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About this series
I Choose Peace
How to Quiet Your Heart in the Chaos of Life
Why is it that as soon as we get that house, that job, that car, that, "you-fill-in-the-blank," the shine wears off so quickly - the horizon just keeps moving, and we never really experience peace? In this series, Chip unmasks a vicious opponent that's constantly poised to steal our peace and create an all-consuming discontent. If you’re ready for a spiritual journey of adventure and an intimacy with God like you’ve never known before, this series, from Philippians, Chapter 4, is the road map you're looking for.More from this series
I’ve got a good friend, and we have some similarities. He’s kind of an intense guy, and he has a lot of responsibility in his job, and he’s stuck. Some of you are stuck in your marriage, some are stuck in your jobs, some are stuck with your parents, some are stuck at school, but you know what it’s like when you’re trying, trying, trying, trying, trying – bam! And no matter what you do, you can’t break through. And you’re just bummed out, and you say, “Unless this changes, unless this changes, unle –” That’s where he’s at. He’s tried everything. He’s got a lot of wherewithal to make things – he can’t make it . . .
And he sat down and he said, “You know something?” Said, “God spoke to me.” Pulled out this pen and – we were meeting the other morning, having a little coffee. Said, “You know what I did?” He said, “You know what? God, I can’t change that. I’ve done all that I can.” And he took out a pen and then he wrote – he said, “Okay, here’s what I did. I wrote down God, family, me,” and then he put lines through them like this, then he put a line underneath.
He said, “Now, in my heart, what I – what I say is that it’s God first, family, then me.” And he said, “I looked at that, and I did a little P&L. You know, I kind of did a little inventory and said, is God really first in my life? In other words, I can’t change; I’m stuck. I’ve hit this thing that I can’t move, and so I’m saying, ‘Okay, God, You can move it.’ So, if it’s not moving, maybe You want to teach me something. What do You want to teach me about my relationship with You, about my family, and about me?”
And he said, “I literally wrote down where I thought I was at.” And he said, “I have the saying ‘God’s first,’ but I looked at all my activities and my energy – a lot more me than God. I was saying, ‘Oh, honey, family, you’re really what matters,’ but when I looked at my life . . .” And then he just told me, “You know, I reorganized, reprioritized, and I moved some things to say, ‘Okay, I want to learn. I want to learn.’”
See the difference? God’s number one agenda, His number one priority – this is going to be hard to take – it’s not to make you happy. It’s not so you’ll be self-actualized, at the top pinnacle of Maslow’s Hierarchy. It’s not so you’ll be fulfilled and everything’ll go your way, every day and every way.
His primary agenda in your life is to make you like His Son, to use the ups of His blessing and the struggles and the down of a fallen world, to take the thread of a vital relationship with Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, rooted in His Word, in authentic community, to little by little by little make you more and more like Jesus, so there’s a mom in the house that thinks and talks and serves like Jesus, so there’s a dad who talks and thinks and lives…
So, there are kids in the house, so that you go to work and people don’t understand how this attitude, that is amazing, can be tied to the injustice you’re getting at work, how this attitude and response is tied to a very frustrating marriage, how this attitude that you have with regard to your life can happen when I know how much you got hurt by the market’s last dip.
See, that’s what God’s about. And you can be content in the ups and the downs when you say, “Lord, I’m going to choose to thank You for what I do have, not spend all my time focusing on what I don’t. Then I’m going to step back and say, ‘Lord, I – I don’t know the agenda for the world, but I know Your agenda for me. What do You want me to learn? What do You want me to learn? Because I can’t – I can’t change her. I can’t change him.
I can’t get inside this kid’s head and – and rescrew things so that they’ll respond in a way . . . You know what? My boss looks like he’s going to be here for a while. This economy’s not going to change… you know? I’m stuck, so . . .” Be teachable.
The third principle that Paul gives us: The secret of contentment challenges our basic American value that more is better. And Paul says, first, our contentment, it’s not based on your circumstances; second, it’s an attitude you learn, not a thing you achieve; and now he says prosperity does not have the power to give us contentment, nor poverty the power to take it away.
Notice, he illustrates that in verse 12. He said, “I have had a lot; I’ve had nothing.” He uses the word plenty, and he talks about – it’s literally what they would do with cattle or livestock that was fat, fattened. He said, “I’ve lived in the lap of luxury; it can’t deliver.
