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This year, where I live in Canada, we have been longing for Spring, but it is seems so slow in arriving. Everyone around me is tired of the cold, the snow and the grey days. We long for sunshine and warm temperatures. It is interesting how the weather and other circumstances in our life can affect our moods. That wasn’t the case for the Apostle Paul; if anyone had reason to be discouraged, he did. Among other things he was beaten, shipwrecked and imprisoned. (II Corinthians 11:24-33) He endured hardship after hardship; yet he continued to rejoice, and to exhort others to rejoice also.

Philippians 4:4 is not the first time in this letter that Paul encourages the people of Philippi, and by extension us, to rejoice. (Philippians 3:1) The entire emphasis of this letter is joy. For Paul, joy was not the result of circumstances, but found in his relationship with the Lord. Paul was also able to see the blessings that surrounded him. Not only had he been brought through all the trials mentioned above, but in Philippians 4:3 he recalled the names of his fellow workers and that their names were written in the book of life. He focused on the great rewards of their service, not on the hardships they would encounter along the way. Although he knew first-hand what kind of hardships there could be, and that they would encounter more of them, he continued to remind the Philippians to rejoice. It was not a natural reaction to circumstances, but a discipline, an intentional act of devotion to God. Joy is a part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and a sign of true faith. If we really believe that we have given control of our lives over to a sovereign God, and we believe that He only wants what is best for us (Jeremiah 29:11, Luke 11:9-13), that His grace is sufficient (II Corinthians 12:9) and that there is a purpose for our trials (James 1:2-4), we will be able to have joy even in the most trying of circumstances.

I have heard people say on numerous occasions that the best way to cheer up your spirit is to read the book of Philippians, Paul’s letter to the people of Philippi, every day for a month. So I challenge you, for the month of May, in an attempt to bring the encouragement for which you would usually depend on Spring, to read Philippians once a day. Sign up to “attend” our Facebook event for a daily, gentle reminder. In the next several posts, to prepare for our month of rejoicing, I will focus on some of the other memos from God found in Philippians 4.

I would like to illustrate Philippians 4:19-20 with a personal story.

Almost six years ago my husband and I moved to a new town and bought a house.  This could be a much longer story if I told you all the things that have gone wrong with this house since we moved in, but that is not the main point.  Suffice to say that we have had to do a lot of major repairs, and it has been a drain on our finances.  I should also mention that we live in Canada, in an area affectionately known as the snowbelt.

This house has a fairly large driveway.  Since I work from home, and my husband goes to an office every day, I have made it my responsibility to shovel the snow so that by the time he gets home in the evening he can drive right into a clear driveway without having to go over the pile that the snowplow has left at the end.  This is a time-consuming and sometimes arduous task, but I have seldom minded doing it.

We have a lot of dog owners in our neighbourhood, and they walk by our house frequently.  Almost every time I have been out shovelling the driveway, one or more of my well-meaning neighbours has said, “You need to get a snowblower.”  The first few times that happened I explained that we had higher priorities.  After a while, although I started to get a little tired of the advice, I would just smile and agree.   Over the years, two different neighbours have each helped once when they thought that the task seemed too daunting for me.  These occurrences of helpful neighbours are unfortunately rare, happening on average once every three years.

About a month ago, while stopped at a stop sign, I was struck by a vehicle that had made an unsafe turn.  I am still in a fair amount of pain, and I suffer sometimes debilitating headaches.  Since then my husband has pitched in to take care of all the household duties that I used to do, including the shovelling.  I know that he really doesn’t like to shovel, and he was much happier when I was doing it.  Being the compassionate guy he is though, he cares more about my health than about my contribution to the task.  Nonetheless, I felt bad about it.

One day, after a particularly heavy snowfall, I lamented on my Facebook status that now I wish that we did own a snowblower, so that my husband didn’t have to do all that shovelling.  A conversation ensued that included reasons why we should have a snowblower, where to find a used one, aren’t there any kids in the neighbourhood looking for odd jobs, and don’t I have any neighbours that would be willing to help.  Interestingly, there is a snowblower at just about every house on the street, and despite the advice that I need to get one of my own, no one has ever offered to lend or rent one to me, or to clear my driveway for a fee.  Nor have I had any kids coming to the door looking for work.

Now, let me get to the point of this story.  A day or two after that Facebook conversation, my best friend, who lives about an hour away, called me on the telephone.  She said, “I bought you a snowblower.  All you have to do is come and pick it up.”  I was flabbergasted.  Even a used snowblower is quite a large gift.  Ironically, she bought it from her neighbour who clears her driveway for her.  He was relieved to find out that it was for someone else and that he wasn’t losing a client.  And the point:  It came in a completely unexpected way, but God did definitely supply our need.  Is He prompting you to help a neighbour, a friend or a total stranger?  You could be the way that He supplies a need for someone else.