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About this series
I Choose Joy
How to Live Life Above Your Circumstances
In the midst of difficulty, chaos, and continual pressure, what is it that sets a believer apart from the crowd? What causes people to notice that there's something supernatural at work in their lives? In this series, from the book of Philippians, Chapter 1, Chip tells us it's joy! He explains how understanding the power of focus, purpose, hope, and expectation enables an ordinary believer to live life above circumstances, weather the worst storms, and experience true joy.More from this series
It’s pretty easy to choose joy when things are going well. But it is pretty tough to choose joy when circumstances are very, very difficult. And what we’re going to learn in this series is that it really is a choice, that God will give us everything that we need, regardless of how devastating the circumstances. But tell you what, when it’s really, really hard, it’s just easy to look inward, to fall into self-pity, and just watch your life spiral down.
And what we’re going to learn, it doesn’t have to be that way, but we’re going to talk about the power of focus. I brought a little pitcher of water and if we took a little contest and if I said, “Is the pitcher half full or is the pitcher half empty?” the answer is “yes.” Right?
Some people will spend their entire life, no matter what is happening, focused on what they don’t have, what is wrong, what they wish were better, on and on and on with what they don’t have, what God hasn’t provided, and what they think would bring joy and happiness.
Other people have learned to focus on what they do have and they recognize that everybody’s life has some emptiness. Everybody has struggles. Everyone is going to suffer. Everyone has some problem relationships. Everyone eventually will have some health issues. Everyone has struggles at work. They either define you or you learn how to focus and to think and to trust God in such a way in order to choose joy.
Pull out your notes, if you will. And I’ve got to tell you a true story that, at times, I can hardly believe it’s true. He was a neighbor; he was a friend. We got pretty close; got to talk about a lot of things. In private conversation, at this point, he wouldn’t care that I share this – he was a backslidden Christian – he knew God, he used to go to church regularly, he used to serve in a church. And he had slidden away from all of that and, poor guy, got his new neighbor was a pastor – me.
And so we get to know one another and he’s a great guy, very gregarious. And he just lived right across the street from Theresa and myself. And so he was out in the yard, we got to know each other well, and I’ll never forget the day that he got a phone call, walked out in the yard, and he had found out that someone had, he was a cabinet maker, and top of the line cabinet maker, and put in these super expensive cabinets into these super-luxury homes.
And he had hundreds of thousands of dollars of his cabinets that he had already made, that he was going to be putting in these homes along with his material, and someone arsoned his warehouse, he lost everything and had no insurance.
And I saw him out in his front yard and he looked like someone, literally, had just died. And he went into clinical depression. He ended up having to go to the doctor. I remember I would take walks around the block and he had a big bay window. And if you have ever seen someone sit in a chair like this – life was over. He had, everything he had was gone.
Fast forward three and a half years, he was a pretty resilient guy. Quite the entrepreneur. And so he built his business up again and got another big contract, made a bunch of money again. And there’s people that have this gift. And so he’s got twelve or fourteen Master Craftsmen. And he’s got another big set of super-luxury homes and he has a big warehouse again. Are you ready? You guys, anybody feeling what’s coming here?
So one of his employees, they really love him, he’s great to get along with. So he goes in to help out and so he sweeps up all the sawdust and then there was one of those things that you torch, whatever you call it when you weld things? And he was cleaning some stuff out and so he lit that to empty something and it sparked, it hit the sawdust, and within minutes, everything he had, again, was gone.
His wife, I still remember the morning, I think it was a Sunday because I was pulling out and she comes out, “Oh no! And this is what has happened.” And he had a tiny bit of insurance. He didn’t get clinically depressed this time. He said, “I heard the news. I have been through this before. My whole life was about things before. And I realized they couldn’t satisfy.” And he says, “Everything in me just wanted to break down and I just decided, I told my wife, ‘Stay right here. I’m going to walk around the block.’”
He said, “I started to walk around the block and I don’t know why, but this came into my mind: ‘Naked I come into the world, and naked I will return. The Lord gives; the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!’”
And he said, “For thirty minutes I kept walking and I started, Thank You I have a wife who is loyal, who cares with me. Thank You for my son. Thank You for my grandson.” He said, “I just started choosing, and all I did was, for thirty or forty minutes, I just focused on what I actually did have.”
Before his other workers, where everyone was discouraged, everyone is out of work, within forty-eight hours, he had found jobs with his competitors for all twelve of his craftsmen.