And I’ve been where I didn’t know if they were going to pull me out of the ocean and proverbially, I’ve been on the other end of biopsy reports, when – either for me or someone I loved desperately, it comes up with a big capital ‘C,’ called cancer, and I don’t know how I’m going to make it without this person, or I don’t know what my family or friends are going to do if I leave prematurely.”
Paul’s saying, in both those things, prosperity is unable to deliver contentment, and poverty doesn’t have the power to take it away.
And so notice his practice here is, be flexible. Be flexible. See, it’s one thing to be grateful; it’s another thing to say, “Oh, God, teach me. I want to learn.” Well, once God shows you, knowing what you’re to do, and doing it, are two different things, aren’t they? Saying, “Oh, God, I want to be teachable. Oh, thank You for showing me that.” Being flexible is – change! Ask God, not just, “What do You want me to learn?” Then go to the next step, like my friend: “What do You want me to change?”
This guy sat down at the table, he took his priorities and he went shoom! He told me, “I’ve got one of the biggest presentations to these big corporations that I’ve got to make, and there’s a lot riding on it.” And he said, “My wife wanted to go out and have some fun, and it was like, oh, there’s no . . .” And he said, “Oh, wait a second, okay? I said, ‘God… her . . .’” He said, “So I did it. Then I got up in the wee hours of the morning, and I had this much work to do, and I had about two hours to do it, and I said, ‘God, You got to show up.’” And then he talked about how God did and how the presentation went better than if he had 10 or 12 hours.
See, you got to be flexible. You gotta say, “God, I’m grateful.” You gotta say, “God, I’m teachable.” Then you say, “God, how do You want to change me? What’s the next step to whatever You want to do to make me more like Your Son?” But you gotta push away from the lie that prosperity will deliver it.
Had a young guy named Todd, worked in Santa Cruz. And, you know, I’m just one of those weird people that, you know how the world works, my body clock is just the opposite. So, when you’re just getting fired up and thinking it’s going to be a great night, I’m going to bed. And while you’re sleeping, I’m working. It’s just how God made me. And the problem is finding a good place to work in the wee hours of the morning.
And in Santa Cruz, I found this little coffee shop – because they cook donuts and bagels all night, so they open by about 4:00, and then a little Cambodian lady became a good friend - she made the kind of coffee I like. And so I would go in there, and then, you know, by 4:30, 5:00, a couple of guys would come, and they’d be doing some studying, and you realize they’re probably as weird as you are, and so maybe we could become friends.
And so we did, and this one guy was always doing some work, and eventually, we got to know one another. And Todd ended up coming to the church and got involved, and he came out to work at a Christian camp as a volunteer at, basically, minimum wage. And he was working on something.
I said, “What are you doing?” He said, “Oh, I’m – I’m finishing up a book,” and then I later saw the book, called True Riches. And I said, “Well, what’s the book about?” He said, “Well, here, you can have a copy.” And I just read the back: “Todd Sinelli, a graduate MBA, Wharton Finance, da-da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da, da-da-da.” I mean, he had every business thing you could ever get.
At 23 years old – I don’t suggest anyone do this – he had three credit cards. He got as much cash out of each one – got a thousand dollars out of them, had a three thousand-dollar stake, went on the trading floor in Chicago, became friends with the big guru of trading who was in Chicago at the time, went into the pit. At 23, he’s dead broke, borrowing off his credit cards. At 24, he’s a millionaire. At 25, he’s a multi, multi, multi millionaire – 25 years old. He’s taking the vacations to Tahiti, he can do anything, any time, and he – he’s a believer. And everything the world has to offer has been in his lap.
At 26, he’s dead broke. At 27, he earns it all back again, and now he has it all back again, and he says, “God wanted to teach me something. Anything I wanted in this world I could get.” And he said, “Do you understand how scary and shocking it is to know Christ and Christ alone can only deliver, but unconsciously, you do believe these other things? So, I had anything that I wanted,” and he said, “I went into the deepest depression I’ve ever had. And so, I came here to serve people, and I wanted to do it at minimum wage, because I want to be content.”
And you know, how many of us who know Christ, whose Spirit lives in our hearts and lives, who say we believe what this Book says, if the truth were known and the smoke were pulled back, we really – our lives reflect it’s, “I gotta get that SAT score, and when I make that squad and when I’m first team, and when I get the corporate ladder, and when I get this house, then we get the other house, and if we can position this, this way, and you know what? You know what? That is a lousy watch compared to that one that I really want. I got a picture on the refrigerator of that Porsche, and someday, some way, I’m going to get that, and . . .” unconsciously’d bought the lie that prosperity can deliver. And Paul says it can’t. But you gotta be a radical Christian to believe that, don’t you?
