Today, I'd like for us to consider some examples in the book of Acts of godly individuals rejoicing even in the midst of adversity.
Acts 5:40-42 - "...and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ." The apostles rejoiced in physical beatings and the suffering of shame for their Lord!
Acts 13:49-52 - "And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region. But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. But they shook off the dust from their feet against them, and came to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit." The disciples did not allow persecution or the expulsion of Paul and Barnabas to ruin their joy!
Acts 16:23-25 - "And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them." Paul and Silas, even after being severely whipped and imprisoned, still had joy in their hearts that they expressed in worship to God!
Acts 20:22-24 - "And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus to testify to the gospel of grace of God." Paul would not be deterred no matter what terrible fate awaited him; he determined to finish his life and work for the Lord with joy!
Friends, maintaining an attitude of joy is a challenge because of this sin-filled world in which we live. Satan is doing his best to get us to give up the joy we have in the Lord. However, I firmly believe that--like salvation--Satan cannot take our joy away, but he will try to get us to give it up (cf. John 16:22; 10:28). The devil has many "wiles" (Eph. 6:11). He tempts us with sin (i.e., he strives to shift our focus to personal pleasure and self-gratification). He blasts us with sorrow and pain (i.e., he tries to direct our attention toward self-pity and despair). He pours persecution upon us (i.e., he labors to make us aware that we could escape persecution if we would forsake the truth by compromising or by failing to proclaim the whole counsel of God). And, of course, he hopes that he can make us cold and indifferent (i.e., he endeavors to get us to give up the spiritual fight by making it difficult or seemingly unimportant).
We know that we are to pray for wisdom, but why not pray for joy also ("in faith, with no doubting" - James 1:5,6)? May we learn to rejoice always--in spite of people, in spite of circumstances, and in spite of things which cause the world to worry.