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About this series
Living Above Your Circumstances
The Power of Perspective
Happiness depends on the "happenings in our lives;" joy depends on our perspective. Join Chip Ingram as he opens God's Word to Philippians 1 and explains how we all can enhance and enrich our relationship with God through living above our daily circumstances. New series title is "I Choose Joy."More from this series
Is this glass half empty, or is it half full? And the answer is, yes, it is half empty, and yes, it is half full.
And life’s a lot like that. But how you choose to look at it makes all the difference, because you can’t change your circumstances. But you can either choose to focus on, You know what? This is what I’ve got, and I can drink that. That’s going to help me. Or, You know what? This is what I don’t have.
And you can spend all your life focusing on what you don’t have. And when you focus on the half empty, it will produce a set of emotions, and it will spiral relationships, and it will produce the kind of person that you would not want to be around, even if it’s you. And if you focus on what’s half full, and what God is doing, and what He has done, and what He has given you, and what He is about, it produces a different kind of person, with a different set of emotions. And instead of spiraling, it will do something very significant in your life, even if the half empty is very painful.
And so, we’re going to talk about, how do you live a life – the power of perspective – how do you live a life where you can train yourself, and by the Spirit of God and the grace of God, not to play mental games, but to recognize that life is filled with ups and downs and difficulties in a fallen world, and you can choose to learn to look at the half full. You can look at the half full in your marriage. You can look at the half full of your finances. You can look at the half full of the struggles with some of your kids. You can look at the half full that the job that you do have. You can look at the half full of the health problems you don’t have, even though some of the ones you do have are a struggle. And then we’re going to talk about how that works, and the impact that it makes.
“The Tale of Two Fires.” This is a personal friend; it’s a personal story. It is one of the most incredible stories that you’ll ever hear, and it sounds so much like it fits the illustration, what I want to talk about, you will assume I made this up. I didn’t. It’s true.
This friend, I got to know –He’s a guy that was not really walking with the Lord, was not going to church, was not in the Scriptures, prayed some, cared about his wife – a good, decent, moral guy, but not really walking with God.
But man, I’ll tell you what, he was an entrepreneur, and he could flat out make money. He’s one of the best sales people I’ve ever seen. And he developed his own little company; he was a master cabinet builder. And he got some contracts with these really high-end houses, and he built cabinets for them for tens of thousands of dollars. And he became a pretty wealthy guy, with a lot going for him.
And then, he got a phone call – and I still remember, because I was pulling out of my driveway, and he lived near me. And as I was on my way to church on a Sunday morning, his wife came out, waving like this, in a bathrobe, and she gave me a little message, and they found out, that morning, that someone had arsoned his company, and everything was burned to the ground. Everything he owned was in ashes. He had zero insurance. Everything he owned. He lost a half million dollars in that fire, just in material. And all the equipment to build all of the cabinets. And he went in the tank. He got clinically depressed.
Eventually, he had to go to the doctor. Could not come out of it. Life was bad. Everything fell apart.
Eventually, over time, he started to rebound. He had a number of carpenters that worked for him. They all scattered. You know what? The guy’s an entrepreneur. Three and a half years later, he’s rebuilt the company. He’s got a better contract on another set of high end houses. He has now made a lot of money, yet again.
This time – this is a true story – this time, he developed a new team, and there was a guy that decided, on Saturday, he wanted to help the boss. So, he went in to the cabinet and thought he would clean up a little bit, and he was sweeping all the sawdust. And when he got done sweeping all the sawdust, there was – you know one of the things that you weld with? And he decided that he would get that cleaned out, so he lit that thing, and wanted to get it cleaned out and the tanks, and it caught some sawdust. In a matter of minutes, everything he owned, again, was in ashes. I mean – now, he had a little bit of insurance.
Round number one, his focus was completely inward. But God got his attention. Through that process, he began to think, You know, maybe there’s more to life than cabinets. Maybe there’s more to life than money. Maybe there’s more to life than great vacations. Maybe there’s more to life than skiing in Vail. And, over that time, he began to get back in the Scriptures again.
This time, within 24 hours – because he was looking not at the glass half empty, but he looked at the glass half full. He lost another half million dollars. Within 48 hours, he had a job for every one of his employees, with his competitors. Within 24 hours, he had not only come out of his clinical depression that he was headed for, but he actually had a positive attitude.