But he says not only that it can’t, but he turns it around and says, “Poverty – poverty doesn’t have the power to take it away. I’ve been in need. I’ve had times when I have nothing.” And I’ll never forget the time that I was in the Philippines, and it’s the classic picture. And I was involved in a basketball team that was sharing Christ and had a good friend, who’s a missionary, and he knows a little Filipino guy – our hearts bonded – named Alex. And Alex was married, and he was probably early 30s at the time, and Manila, it’s a crazy, crazy... No rules, no anything.
So, I get on the back of his motorcycle, and he wants to show me his home. And he’s just so proud. He says, “Chip, you’ve got to come to my home, and you’ve got to see it.” And I said, “Okay.” And so we’re driving in and out of traffic, and I’m praying, Lord Jesus, that I might see my wife and children again. You know?
And so Tom says, “Now, he lives in the slums.” And you don’t know what slums are until you go to these kind of countries. And so we pull up, and there’s a hill, and as far as the eye can see, there are cardboard shacks against one another.
And then the upper-level, middle class has a few wooden crates along with the cardboard, and then the elite areas, they have a little corrugated tin roof on top – it would help for the rain. And as far as the eye could see, there’s no plumbing, there’s no – thousands and thousands of people.
And Alex, because of Tom’s connections, Tom figured out there was one light pole, and he had a wire that went about a hundred yards, and one person, out of all these thousands of people, had a little wire that went through the top of his, and had one little light bulb. And Alex would open his home and read the Scriptures at night, because he’s the only one that had light.
And he came in, and we walked through this maze of people and poverty, and you know, it’s like watching one of those World Vision commercials on TV, and my heart’s going out. And Alex’s chest has kind of – and I went into about a nine-by-six room, and then he had dug out - it was a dirt floor (a three-by-six area) where he cooked. And he looked at me and he said, “This is my home. This is my wife” – and she had number three on the way – “and these are my little boys, and Chip, I’m so glad you would come to my home.”
And you know what? I’m telling you, you’d think he owned the Taj Mahal. See, poverty doesn’t have the power.
And then I said, “Well, Alex, where do you sleep?” And he had a little cot that was at about two and a half by about four and a half or five feet. And he looked at me like, Where do we sleep? I mean, we have a king-size bed. Look – look at this! He says, “Chip, you see, instead of being on the dirt, I curl my body this way, my wife curls her body this way, and we put our two boys in the middle. And that’s where we cook.” In other words, “We’re a two-level house, and we have a light bulb. Isn’t God good?”
Paul says you can learn to be content and come to a point in your life, where you can say, “I know how to ride a bike. I know how to hit a golf ball.” Can I get better? Sure. But he says if you will practice being grateful, if you will be teachable and say, “God, what do You want to teach me?” and if you will be flexible and say, “Instead of changing that out there, show me anything in my life or relationships You want me to change,” he said you’ll be about 75 percent of being there, 24/7, 365, 24 hours a day of having a soul and a heart that is content as though you had millions of dollars in the bank, every relationship was intact, and life could be not more wonderful, because those things can’t deliver it.
The final thing he says to you and me is the principle number four, that only Christ has the power to give us contentment that transcends all life’s variables. Only Christ. Even among us, as believers, the lie is that contentment can be found apart from God.
Now, that’s what unbelievers think: I mean, “I’m going to get this car, this house, this relationship, this jewelry, this fame, this success,” and everyone has a unconscious or conscious little box, and they drive toward it.
And the problem is, it’s kind of like this rainbow that we have, and there’s a golden pot at the end, and we work and work and work and work and work and work and work – zzzzzz – and we finally get on top, and we slide into the golden pot. [Gasps]
And maybe it’s fame or maybe it’s success or maybe it’s that perfect little house or maybe it’s the financial success, or maybe we finally get to make our first CD, or maybe we’re an artist or maybe our family is ooey-gooey and we’re sitting around the table, singing “Kumbaya,” and I – I have this little picture. But then, when you get it, you realize it doesn’t deliver. It’s an empty bucket.
You’ve given your life, your time, your energy, your focus… many people come to Christ after extraordinary success and realize it is empty. Others come to Christ out of extraordinary pain. But both have come to the point of their need. And my observation is, what the world’s system really is, is that’s how unbelievers think, and what happens to me – and I think what happens to a lot of you – is, I know that’s wrong and that’s not really true.
