Posted on May 10, 2022 by Mike LeDuke
I want to be happy, but I just don’t know how.
Maybe you’ve said this before — to a friend or to your spouse. Maybe you find that this thought repeats often in your head. Maybe things are good, but you just don’t feel good. Or, maybe circumstances are bad and they just pull you down.
But, joy changes all of that. Joy transcends circumstances. Joy transcends and overcomes feelings. Let’s just consider the apostle Paul.
When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, he was in a terrible situation. Repeatedly he notes that he was in prison (Philippians 1:7, 13, 14, 17). However, in each of these instances, he doesn’t bemoan his circumstances. Certainly Roman prison was no place for a party. Paul’s situation would not have been conducive to a healthy mental state, let alone happiness. Nevertheless, Paul’s words about his imprisonment are fascinating:
“It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (Philippians 1:7).
In this instance, he references the way he feels about the Philippian believers — that he was thanking God because of them (v. 3). Further, he acknowledged that God was working in them (v. 6). Despite his harrowing situation, he was praying to God in thankfulness and acknowledging that God’s work couldn’t be stopped. A few verses later, he mentions his chains again:
“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (vv. 12-14).
Rather than discussing how uncomfortable he felt or how frustrating his imprisonment was, Paul thought about how God had put him in that situation specifically to advance the gospel. Again, God was working.
Paul ends his letter with a reminder to the Philippians.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).
Despite his current suffering, he urged the believers to rejoice. And perhaps a final reminder in his last words:
“All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household” (Philippians 4:22).
This was just a confirmation of what Paul had said earlier. His imprisonment had served to share the gospel, even with those who lived in Caesar’s house.
So what was Paul’s secret? How could Paul rejoice and stay joyful?
His secret was that he saw a purpose in everything. He acknowledged that despite his being taken away from the believers in Philippi, God was still working in them. And, God was still using him to preach to those in Caesar’s household. Paul acknowledged that though God’s purpose might not have aligned with what he expected, God was continually working. Because of that, Paul could know that his goal that more and more people would come to know the Lord would be fulfilled.
Thus the secret to joy isn’t ignoring our emotions. It isn’t pretending. Instead, it’s aligning our goals with God’s. Because, when our goals match His, we can know that no matter our circumstances or our suffering, those goals will be fulfilled. We will not fail, because we are aligned with the One who never fails.
But, then, how do we know God’s goals? How can we align our goals with His? That is what we will explore, Lord willing, in the next post.
— Jason Hensley, PhD