And he ended up coming over to our house, he and his wife, and they told us this whole story. And I said, “Man, what in – what happened?” And he said, “I’ll tell you what happened.” He said, “I’ve been down this road before. And I understood what things can bring, and I understood what things can’t bring.” And then, he told me this. He said, “A sheer act of the will, this is what I did. I don’t know why, but when I got the news, I told my wife. She was stunned and burst into tears.” And he said, “There was a little window of time,” and he said, “I’m going to to get a chance, round two, to do this better than last time.” And he said, “Honey” – he called her name, and he said, “I’m going to to take a little walk.”
And he said, “I walked out the door; I went down the steps.” And he said, “I don’t know why, but this came to my mind: The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Naked I came into the earth, and naked will I return. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” And he said, “All my emotions were raging, and what I lost, and my money, and what I’m going to do, and then, all I thought about is how down I got, and where I went before.” And he said, “I walked around the block. I said, ‘Thank You, God, that You’re in control. It doesn’t feel like it. Thank You that You love me. Thank You that Christ died for me.’”
And he said, “For about a half hour or 40 minutes, I did nothing but willfully choose to thank God and to praise God and to thank God and to praise God for what I did have: ‘Thank You that I have a wife that has stood by me. Thank You for my employees, that the guy was trying to help me.’” And he said, “I mean to tell you, the exact same thing happened, and my response to it was a 180.”
And you know, I have to tell you now that the guy does have the Midas touch. His business is going great. He actually was a testimony this time, instead of a disgrace to the Gospel. People ask, “What’s going on with you?” He said, “I think God’s in control.” He said, “I think God can cause things to burn down, but I think He can cause to build them back up. I’m just going to trust God through this.”
My question for you, as we start this series, if I could take a whiteboard up here, and I could give you a marker, and you could write on that whiteboard the most significant difficulty in your life right now, what would you write on the board? Would you write the word marriage? Would you put a big money sign? Would you write depression? Would you write midlife? Would you write lack of significance?
If you could come up and write on the board, “This is the number one most pressing, painful difficulty I’m dealing with in my life,” what would you write? Because what I want you to do is, I want you to get that clear in your mind before we start the teaching time, because what the Spirit of God, I pray, will do this morning is begin a journey, where you can progressively and habitually learn to look at the glass of life that is half full, instead of half empty.
Notice on your notes, I’ve put a little divine equation. It says, “C + P = E.” We’re going to look at it every week. “C” – write the word in, circumstances – plus “P” – perspective – equals “E” – experience. Your circumstances plus your perspective – the glasses that you look at them through – equals your experience.
And I’d just make a very quick observation, by and large, you have zero control over your circumstances. I have zero control over what happens in the economy – unless you have a very influential situation that the rest of us don’t. But I don’t have any of the Arab countries asking me about where they should set oil prices, and I don’t have the President and the cabinet giving me a call and saying, “We’re going to change some policies. We want to know if it affect you and Theresa.” You know? I mean, I don’t have 4.7 million of the people – or the 4.8 or 5 million people in Atlanta saying, “Hey, we heard you and Theresa maybe were going to be driving later. We’d like to stay off the road so that it makes it kind of nice for you.”
I have zero control over my circumstances. And so do you. I wake up days, and something hurts, and I don’t know why. I wake up days, and you know what? I thought the finances were here, and then, kind of, this happened. I wake up days, and all my kids were doing well – and you’ve all been there – and then, they’re just – you find out one of them is not doing so well.
But what you do have, and what I do have – you have a hundred percent control over your perspective. You have a hundred percent control, in every circumstance, no matter how difficult – you get to make a choice. And that’s what it is. You get to choose, Am I going to look at what’s half full in my life in this situation, or am I going to focus on the half empty? The half empty will take me in directions that will be very, very painful.
In your notes, it says, “Living above my circumstances occurs when my perspective interprets my circumstances, rather than my circumstances determining my perspective.” That’s the gist of what we’re going to talk about in the whole series. Living above my circumstances occurs when my perspective – how I choose to look at things – interprets my circumstances, rather than my circumstances – things that happen to me – determining my perspective.
And so, here’s the fundamental question for the next three weeks. We’d make it four, but we missed one. For the next four teaching sessions, you’re going to learn how to develop the kind of perspective that transcends our circumstances. How do you do that?