I’ll never forget, out in the front yard, less than a week later when, before he was in a catatonic state of just depression, and he was out in the front yard playing with his little grandson who was about three or four at the time.
And I said, “Gary, how are you doing?” He goes, “You know, it’s hard.” And then he looked at me and he looked down at that little boy and he said, “But I’ve got a lot. I’ve got a lot.” What’s the difference?
Fire number one – his focus in inward. Fire number two – it’s upward, and then it’s outward. Question: where is your focus? How do you deal with the tough circumstances in your life?
Notice on the front there’s a little divine equation. The divine equation is: C + P = E. I want you to get that. Some of you might write that somewhere or put it on a card, put it in lipstick on a mirror: C + P = E. Circumstance plus perspective equals your experience.
Living above my circumstance occurs when my perspective interprets my circumstances, rather than my circumstances determining my perspective. It’s true, isn’t it?
Either I look at life through the lens of: these are my circumstances. When they’re kind of good, I’m kind of happy. When they’re kind of bad I’m kind of sad.
Or, I look at my circumstances through the perspective of the lens of God’s promises, God’s power, the lens of a sovereign God, a good God who is going to take even the worst and most difficult things and He is going to use them for my good.
The fundamental question is: How can we develop the kind of perspective that transcends our circumstance? How do you do that? I’m going to suggest that it’s going to be C + P = E
And we are going to learn from a man who models this for us like nobody’s business.
Key number one, jot the word in, focus. The question is: where is your focus? Now, I want you, on the left side of your notes, I want you to put a little box and I want you to imagine that is a white board in your mind. And I want you to write one or two words and if you’re next to someone that happens to be the problem that goes into that box, I would maybe not do that right now.
But what I want you to do is actually think of: what is the most difficult, challenging circumstance or relationship that you have right now? What is it that gets you down, that, if you could say, God, either fix it or take it away, what would be in that box? Have you got it?
Now, we are going to look at Philippians chapter 1. But before we read it, I want you to get the circumstances of the author. It’s A.D. 62, 63 – he’s in a Roman prison. He’s a little past mid-life. He has already been beaten three times. He has been overnight in the sea. He has been stoned and left for dead once. He got some revelation in Arabia. He is taking the gospel and his mission, his plan, his circumstances are: God has called me to take this message to the whole Gentile world.
And instead of going to the whole Gentile world, he is stuck in a cell, which what we know is he ends up writing a lot of letters that reach the whole world. But he doesn’t know that. All he knows is: God told me to do this. I wanted to do that. Every time I try and do it, people beat me up or they stick me in prison.
And you would think Paul would be discouraged. And he would be if he looked through the lens of circumstance. But his perspective is not that. Follow along. Paul’s circumstance.
“Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and the deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
And so this is a church that he has a real heart connection with. And they have heard you’re in prison and they’re concerned about him. And so they send a financial gift through one of their members, Epaphroditus, and this is really a “thank you” letter. And they want to know, “Well, how are you doing?”
And so Paul is going to explain his circumstances here. He says in verse 3, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of. Always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all.” Well, why? “In view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now, for I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
I’d like you to circle the word thank, I’d like you to circle the word remembrance, I’d like you to circle the word prayer with joy – I guess that’s a phrase. Circle the phrase prayer for you all. And then circle the word confident.
This is Paul’s upward focus. He is in jail, his circumstances – where is his heart? Where is his mind? He says, “I pray,” did you notice how? “I pray with joy.” I am remembering what it was like with Lydia. I remember when the little church was birthed. I remember that night when that jailor was ready to kill himself: “Stop! Don’t do it! Stop! Don’t do it! We are all here!” And we went into his house and he cleaned me up and his whole house was baptized. And we don’t know all the story, but it’s a church where God did a great thing.
And he says, “I pray with joy in all my remembrance of you.” And it wasn’t just what he did. He says, “In view of your participation in the gospel. We were in it together. We saw God work in that Roman colony in Philippi.” And his just focus is: God, thank You for them.
And then his focus is still about them: “I am confident of this.” God is in control. Where is his concern? His concern isn’t: Well, it’s really tough, there are a lot of rats, I’m chained to this guy, it wasn’t really fair, I’m completely innocent. There’s no blaming. He doesn’t blame God; he doesn’t blame people.
His concern is: “I’m confident of this very thing, that He, Jesus, who began a good work in you, He is going to perfect it until He comes back.” Where is his focus? It’s upward and it’s outward. Notice his focus continues.
