Philippians 4: 4-7, 11-13 “Beyond Circumstances” 1/19/2020

Rev. Jerry W. Krueger Boardman UMC

Today in our 3rd sermon of this Happy series, we address Beyond Circumstances. Week One we spoke of the importance of good relationships with God, ourselves, and with other people. Last week we spoke of the Art of Forgiveness, that moving toward forgiveness of self, or others, is a pathway to a more whole, well lived life.

Remember, we’re talking about something much deeper than the emotion of happiness. Scripture describes this as an abiding sense of peace, hope, joy. Despite having a lousy day filled with unexpected news or downturns in life, with this level of contentment independent of daily circumstances, we find true happiness in Christ.

Apostle Paul, formerly Saul the Christian persecutor, was preacher and teacher, planting churches and staying in contact by letter. One church was in Asia Minor, in the city of Philippi.

Paul writes from a Roman prison cell facing a death sentence. Read (Philippians 4: 4-7) this is often called “The Letter of Joy.”

Paul doesn’t know his future and could chastise, blame, rage against, and abandon God. Paul’s being punished for what God called him to do. He’s given up everything to follow God’s call on his life. He could be resentful and bitter but writes, “Be glad in the Lord always!” Not just when it suits you, Always.

Paul notes how prison allowed him to convert prison guards and fellow prisoners. His witness inspires others who are under difficult circumstances to share their own faith.

Paul doesn’t say prison is good. He’s saying, “God does not cause bad things to happen to us; God is present and creating good even in our bad circumstances – if we have the eyes to see it.”

You and I know persons who have suffered significant loss. Loss of a loved one, work, finances, status. And many, after a loss, have thrived as a result of seeing life differently.

We know individuals who have set up foundations, scholarships, and funds following tragedy that benefit others. Patience, endurance, resolve, conflict resolution, resourcefulness, creativity, all these things can result from trying situations.

What is the secret to joy and peace for you? The same as Paul’s.

Let’s address 4 keys to lasting happiness with life AS IT IS, NOT as you wish it were.

1. Living in the Present

Philippians 4: 6 states, “Don’t be anxious about anything.” Living in the Present forces us to NOT live in the past, and not be anxious for the unknown future.

Christ said in Matthew 6:34, “Stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Ain’t that the truth?

Living in the present reduces anxiety, wakes us up to what is true about our lives, and helps us maintain joy in difficult, stressful situations.

Anyone here a little impatient? Stuck in line, having to wait, I can fuss and stew and whine, or I can look at my Bible Gateway app and read a lesson or two, or say a prayer of thanks. Maybe the frustrating moments, can be turned into joyful ones.

We see our lives chronologically, from what’s occurred in the past, to today, and then what we anticipate the future will be. The daily living of my life is unknown, but despite not knowing that, I know victory awaits me. Scripture’s truth is Jesus was crucified, died, and rose from the dead. I/ We know the end of the story.

Despite life’s difficulties, I can experience joy and peace now, not based on life in THIS moment, but anchored to the future that I know is secure in God. Seeing things differently is a step on the path to lasting happiness.

2. Change your perspective

When I moved to Midland, Texas in far West Texas, it required a new perspective from me. Midland is 300 miles from El Paso, 300 miles from Dallas, 300 miles from San Antonio. You can think it is far removed from everywhere, OR it is the center of everything.

Or the optical illusion, one looks like a candle stick, the other two people facing each other. It is about perception and how we choose to see things.

Paul is very much the human. He fusses, whines, and talks bad about his enemies. But in prison his perspective changes.

Cultivating a new point of view means not giving in to the circumstances of life. Not accepting suffering or hardship as God’s will. It means not letting circumstance suck the joy from life.

3. Be grateful

Sometimes we think, “if I had a new job, more money, new significant other, if my health improved, all would be fine. But Philippians 4: 4 says, “Be Glad in the Lord Always.”

Gratitude is connected to lasting happiness. You ask a friend, “How are things?” and the litany of negatives cascades out. But Gratitude works for us in even in dark circumstance. This is not a head in the sand approach to life. It is operating in reality. Reality that health issues may take your life, monetary issues will be a struggle, perhaps that the relationship you desire may not be restored, or even materialize.

Even in darkness, we can be grateful for the friends who surround us and pray for us, lift us up, help us. That is something to be joyful about. Try this for a week, before bed: write 3 things you are grateful for. After a while, gratitude may become a habit.

4. Let go of the need to control

We can’t control the actions of others, the economy, or kids after a point, because they have freedom to choose their own paths. We can’t control diseases or death.

We have to acknowledge, there is a rhythm to life, just like the seasons here in Ohio.

In Ecclesiastes 3:1, we hear, “There is a season for everything and time for every matter under the heavens. A time for birth, a time for death, a time for planting, a time for harvesting, a time for tearing down and one for building.”

We want to concretely map our lives, but what happens when the factory or company closes its doors? Falcon Trucking. Steel Mills.

What happens when the stock market craters as does your 401(K)? Or what happens when a loved one dies?

Seasons of life change. We know that.

My children are in a season of raising kids and are engaged in careers. My 97 year old dad’s life season no longer allows driving, but he still lives at home, with constant care, dependent on others.

Sometimes we need seasons of planting, sometimes pruning. We may begin thinking about downsizing from the home we raised kids in. Or selling a car, boat, or travel trailer, because life has changed.

Philippians 4: 13, says, “I can endure all things through the power of one who gives me strength.”

Paul trusts God is in control, stating, “I can hope, I can feel joy, I can find lasting happiness and inner peace, because I recognize God is in control.”

When our happiness is not rooted in another person, or money, or accumulation or stuff, when our happiness is fixed in God… it is secure.

Knowing my own happiness is not people based, I can cultivate contentment even on bad days, or bad months, or bad years.

God does not vacillate, God is in control and is consistent. We can rely on God’s truth, love, promises, and God’s presence.

Let’s review what we spoke of today:

  • Live in the present
  • Change your Perspective
  • Be grateful
  • Let go of the need to control

Is there one particular step you want to focus on? If so, write it down and begin working on it.

I want to close with the Serenity prayer, used in Al Anon and AA. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.

  August 2020  
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