And I’m going to suggest that the answer is going to be in four keys and four questions. Four keys and four questions. Each time, I’m going to give you a question to ask, and I’m not going to talk about mind games: Okay, I’m going to try and pretend I think it’s half full. Down deep, it just feels and looks half empty. I’m going to teach you four questions to ask, every time you have a difficult circumstance, and I want to give you four keys. And if you, over time, will learn to run these four questions and these four keys through any given circumstance, you will experience the power of perspective.
So, with that in mind, we’re going to look at Philippians chapter 1, and key number one is the word focus. Key number one is the word focus. And the question is, “Where’s your focus?”
By way of illustration, my friend – fire number one, where was his focus? Was it upward or inward? Inward. What was the result? Clinical depression. In the second fire, where was his focus? Upward or inward? It was upward. What was the result? Perspective, blessing others, people asking, “Is there something wrong with you?” Because he handled it so well.
Now, I don’t know what your circumstances are; I don’t know what you would write on the whiteboard, but we’re going to hear from someone whose present circumstances, when he wrote Philippians chapter 1, were pretty difficult.
The book was written about plus or minus A.D. 62. It’s written from a Roman prison. In all likelihood, the apostle Paul is chained to someone. This happens at a time in his life where he’s already been beaten a couple times, stoned already, left for dead, spent about three years in Arabia, ten years in Tarsus. He’s been rejected by his own people.
Two or three times he’s had what they call 39 lashes, and if you saw the Passion, the movie, Paul had that experience a couple, three times. A lot of people don’t live through it.
And so, here’s a guy that’s got scars all over his body, who has a commission to tell people about the great news, that God came to the planet, in the person of Jesus. He lived a perfect life. He died on a cross. He covered all men’s sins, for all time, and the happy news is, He will forgive you and transform your life if you will turn from your sin and, by faith, receive Him. That’s the news of the Gospel. And his commission is to tell it to non-Jews, Gentiles. And as he’s doing exactly what God wants him to do, the will of God has him land in a jail.
Now, I don’t know about you, but if I was writing a letter to a church – remember, Philippi. Remember what happened in this church. Paul went and visited. God said, you know, “Don’t go that direction,” and he heard the call from Macedonia. There wasn’t even a synagogue. So, he goes down by the river, because Jews would often meet by the river and have a prayer meeting if there wasn’t enough Jews to have a synagogue.
And he meets Lydia down there – remember? And then, he meets Lydia, and then, he starts preaching, and a little revival breaks out, and she comes to Christ. And then, because a revival breaks out, they throw him in jail. Remember the Philippian jailer? And so, he’s back in the jail, and an earthquake happens, and he and Silas are singing in the back room. The jailer’s going to kill himself – “Stop, don’t kill yourself.” Another little revival happens; he comes to Christ. That’s the context of what happens. And now, in his mind’s eye and in his memory, he’s thinking about those relationships that he had, and he’s writing them a letter from a prison cell.
Now, if you were in prison, after doing God’s work and being beaten to the inch of your life a couple, three times, then left for dead and stoned at least once, had a couple times where you were in the deep, left in the ocean. If there have been times where you’ve been hungry, and now, God’s great reward for your faithful service is to stick you in jail, what kind of letter would you write to people that you care about?
I got mine. I got mine all written: “Dear Philippians, this is Chip. Yo, I’m bummed. Hey, dudes, you can’t believe what this good, loving God has done to me now. You know, it was great being with you, but I’ll tell you what, I’m not sure I believe any of this stuff myself. My circumstances stink. The food stinks. My wrist is killing me because this chain is too tight. It’s dark, it’s dirty, it’s damp. I don’t like rats. Come visit me, soon.” I mean, that’s the kind of letter I’d write. That’s a “the glass is half empty” letter.
What does Paul write? Philippians chapter 1 opens up, “Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and [the] deacons” – the elders and the deacons. “I want to say ‘hi’ to everyone,” just a basic greeting. “I’m a bondservant of Christ. That’s my role.” And then, “I want to bless you – ‘Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’” Grace. “May good, undeserved things happen in your life because of the great God that we serve, and may you experience the shalom of God, the peace of God, the wholeness of God, the peace of God in your life, in your relationships.” That’s what he’s saying.
