Tis the season! This one of my favorite seasons of the year. I love everything about this time of year. The hustle and bustle. The decorations and the pageantry. The music and the sacredness of the season. I love it. But not everyone is like me. The reality is that the holidays sometimes cause more pain and more heartache than they do times of Joy.
I have been reading through Philippians and in Philippians 4 Paul mentions the word Rejoice multiple times. Rejoice Always Paul says. But have you ever wondered how it was that Paul was able to be so filled with Joy?
How was it that Paul could say Rejoice in the Lord Always. Always? Really?
Like all the time always? I don’t know about you but there are times when always is hard. Always sounds like in the good and the bad. In success and failure. In prosperity and depravity, in win or lose. I don’t know about rejoicing always.
It’s easy to rejoice always when life is good, but…what about when life isn’t good, what then?
What happens when we don’t have the latest and greatest thing to hit the department stores? What happens when we are drinking our morning coffee from a cup that is just red and looks more like a valentines day cup than a Christmas cup?
What happens when our spouse comes home and wants a divorce? What happens when we failed that exam, or bombed an important work presentation?
What happens when we hear the news of people – innocent people going about their day – hurt and killed by others who did not value human life.
How can we rejoice, always then?
Can we all just take a minute and be real with one another – there are indeed times life well, life just sucks.
It’s as if we have entered the movie Alexander and terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day – and it’s on rewind – because someone was kind.
Even though we know that life isn’t always going to line up perfectly, it would be nice to not have a curve ball thrown at us all the time.
So how in the midst of these circumstances can we rejoice always and live a joy-filled life?
Well we can start by looking at Paul.
If anyone knows about bad days and what it takes to be joyful in the midst of life happening it’s Paul.
We need to understand that Paul was not superhuman. Paul was not someone that was filled with this special ability to overcome insurmountable odds and still come out smiling and smelling like roses at the end.
Paul was simply a sinner saved by the grace of God and he refused to let anyone or anything steal the Joy he had in Jesus.
Paul understood having a bad day. Paul understood an entire week falling apart. Paul understood seasons of life that were filled with setbacks, difficulties, hardships and circumstances that left him in not-so-good places.
And yet – even in the midst of being chained to the wrist of a prison guard 24 hours a day – making any escape virtually impossible, Paul found the ability to rejoice always. Check out what he says in the later part of Philippians 4.
“I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
Paul was not in need – because Paul learned to be content.
Contentment is not natural to most of us. It is something we must learn – and it will take time – learning to be content will not necessarily happen over night.
Time and time again life put Paul in circumstance after circumstance that were not so good – circumstances that you and I would try and avoid at all cost – and in the midst of those places in life Paul figured out – he learned – how to be content regardless of where he was at.
Now we need to understand what Paul is talking about when he says he has learned to be content.
In it’s very definition content means to be in a state of peaceful happiness – we like kids in this state – especially when they are sleeping.
However when we say we are content sometimes we jump to the idea that we are comfortable – ok with where we are – which can lead to not moving forward. There is a big difference between the contentment Paul talk about and being comfortably content.
In fact we often talk against such contentment because when we are content in certain aspects of life we fail to grow in our relationships with others and with God – we get stuck just being good and never more towards greatness.
The contentment that Paul speaks of is not something that can be satisfied by circumstance or material things – in fact when we focus on those things to bring about our contentment, we usually end up being more discontented than anything else.
Our joy – our contentment will never come from material things or outward circumstances – never – because at some point those material things will disappoint and life will give us some terrible circumstances – therefore we can never rely on those things to satisfy our need.
Contentment is always an inside job. It has everything to do with what is going on inside of us, not what is going on outside. It has only one source. That source is found in a soul satisfying relationship with God who cares for us and promises to meet us where we are – on good days and bad.
True contentment is something that comes from God and God alone – this is the contentment that Paul talks about.
When Paul says I do not need anything because I have learned to be content – he describes a complete sufficiency in Christ – not a self-sufficiency in the things of this world, but a complete sufficiency in Christ and – that’s all he needs – regardless of the circumstance he’s in.
How did Paul learn to be content? The answer is found in Philippians 4:13. Paul says in Phil. 4:13 “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
What Paul is saying is – look – regardless of my circumstances I can be content. I can be filled with Joy because I can do everything. I can make it through any circumstance. I can because God is giving me the strength to take that next step.
So when we say, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength,” we are claiming that regardless of the good and the bad we can make it through. That doesn’t mean it won’t be painful. It doesn’t mean that things won’t be difficult. What it does mean is that because our contentment and joy aren’t based on our present circumstances, but in the full sufficiency of Christ, we can proclaim Blessed be your name Lord Jesus, and we can rejoice in the Lord always – in the good and the bad.
Paul learned contentment. In order to learn something one must practice. So here are a few ways to practice living a joy-filled life so when that day comes, and we are thrown a curve ball, we too can say like Paul, “I have learned to be content in all things and I am able to do this because I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
Seven ways to live a joy filled life:
- Don’t avoid the negative. As much as we want to avoid the negative and ignore the bad things in life we must learn to embrace these situations for what they are – not fun, uncomfortable and cause much discontent. The irony is that it is often in those uncomfortable and discontented moments of life when we find the most comfort and contentment in Jesus. Don’t seek out the negative, but don’t avoid if you find yourself in it. Embrace it and look for the small glimmers of hope each and every day.
- Celebrate the small wins of the day. This is a huge one for me. Celebrating the small wins means we acknowledge that sometimes the fact that we are alive is reason enough to smile. We understand that forward movement comes from small calculate steps, rather than giant uncalculated leaps. Celebrate the small wins and in that look for how God is working and moving in those spaces and in your life.
- Learn to accept that certain things are out of your control. Whether we like to admit it or not, there will be things that happen that we cannot control. Instead of dwelling on those things and constantly being frustrated, realize that they are outside our control. They are beyond what we are given to handle and the more frustrated we get, the more unhappy we become.
- Smile. Have you ever noticed how there are times when it seems that Christians are some of the most unhappy looking people on the planet? We have a lot to smile about – we have Jesus and that alone should cause us to at least look happy, right? In fact I want you to practice smiling. So here you go: 1, 2, 3 -SMILE! See that wasn’t so bad was it? Studies have shown the more we smile the happier we are – it sounds logical at least. So randomly in the middle of your day, just smile, even if you are having a terrible day, just smile.
- Breath – often. Instead of flying off the handle simply pause for a moment and take a deep breath. I know it may sound silly, but it works. There are times when I breath then smile with a small chuckle – not to make light of the situation – but again to focus on something other than the seemingly bad situation – or moment that may cause incredible frustration. Breathe often.
- Give. Give to something or someone else – whether that is your time, your money, your talents, your words of wisdom – give of yourself to something or someone else. Pay – it – Forward – those are always fun – especially if you are in front of me in the drive thru at Starbucks. Giving helps us see life is not about us – but about how we can be used by God to make an impact in the larger scope of things.
- Pray and begin to focus on the vertical more than the horizontal. Keep your eyes on Jesus – more so than the things and the problems of this world. The problems of this world are many and if we spend all our time focusing on them we will find ourselves having very little to be joyful about. Continually pray in the good and the bad and focus on Jesus being enough.
If we can do these things – every day – we will have learned as Paul did to be content and live with a joyful heart in all circumstances through the power and strength that comes only from Christ.