Paul’s outward focus. He says, “For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all,” – why? “because I have you in my heart since in both my imprisonment and the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
I’m going to ask you to do Bible study one more time here. Circle the word feel, then circle the word heart, circle the word partakers. It’s a Greek word that means people are connected to one another. Circle the word long, and then circle the word affection.
And what I want you to get is, can you, can you imagine someone maybe in our day in bondage in a hellacious prison, maybe in another country who has discovered they have cancer and you write to ask how they are doing and you get this letter back, “Oh, every time I think of you, I am praying for you. I remember when we spent this time together.” And then to say, “I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
I memorized this passage many, many, many years ago and I remember praying, Lord, I don’t know that I could ever say that to anyone, but I would love to be able to say that somehow, someday. To love someone, to long and care for someone in the same way that Christ cares for me.
This guy is filled up with his love for other people so much so he just seems to be almost unaware of the difficulty of his own circumstance.
Finally, out of his outward focus and love, notice he prays for them. So, he takes his concern and he goes, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment.” And then there’s a result: “…so that,” put a little box around the so that. It’s very important. So he says, Here’s what I’m praying. I’m in prison, my focus isn’t on me, it’s on God, but it’s on you. And when I am praying for you, I want you to know this was what I am praying. I am praying that your love and your relationship would grow deeper and deeper in the, it’s a really powerful word, in the “epignosco.” In other words, “in the experiential knowledge of God, and that you would have all discernment.”
In other words, that you would get so close to God in the midst of this corrupt Roman Empire and all the junk coming at you so that – why? “…you could approve the things that are excellent.” In other words, so when the world is coming at you, you would know: this is right, this is wrong, this is true, this isn’t true. So you would have discernment to know how to live your life.
And then there’s a purpose clause, “…in order that you can be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.” Underline sincere and underline blameless. We will come back to this just a little bit later. “…having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory of God.”
So all I want you to see – Paul’s circumstances, I’m guessing, are as bad as anybody’s in this room, of any kind. In fact, what we are going to learn a little bit later is he is right on the crossroads of, Am I going to be executed or not executed? He doesn’t know.
And in the midst of imprisonment, facing execution – upward focus: God, I thank You. Outward focus: I am confident of this. I remember you. God is for you. I am praying for you, that you become the kind of followers of Christ that understand what is wise, what is unwise, and that your lives would be so transformed – outward focus.
Now, what I want to do is roll up our sleeves and ask ourselves two or three questions to help us get, Hey, Paul, I’m glad you can look at it that way. It’s pretty tough for me, right?
How do you develop an upward focus? And I am going to suggest, right from this passage, number one, it’s a choice. It’s a choice.
And the choice is gratitude. And the way you do it is you choose to remember and you thank God for significant relationships.
In the mornings, our whole staff comes down here and we have a prayer time. And different pastors, actually, different people on the staff lead it.
And we all sat here and he goes, so here’s what we’re going to do for the first twenty minutes. I want you to write on these 3x5 cards everything that you can possible thank God for in twenty minutes. Just don’t stop writing.” I filled out five. God, thank You that You forgave me. God, thank You for Your Word. Thank You that Your Spirit lives within me. Thank You for Theresa. Thank You for Eric. Thank You for Jason. Thank You for Ryan. Thank You…right? God, thank You for this church. Thank You for the people I get to work with. God, thank You that in the midst of a crazy world, this is where we live. I mean, it was easy. I had five of these filled front and back.
And I had this weird experience afterwards. I had a great attitude that day. It’s just a weird experience! You know, hey! Why? Here’s why: I spent twenty minutes focusing on what God has provided instead of my humanness like yours is to always focus on what is missing.
Second, it’s an action – prayer. Prayer. By the way, remember? He said, “I willfully chose.” Willfully chose to remember the past youthfulness and the partnership.
See, I think, I think we think prayer is always going to be some ooey-gooey feelings and these wonderful, great connections with God. I, part of my rehab on this fusion on my back was walking, walking, walking, walking until I could walk for an hour. That’s a lot of walking.
And I just have to tell you, there’s times where I, one, I didn’t want to walk. Two, I’m bummed out. And just, honestly, a little pity party, Hey God, why me? And I’m trying to serve You with all my heart.
I don’t know what you’re going through, but it’s not an accident. You can develop an upward focus by choosing to give thanks, and by the action of prayer.