And then, notice verse 3. He opens up, and he’s going to talk to them. He opens the letter, he says, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all.” He just sounds depressed, doesn’t he? Just sounds down and out. Now, notice, in parentheses, he’s “offering prayer with joy in [his] every prayer for you all.” Why? “In view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.”
I think what was going through Paul’s mind – he thought about Lydia, and he thought about the jailer, and he thought about the revival, and he thought about the relationships, and he thought about what God did, and he thought about when he got out of jail, and he got to tell the mayor or the officials, “You know what? Guys, you didn’t do this right.” And he just thought about, Wow, man, God used this, didn’t He? Your life was like this; now, your life’s like that, and I got to be in on it. And then, he ends it: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of [Jesus Christ],” until the day Christ returns.
If you have your pen, I want you to circle three words that I think give us the real focus of Paul’s attitude. Notice, one, circle the word thank – “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.” Second word, “Always offering” – circle the word prayer. He’s not just offering prayer, but – do you hear this? This is radical – “prayer with joy.” He says, “I’m getting kind of a spiritual buzz when I pray for you guys, when I remember you and think what happened. I mean, I’m in chains, but my heart is soaring.”
And then, the final word, he says, “For I am” – circle the word confident. “Now, I’m confident. I’m not depressed; I’m not discouraged. I’m confident of this very thing, that my hard work and my labor for you in the Gospel – you guys are going to keep on going. God’s going to do whatever He’s going to do in you and through you. You’re going to grow. And until Jesus comes back, I want you guys to know, things are going to be okay.”
Now, isn’t this an unusual letter? They should be writing him letters, going, “Paul, you know, it’s going to be okay. Hang in there.” Where’s Paul’s focus? Upward. Upward.
I want you to think back, right now, what you wrote on your blackboard. What’s the most difficult circumstance in your life right now? And now, I want to ask you, where’s your focus? Is it what you don’t have, what’s wrong with it, what other people ought to do, who you’re going to blame, why did this happen, how unfair it is, why it’s a raw deal, where is God, how could people treat you like this, doesn’t seem fair?
Or is it upward? And you say, Well, you know what? I want it to be upward, but I’m going to be honest with you. I mean, I’m not going to look up right now, because you might think you’re really talking to me, and I’m not going to raise my hand, but in my heart of hearts, It’s not upward. It’s inward. In fact, I didn’t want to get up this morning. I didn’t want to come to this thing. But I said I would, so I came. Would you like to know how to develop an upward focus? Let’s learn from him.
Notice, in your notes, on the page that’s across, it says, “How to develop an upward focus.” Number one, it’s a choice. And I’d like you to write in the word gratitude. It’s a choice. Thankfulness isn’t something that comes over you; thankfulness is a choice that you make. You choose to be thankful. You don’t feel to be thankful; you choose to be thankful. And then, you say, “Well, I just can’t. How can I be thankful?” How? By choosing to remember and thank God for significant relationships.
I mean, I don’t know what’s going on in your life, and there may be a lot of reasons to look at the empty part here. But I’ll tell you what, you can choose to start thanking God. I’ve had some pretty difficult struggles with some of my kids, at times. But you know what? Man, I’m thankful for the wife God gave me. I’m thankful for the mentor and the friend that had been there and I could share it with. I’m thankful for a couple brothers on staff that I could share it with and go through it with. You know, I’m thankful for the great times I had with one of my kids before he went through a difficult time, and, by God’s grace, he turned around a couple, three, four years later.
But you know what you can do? You can do what Paul did. You can choose to be grateful, and you can choose to start remembering the significant people in your life, the things that God has done, the things that really matter, the things that circumstances, no matter how difficult, can’t take away from you, the people that you love, and the people that love you. You can willfully choose to start thanking God for them. And I will tell you, that will start an upward focus.
The second thing you can do is, you can pray. And this isn’t when you feel like praying. This is, you choose to pray. You choose to be grateful, and then, this action is, you pray. And how do you pray? You pray with joy, remembering past usefulness, past partners, and things God has done in the past.
Feelings always follow our focus. Write that down. You know what? If you want to get your feelings readjusted, your feelings always follow your focus. If your focus is upward, I guarantee, in time – you just choose; your feelings will follow. If your focus is inward, I’ll guarantee, your feelings will follow there, as well.
