Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
Joy is missing in many lives. One pastor said: “Many Christians look like they’ve been baptised in vinegar.” Why? Circumstances have worn them down. Their joy is dependent upon a ‘perfect’ life, and there is no such thing. God has designed life to throw grit in the gears to move you toward himself and growing up. Joy is an internal, constant reality, but happiness is external, a fluctuating happening.
The Apostol Paul’s life, for example, was no ‘piece of cake’. He didn’t live in luxury and wear silk robes. He spent four years in jail—two in Caesarea; two in Rome—, all because of trumped-up charges. He was shipwrecked on the way to Rome, snake-bitten, chained to bodyguards 24-hours-a-day in four shifts with no privacy. Yet he said: “I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.”
What was his secret for staying positive in prison?
Accept Suffering as Normal
Paul writes in Philippians 1:13, “…I’m in chains for Christ.” What did he prefer? To go to Rome and hold an evangelistic crusade in the Colosseum with 50,000 people. What was reality? Prison, but with Nero footing the bill—fed and housed at government expense. Nero’s guards also protected him. Paul used the time to write much of the New Testament, and he had two years to convert many to the up-and-coming military men, who were chained to him on a rotating basis every four hours.
Fad exercise machines promoted on television try to convince you that their machine allows you to lose weight, get in shape, and never break a sweat. How preposterous! Muscles only develop when they are stressed, and fat is burned only when strenuous exercise puts demands on the body’s fuel supply. Genuine conditioning always includes exertion, pain and suffering. You have to push yourself to grow. Football and wrestling coaches often say, as they push their athletes in conditioning: “It’s not doing any good till it hurts.”
The lesson? God develops a purpose behind every one of my problems. In Paul’s case, as we read in Philippians 1:12-14, his problems:
- advanced the gospel (Verse 12: “What has happened to me … served to advance the gospel”)
- spoke to unbelievers (Verse 13: “…the whole palace guard…”)
- encouraged believers to evangelise (Verse 14: “…believers…gained confidence…”).
When we accept that problems are not meaningless, and we see that God develops a purpose behind each, we can have joy in the middle of it all. “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).
What is Paul’s secret to turn adversity to advantage?
Know What Is Important
Paul says in Philippians 1:18: “What does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” Paul could have been angry: All my life they’ve ripped on me. He could have been jealous: Someone else will become famous. He could have been vindictive: Just wait till I get out of here! Rather, knowing what was important—the gospel—Paul had joy!
With godly priorities, circumstances didn’t steal his joy. Proverbs 3:6 gives us the clue: “In everything you do, put God first, and he will direct you and crown your efforts with success” (TLB). Let that simmer in you. You see that much of what we fight over is not worth it. Pick your battles.
Don’t go to war over non-essentials. Learn what is trivial or insignificant. How does God help us put life in right order? In Philippians 1:19 Paul writes: “I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.” Jesus helped Paul keep hope alive. You’ve got to have hope to cope!
When daily ‘grit in the gears’ wears you out, or daily crises almost put you down, and you are sick and tired of being sick and tired: put God first. Focus on what really counts, and nothing can devastate you. Wound you? Yes, but it will not devastate you. Get God first.
Do the Most Necessary Thing
Philippians 1:24-25 says: “But it is more necessary for you that I remain… I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith.” Ready to die and wanting to go to heaven, Paul chose to do what was best for others. Paul had a purpose for which to live: the good news of grace. That purpose directed his decisions.
A woman wanted to get married in her early 20s, but her sense of duty to ageing parents made that impossible. She committed herself to caring for them in their illness. Nursing them for years made courtship impossible. But the right man was willing to wait. He in his upper 30s and she in her lower 30s, they finally married. They were blessed with two children. God honours those who do the necessary things.
If you had to complete this sentence: “For me to live is …”, what would you say? Career? Sex? Kids? Marriage? Nice house, sports, food, divorce, wealth, possessions, pleasure, power, prestige, position? Examining the trends in society today, you’d find that the three most common answers are:
- power or position.
We are a consumer-driven society. We believe that fulfilment comes via things. We strive to ‘keep up with the Joneses’, but as soon as we catch up to them, they refinance and shoot out ahead of us again. We buy things that we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t even like.
Consumer debt continues to rise through economic ups and downs. Credit card companies now pitch their cards to college students, some of whom run up bills of $10,000 to $20,000, even though they do not have jobs. Why? We buy the lie that things make us happy. And we highly value happiness.
Monday through Friday are endured so that we can party on weekends. Our motto: If it feels good, do it. We tie into the latest thing and fret if we are not going to see, taste or enjoy what others do. Yielding to peer pressure doesn’t end when you leave your teen years.
Power or position
Andre Agassi’s advertisements say it all: Image is everything! So, buying from the name stores is crucial. Owning the right car or truck is essential. Having a gold card to flash at lunch is vital. Having titles is seen as significant, and working for the right company is helpful.
All these things are seen as bringing fulfilment, but these don’t last. Only investing our lives in things that last really satisfy. Only what’s done for Christ will last.
As Paul wrestled with his own desires to get out from under the burden of house arrest and his coming execution, he decided that he needed to hang around:
- first, for the benefit of others;
- next, to bring the good news of forgiveness;
- and third, to encourage believers by his presence and faith.
What is the lesson here? Joy is found in putting Jesus first, others second, and yourself third. Simple? Yes! Simplistic? No! Doing the most necessary thing is the third secret for turning adversity to advantage.
Donald Trump, once with a $5-billion fortune and then nearly bankrupt, rebounded financially. He also divorced and remarried. Starting over seems to be something he likes. He told a television interviewer in 1994: “I like to make stars of my wives, but once they are, the challenge is gone. I need to look for something else to satisfy.”
Why is there so much unhappiness in society? Because of our preoccupation with me, myself and I! When self is number one, eventually unhappiness will abound. God has made man for relationships. Relationships work best when you put Jesus first, others second and yourself third. That is the foundational principle upon which God designed mankind.
SOURCE: Leslie Krobe, Preacher’s Magazine, December, January, February 1994