And what I say is, it’s Jesus plus a great family. It’s Jesus plus a great body. It’s Jesus plus a good job. It’s Jesus plus . . . But it’s that “plus” that always gets me in trouble, and I say to Jesus, “When You can deliver the plus, then I’ll be satisfied, happy, fulfilled,” and so I have made a spiritual version of the when/then syndrome, and the enemy has fed me a lie, and I end up as empty – almost – as those without Christ.
And the energy and the skills and the money and the resources and the gifts that God gave me to do something great with my life very subtly got turned inward, and I spent it all about chasing something that doesn’t exist, only to come up empty.
The fastest-growing profession in Christendom in the last 30 years is Christian counseling. We have never had more Christians with more problems. And by the way, I’m glad we have them. I’ve been there. I’ve done that, and it helped.
And so the final practice is to understand: only Christ can give what transcends all circumstances, so be confident.
The secret of success – how is it that you can be grateful? How is it that you can be teachable? How is it that you can say, “I’ll change anything”? ‘Cause you say to yourself, “I’ve tried to change before, and I can’t!”
Well, Paul says here’s the key: “I can do all things through Him who gives me the strength…” moment by moment, relationship by relationship, decision by decision, painful disappointment through painful disappointment, to fulfill everything He wants me to do. I can have confidence.
But the confidence occurs not theoretically laying on the couch, going, “Someday, some way, I might try that.” The confidence comes by faith, when, “Thank You, Lord, for what I do have.
Oh, God . . . Okay, I realize I’m teachable. I’m an arrogant person. I’m not sticking-out-my-chest arrogant, but I – somehow got my whole life revolved around me. You want me to change, put other people first.
Well, I’m going to put other people first, but don’t You understand, that’s going to impact my income? I might have to sell this or do that or . . . Yeah, You want me to become a servant to these relationships, when I thought they were all to make me happy. That’s going to be – I can’t do that!”
“Be confident. Come to Me with a humble heart, in the ups, ‘Thank You,’ in the downs, ‘Thank You. What do You want me to learn? How do You want me to change?’ And then you take the power of My Word, energized by the Holy Spirit, in the context of genuine, authentic, loving, community relationships, and I guarantee you, I will give you whatever you need – not for tomorrow, not for next week, not to solve all the problems – I’ll give you whatever you need to have a quiet heart that is completely at peace, and the strength to allow My Son, through the power of the Spirit, to give you the response, the reaction, the courage, the faith… whatever you need, I will give you, because you’re My child. I love you. Trust Me.”
I received a letter yesterday. I went into the office to clean some things up, and I received this letter. A guy writes, “Hi, Chip, Thanks so much for a couple of things that I think were very helpful.”
And then out of the blue, it says, “It seems like recently I keep running into people who follow the kind of thinking that if they can only perform at a high enough level, if they can only gain enough applause or admiration of men and women around them, that their life will then have meaning.”
He says, “In the past year, it seems I’ve spoken to so many people in these situations, and I’ve seen it in my own life. But that doesn’t do it. People put everything onto being on the cheerleading squad or working their way up the top of the corporate ladder or making the Dean’s List or wearing a Super Bowl ring. You know, becoming a major player in the political realm. They spend every ounce of time and energy on these earthly goals, convinced that they’re going to achieve them and they’ll finally obtain self-esteem and the confidence and the peace they desperately want. But it seems to me when they reach the pinnacle of what they thought would be successful, the sense of self-worth and contentment they long for is conspicuously absent. And the reason I think it is, is that their goals were centered on what other people think, rather than on what God thinks.”
And he closes with this: He says, “I remember a sports writer named Gary Smith once interviewed boxing legend Muhammad Ali, and the interview was conducted at the fighter’s farmhouse. And during the time together, Ali took Smith on a tour of his estate. And then he was led into the barn, and the writer saw all of Muhammad Ali’s trophies, ribbons, and awards on the shelf, collecting dust, some of them even spattered with pigeon droppings – Golden Gloves, Olympic gold, World Champion. As they surveyed all the boxing memorabilia getting ruined, Muhammad Ali said something very quietly to Smith. He spoke so softly, in fact, that the writer had to ask him to repeat what he had said. With his lips barely moving” – and if you’ve seen Ali talk, now, because of some of the damage – “the words seemed to come from the very back of the champ’s throat, and he said, ‘I had the world! I had all the world! And it was nothing. It was nothing.’” What do you have? What are you aiming for? What would it look like for you to be grateful, to be teachable, to be flexible, and to be confident that God could give you whatever you want, and that months, years after a period of time, circumstances would no longer have the power to touch you?