Notice, the apostle Paul, in chains, has an upward focus: “I thank my God. I pray with joy. I’m confident that He’s in charge.” But notice, now, his outward focus, in the next section, here. 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 both in my imprisonment and in 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 . . . with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
Where’s his focus? It’s not just upward to God. In fact, you want to get a picture of where his focus is? You ready to do a little Bible study?
By the way, the reason I have you underline and circle stuff, the way I get insights from Scripture is the way God gives it to you: You do basic Bible study. You read the text over a few times, and then, you make observations. What’s there? Not what I think is there, what’s really there. And then, you say, Okay, now, what does it mean? Interpretation. And then, you say, What does it mean to me? And one of the great ways of making observations is, look for words or concepts that are alike.
Notice five concepts that are alike. Circle the word feel: “It’s only right for me to feel this way about you . . . because I have you in my” – circle the word heart. So, there’s feeling. Something emotional is going on. Where’s it happening? In his heart. Well, where? “Since both in my imprisonment and . . . defense and [the] confirmation of the gospel” – in other words, “Since I got caught in this whole process” – “you all are” – circle the word partakers of grace with me. It’s a very interesting Greek word. It has the idea of something being interwoven or interconnected together.
He goes, “Man, I’ve got this feeling for you, and it’s deep in my heart, because, man, we went through it together! Remember how tough it was? We went through it together, and God showed up. And we were in this cause at Philippi, and I was getting all kind of pain, and they were persecuting you, but man, in the wee hours of the morning, we were praying, and you helped me and I helped you, and man, we locked hearts.” It’s a relationship.
“For God is my witness” – notice the word how I long – “how I long for you all” – and then, circle the word affection. Circle long and affection. Feel, heart, partaker, longing, affection – he has an outward focus.
Let me give you three observations about verses 7 and 8 that I think help us develop an outward focus. The first is this: Difficult circumstances reveal our true affections. You are like a sponge, and I’m like a sponge, and there’s something in your sponge. And when circumstances begin to squeeze your sponge, whatever pops out of your sponge tells you what your real affections are.
Fire number one – you know what my neighbor’s affections were? Things, money, status, and pleasure. And when God removed all that, when He squeezed the vice of that man’s sponge, his heart, what just popped out was, his affections were, his stuff is gone. His vacations are gone. His pleasure and his comfort are gone.
When you take the apostle Paul and squeeze him, you know what comes out of the sponge of his heart? People. He lives for people. What oozes out of him is affection. What was on his heart, what mattered to him, was not his personal peace and prosperity. What mattered to him was other people.
In round one, my brother had a fire; things came out. In round two, he learned, people came out. I still remember, within 48 hours, he told me, he said, “I am so encouraged today” – two days after the fire. I said, “Why?” He said, “I’ve got 11 carpenters that have families to feed, and I got a job for all 11 of them.” Was his focus on his little, spiritual naval, whining about, “I wonder how much the insurance is going to pay?” His energy was trying to figure out, How do I take care of these other people? And as his focus was upward, praising God, then outward, to help people he was responsible for, then, what happened to him? He got the lift.
The second observation is, living above our circumstances occurs when our hearts are so full of people there is no room for self-pity. There’s no room for self-pity when your hearts are full of people.
I had a very unique opportunity in Asia, and one was to meet with a house church pastor. He came down from China. We met in Hong Kong, and we’re doing some work through the official church. And this particular fellow was a house church pastor. And we had dinner one night, and we did a bunch of teaching. Phil and I did teaching in a number of churches and leadership development stuff – great experience. And then, one night, we got to kind of wind down – and his name is Abraham. And I got to hear Abraham’s story. Looked kind of a youngish – 35 to 37 – been a house church pastor, vibrant Christian. And he began to tell me this story.
He said, “On March 18th of this year, I was out preaching the Gospel.” And boy, these house church pastors – I mean, man, they have a heart for lost people. And he says, “While I was gone, the police came, and they arrested my wife. And then, they took her down to the police station, and then, they beat her to a pulp.” And, you know, I’m waiting for, “And oh, my gosh, you know, I don’t –” You know I’m waiting for him to say, “I couldn’t make it through it, and . . .” I don’t know. And he said, you know, “I’ve been arrested three or four times and been beaten.” And listen, you talk about the power of perspective. As he’s telling me this story, I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m waiting to hear about how he went through it and how he nursed his wife back to health, and . . . And we never got there.
