“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Philippians 4:4 (NIV)
Xavier dos Santos, a Baptist pastor in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, having come home from hospital after unsuccessful surgery and the doctors saying there was no more they could do, discovered that his son Filipe needed to be admitted to hospital because he was inexplicably urinating blood. With his own death looming large and not being able to be by his beloved son, Xavier cried out, “God, I’m at peace with what is happening to me, but not with my son!”
When we feel impotent, helpless, desperate, between a rock and a hard place; how should we respond? When the going gets tough, really tough, what should we do? Xavier, in reflecting on his situation, came to the understanding that God wanted him to go a bit further, to do something which to human eyes and ears was impossible in the light of all that was happening. In Xavier’s words, God “wants us to rejoice. He wants us to exalt Him, despite all these things. Even through the tears . . .”
Hearing that God “wants us to rejoice” in times of sickness and death sounds foreign, strange, bizarre, out of whack with any reasonable emotional response. In the face of his pain and anguish is Xavier out of touch with reality? Is he in denial? Is he a stoic of the highest calibre? Or is he deluded? You be the judge. In reflecting on his situation Xavier says, “This is not about our being strong people, special people, etc., etc., etc . . . This is centred on the fact that ‘the joy of the Lord is our strength.’ Long before us, Habakkuk had already experienced this when he said: ‘. . . yet, I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God, my Saviour.’ This is our standard. It is not an exception! It is for you as you begin your day today! It is for me, as I go visit Filipe in the hospital soon. It is for Clenir, for Fábio, for Luana (Xavier’s family). It is for all of us.”
Xavier wasn’t delirious when he wrote the words you’ve just read and he didn’t understand it all himself. But he did discover, as he says, “. . . that true spiritual warfare, if we are using the term correctly, does not occur in the arena of the demonstration of God’s power, for Satan knows what God can do better than we. God can cure me. He can cure Filipe. He was able to open the Red Sea. He can resurrect the dead. He can do what He wants, when He wants, in the manner He wants, where He wants. He is the GREAT I AM! This, therefore, is not true spiritual warfare. Spiritual warfare is in the arena of worship, of joy, of praise.”
That’s quite a thought, isn’t it? When we read in God’s Word; “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4), we are in fact reading about the reality of spiritual warfare, about fighting the good fight, about life in the trenches, and about the grace of God.