed my heart in your sermon. Thank you for being who you are!

  7. Margaret Joffrion on February 23, 2021 at 08:45

    Dear Brother Geoffrey, Thank you for affirming my Lenten practice this year. I had fallen into the unhealthy practice of looking at the news first on my phone this past chaotic year. Chaos produces chaos, and even though I had a time of Centering prayer, scripture afterwards, the day had already begun with chaos as a focus. For Lent this year I gave up the news! until the evening. Everything you said rings so true. Thank you for such a practical and deeply spiritual aid to regain joy. I pray your Lent is going well. Blessings to you today.

  8. the Rev. Jim Houston on February 23, 2021 at 07:46

    After our first grandson turned one he began staying overnight with us, Nana and Buppa, once a week. We set up his crib at the foot of our bed.
    On that first ever morning, as the rising sun filled the window with light, Milo pulled his self up in the crib and said in a voice filled with awe, “Woke up, Buppa! Woke up!”
    Milo is now fifteen. I’m eighty-seven. I still stand up first thing every morning and say, with thanksgiving, , “Woke up, Abba! Woke up!”

    • Jim Houston on February 23, 2021 at 08:00

      Me again.
      I see my name got misspelled. “Houston”, inherited from my fourth great grandfather, a plantation owner in South Carolina who made an unnamed enslaved African woman my fourth great grandmother..

  9. Julianne Lindemann on February 23, 2021 at 07:09

    Thank you Br. Tristram. I now start each morning with a prayer, a cup of tea and the Daily Word. Yes, they are centering and inaugurate joy each day. Bless you for this beautiful wisdom.

  10. The Rev. William Winston on October 7, 2020 at 12:35

    Llongyfarchiadau i chi! Have a great day on the anniversary of your Initial Profession! God grant you many years! Blessings! And thank for your concise Three Points. Clearly, the soul of wit.

  11. Diane on October 7, 2020 at 09:09

    I love Paul – the earliest writer of the new testament. And the back story – of Saul who persecuted the Christians. And on the road to Damascus when he was struck blind. He heard a voice saying “Go to the house of Ananias where you will be healed! I had the great good fortune to do some fascinating traveling (when I was much younger and more adventurous). And – I traveled to Damascus – walked on that road and there in the basement which was at the house the house where he was healed. The building on that road was where the animals the travelers stayed. In the basement was contained a large stone with Christian symbols were carved. It was amazing. And, of course, Saul became Paul. The earliest writer of the new testament. I had bought a book there which covered the travels of Paul. Gave it to my pastor – a beautiful book with maps telling this story. How I love Paul.

  12. Rev Dr Melinda Contreras-Byrd on October 7, 2020 at 08:57

    As a clinical psychologist I am struck by how much God’s word speaks to the human condition.
    This meditation is a perfectly crafted intervention for battling clinical depression and anxiety disorders, and building psychological resilience building. I will be sending it out as is, to my Christian clients
    Thanks and blessings for sharing.

  13. Dr. Russell K Carter on October 7, 2020 at 07:55

    I wrote this poem for advent last year:

    Joy of Advent

    watch and listen
    a surprise awaits
    a wonderful invitation
    unique, challenging
    deep inside – Love, goodness
    reach to others
    embrace them,
    as fellow travelers,
    the same trials, indecisions
    let gentleness and Love
    be evident to all
    put aside anxieties
    with prayer and thanksgiving
    let goodness thrive
    listen to our inner voice
    allow God to open our hearts
    to His goodness
    anticipate the joy of Advent
    the joy of meeting God, again
    for the first time,
    face to face,
    as one meets a lost friend.

  14. Patricia Betts on October 9, 2019 at 05:59

    Thank you, Brother. This is a good reminder on how to stay centred. We have so much information
    Coming at us it is really important to prioritise what we will dwell on. God Bless You and
    The other Brothers. Thank you for your dedication which benefits so many.

  15. Anita Booth on October 8, 2019 at 11:48

    I’m sending this to my son in prison. He’s finished a BTh and Masters in Biblical Studies and is starting a MTh

  16. John greenman on October 8, 2019 at 10:38

    Brother Tristram,
    I’m putting your three points on the refrigerator; so that I won’t overeat.
    Your message gave me great joy!
    John G.

  17. Margaret Dungan on October 8, 2019 at 10:30

    Dear Br. Geoffrey, Thank you for these wonderful words on how to begin each day.


  18. Pamela Post-Ferrante on October 8, 2019 at 09:45

    Thank you for such a clear guideline for joy in our days. I do all of those things but not always, not everyday,and not with the intention of joy.
    I particularly love the idea of shifting from worry to prayer.

  19. Jeanne DeFazio on October 8, 2019 at 08:39

    What a beautiful teaching. I passed it on!

  20. Jonathan Hansen on October 8, 2019 at 08:01

    Thank you Brother Geoffrey for reminding me that joy is still available and valuable. By starting my day in peace and giving thanks for my life and those in my life that help bring me joy is a good practice I shall concentrate on. Allowing myself to feel real joy is something I need to work on. I tend to worry to much about things thus allowing my joy to diminish through the day. Thank you so much for the words today and the story of Jane. I will work on giving thanks and allowing myself to feel true joy every day.


  21. JANE DOWRICK on October 8, 2019 at 05:16

    the daily “word” from you and the other brothers is how I begin my day – those words, and the longer sermons that I often click on to hear more do bring me joy – I also read the daily morning office from Mission St. Clare, and Richard Rohr’s daily posting – I guess I’m loading up on joy with all this – some mornings I choose just one of these, but I totally agree that it’s so important to begin the day with a connection to God – thank you!

  22. Mary Henton on September 2, 2018 at 07:25

    Thank for these wise words. You have reframed and reminded me about concrete and effective steps to “discovering joy.” In this time of vitriol, name-calling, and acts of inhumanity it is too easy for me to give into hang-wringing, worrying, and frustration. My focus turns to all that is wrong or disturbing. The simple act of praising God and naming gifts for which I’m grateful upon wakening makes a difference.

  23. Bobbi Fisher on August 16, 2018 at 14:13

    Thank you for that reminder to start the day giving thanks. When I do that, as you say, something shifts, and I start my day with God, not with worries.

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