When he got to, “They took my wife, and they beat her,” and then, there was a – it wasn’t joy; it was a gleam. All I can tell you, it was a gleam of the sense of the awe of God. And he said, “I’m so proud of my wife, because she loves people so much. She did that because she knew I was the pastor. She claimed to be the pastor, and she said, ‘No one’s doing anything,’ but she was trying to start a church. So, she did that to protect me. She did that to protect the church.” He said, “Can you imagine being counted so worthy to suffer for the Gospel of the Lord Jesus?”
And I just had to think of what my real, private thoughts were, and I thought to myself – and made no facial expression – Buddy, there are two people in this room that are believers in this conversation, and there’s one really, really mature one, and there’s one not too very mature. And the one that’s really mature speaks Chinese, and the one who’s not very mature speaks just English. Because I thought, If my wife got beaten, I would not be where I’m at in my life, rejoicing at the fact that it was an awesome privilege to suffer for the Gospel of Christ. And the reason is, is because I would be focusing on what’s half full, because that would be so traumatic.
And what I want to tell you is, I met a man who, what he experienced is so normal, he looks at it not through the lens of circumstance. He looks at it through the lens of Scripture, and he said, “You know something? Jesus said those who love Him would be persecuted. The apostle Paul said all those who long to make a difference for Christ will be persecuted. Jesus said, “In the world you’ll have tribulation. Blessed, happy are you when you are persecuted for My sake. Bless those who persecute you.” And those are parts of the Bible that, you know, we just read over very quickly. I’m telling you, that guy clings to them. And what I realized is, when you are squeezed and have an outward focus, your heart is so full of people, there’s no room for self-pity. And I was humbled by that man.
And by the way, when I got done praying for the people in Russia last week, when I was depressed, and then, I got done praying for the people of Florida, literally, it was like a video tape went on. This ever happen to you, where God kind of pushes a button? It’s like a video tape just went on, and I could just see myself sitting here, and Abraham, and him telling me this story.
And it was like, that was the breakthrough moment – Bang! You know what, God? I think this pity party is over. I think that I’m going to get up with my little spilled milk and quit feeling sorry for poor little Chippy and his schedule, and he’s had to travel, and my, my, my, today’s going to be really hard tomorrow. And I didn’t get a full night’s sleep, and golly, gee whiz, God, I hope You make everything wonderful, and . . . You know, I just want to go, Ughh! You know, Ingram, you are so ridiculously carnal and self-centered at times, you make me sick, and I have to look at you every time I shave.
And so, I repented of that, and I said, “Lord, I’m sorry. Bless Abraham. Thank You for what You have ahead of me. You know, a lot of people have had a day’s work with no sleep, and I bet I can do it too, by Your grace. Now, let’s get up, let’s get on, and let’s get after it.” And you know something? I had a great day. I had a great day. You know, my circumstances didn’t change one iota. I had a great day. I had a great day because I chose, I prayed, I had confidence in God’s promises – upward, outward focus.
Final observation here is this: Sometimes God allows adverse circumstances to realign our affections. That’s what happened with my neighbor. You know, that fire? Does God have more wood and more cabinets? Yeah. Well, what do you think God was doing in the guy’s life? I mean, we get this deal: “If God really loves me, how could He have a fire burn up my business?” Maybe He loves you so much that that business is an idol in your life, and He needed to burn down your business so He could get your heart.
Maybe God loves you so much that He brings difficulty into one of your sons’ lives because He’s becoming a materialistic, self-centered, narcissistic kid, who’s filled with himself, and you unconsciously believe that his grades in school and his athletic achievements, and how he looks on the outside and what other people think, because it makes you feel good as a dad, it makes you feel like a significant person because he’s successful – maybe God loves your son so much and loves you so much, He’s going to put a little wrench in that little game and get a hold of his heart, and make him significant and godly, instead of outwardly successful. And maybe He’ll get your attention in the process.
Maybe God loves you so much, that you’re so busy and moving so fast and don’t have enough time for Him, that He gives you a little biopsy report that’s got you scared spitless. And those little dilly prayers that you pray, you know, in traffic, like, “Lord, bless me a little bit. Lord, make my business go well. Lord, help me out with my family. Lord, you know, I don’t have time for You. I’d really like to read the Bible. I know it’s really important. Lord, You know that You want to use my spiritual gifts in some day, some way in my church, because, you know, I heard that and I felt a little guilty, but I can go into denial. I’ve gotten good at it. But I’ll be real busy, and I’m going to make money, and then, later, I’ll help You, someday, some way, somehow.” No one ever thinks like that, but just in case you have, ever, maybe God loves you enough to bring something into your life to say Errrrttt! Sometimes God does that, to get your attention, and get mine, to change your affections.
In summary, our focus always follows our affections. See, our feelings always follow our focus. Whatever we focus on – upward, outward – our feelings follow it. But our focus always follows our affections. What we focus on always reveals what’s really in our heart, what matters. Is it things, or is it people? Is it me, or is it others?
At this point, you might ask, you know, “I would really like to think this way. I’d like to have that kind of perspective. I’d like to learn to pray those kind of prayers. I’d like to have this upward and outward focus.
But, you know, Ingram, you’re a pastor, and you’ve been doing this thing a little bit longer than me, and, you know – you kind of know how to pray. If I really wanted to do this, how do you pray? I mean, what would you ask? What would you say to God if you wanted these kind of things to happen in your life?”
And what you’re going to see, just in these last three little verses is, you’re going to get to eavesdrop. The apostle Paul is on his knees in a Roman cell. And he’s going to let you overhear not just, “I pray for you all with joy.” He’s going to let you eavesdrop, and he’s going to let you hear exactly what he prays. In verse 9, he’s going to say, “I’ve got a request for these people, God.” In verse 10, he’s going to say, “God, here’s my reason for this request.” And then, in verse 11, he said, “Here’s the resource I know they already have, so I know You’re going to answer it.”
Let’s pick it up in verse 9. He says, “And this I pray.” Notice the forward focus here – upward, outward, now forward. “And this I pray, that Your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment.” Put a box around real knowledge and all discernment. This is his prayer.
Notice, he didn’t pray that everything would turn out right. Notice, he didn’t pray that everyone would feel happy tomorrow. Notice, he didn’t pray that they would never have any more persecution. He says, “And this I pray for you, that your love, your” – right? – “your affection” – the things that are inside your heart that, when it gets squeezed – “what I’m praying is, is that your love and your affection would grow in a direction, and I want it to grow in a direction of a real knowledge of God, instead of for more success, instead of for more comfort, instead of for more ease.” That’s our human nature. He says, “I’m praying that your love, your desire, your passions, your affections would be cultivated to have a real knowledge of God.”
It’s a very interesting word. In the New Testament, a couple basic words for knowledge. One is a knowledge that is data or information. It’s a physics equation: I know how to do that equation. It’s a math equation. It’s, “I read the New York Stock Exchange, and I know what certain companies did at certain times, at certain days, and how much they went up or down.” That’s data knowledge.
There’s a different word for know, like, “I really know my wife, and she wouldn’t want that color; she would want this color. I really know my kids, and they wouldn’t want to go to a camp like that; they’d want to go…” It’s a knowledge by way of personal relationship. He uses this word, and then, he intensifies it with a prefix, so it’s like, “I want you to have a super intimate knowledge.
I’m praying that God would create in you a love, a passion, a desire for an intimate, personal knowledge of Him,” and the second word is discernment, and it means “the ability, in all this mess and complexity of life – it’s the ability to ascertain truth.” It’s the ability to know, This is good; this is bad. This is good; this is better. This is better, but this is best. This is wrong; this is right, in this decision, in this business deal, with your child, with your time, with your priorities. So, he prays, “I want your love and affection to grow in the real, personal, intimate knowledge of God, and I want you to have this ability to discern what’s good, what’s not.”
But notice why. Look at the reason. Little key verse, word, here: so that. “So that you may approve” – and you can write the word test above that, because that’s the idea of the word – “So . . . you [can] approve” – or test – “the things that are excellent.” The word for approve was, they would take metal, and you would drop certain acid on a metal to find out how much gold is in it or the quality of the gold. That’s this word, in the ancient times.
He said, “I want you to have your love so connected in personal relationship with God, and have the ability to discern, in all circumstances, good/bad, so that you can test, or evaluate, or approve, things that are excellent. Give your life to what counts. Give your life to what matters. I want you to have the ability – I’m praying for you, that you would have the ability, when, you know, part of it is, ‘Is it half full; is it half empty? What about all those issues right on the line? How am I supposed to look at them? And based on how I look at them, should I do this, or should I do that?’ I want you to have such a sense of how loved you are and what you possess, that your desire for God and ability, so that you could approve, test, live a life that’s excellent, in your speech and in your behavior and in your relationships.”
And then, notice, there’s a purpose statement. “Well, why would you pray this?” Here’s why: “In order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.” The word sincere means “to be tested by sunlight,” and the word blameless means “to be morally pure.” He says, “I want you to approve what’s excellent, so that how you would end up actually living is that if the Spirit of God –” If you were a stained-glass window, or if you were a bay window, and the sunlight came through it – what do we all know? You can clean it, and it looks real clean, and then, the sun comes up, and what’s it do? It reveals all the smudges and impurities.
He says, “I’m praying for you, that you would so know God, have such an ability, be so connected to Him, have this ability to know right from wrong, and then, test what’s excellent, that your whole pattern and lifestyle would be one that, when people see your life, and the sun would come up – no smudge marks.” No smudge marks. You’re sincere. You’re real. You’re authentic. No phoniness. No image casting.
No pretending. No talking one way, living another way. And you’re morally pure – no Internet stops. No staring too long at Cosmo as you buy some things as you go out of the grocery store. No delayed second, third, and fourth looks at the lady with the very tight sweater and the even tighter skirt. Lord, thank You that You made her that way. That’s not sin. Not going any farther than that. Thank You, for those of you that have a wife, that You have given me a wife. And thank You that charm is deceitful, beauty is vain, and I want my thoughts to honor You. Can’t ever get away from temptation, it’s a fallen world. But as Martin Luther said, you cannot let the birds build a nest in your head.
And then, notice what happens. He says there’s a resource. He says, “Having been filled.” And put a parentheses around having been filled. It’s a tense of the verb – it’s the perfect tense. Perfect tense, in Greek means this: “Something occurred in the past that has – an actual event occurs in the past, with continuing impact into the present, and on into the future.”
He says, “I’m praying this for you, so that you can live this kind of life, out of this kind of knowledge.” And then, he says – here’s the resource – “Having been filled.” The moment you received Jesus Christ, you were justified. You were taken from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. The Spirit of God entered you, sealed you with the Spirit, and you were filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. When God sees you as His son, when God sees me, He sees you as completed in Christ. Your position, legal standing, is, you’re pure. You’re loved. You’re accepted. The Christian life is not seeking to get that or attain that. It’s living out of what you already possess. And so, that’s what he says, “That’s what I pray.”
Out of that, I draw one final principle, and that’s this: Our feelings always follow our focus – we’ve got that one – our focus always follows our affections, but our affections always follow our thinking. That’s the key word. Our affections always follow our thinking.
If you study verses 9 through 11 carefully, notice the word knowledge. It has to do with your thought life. Discernment – the ability to think between this and that. You can approve – testing, evaluating with your thought, cognitive ability – that which is excellent. So that behaviors change, sincere and blameless. Why? Because you have been already made righteous with Him.
The three timeless principles I’ll give you – we’ve hit them, but just by way of review – is that our feelings always follow our focus. Let’s just wrap it up with this. Feelings are what I live with – get my focus upward and outward, they’ll follow. Okay, my focus is always going to follow my affections, and God will reveal my affections by the difficult circumstances in my life. But my affections – if you really want to change, long term, my affections – what’s on my heart, what really matters, what’s important – that is always a result of my thinking.
And so, Paul is literally praying that they can think in a new way about what matters, and that will flow out of a personal, living, intimate relationship with Christ, and the ability to discern in this complex world, what’s good, what’s bad. You test things, and you test them in such a way, where, moment by moment, day by day, you make little, incremental decisions, so that your life progressively is sincere and blameless.
C + P = E.
As we wrap it up, I’d like you to think about that most difficult circumstance, and I want to give you 30 seconds to decide where you’re going to put your focus, your perspective, before we close. And let’s just ask God that, just for today, just for today, you might experience grace and peace because you choose to look at what you do have, instead of what’s missing.