What is the most significant and painful difficulty you’re dealing with right now in your life? Is it your marriage? Money? Depression? Perhaps it’s midlife?
I’d like to propose that regardless of whatever you’re currently facing or about to face, you should be asking yourself: “Am I viewing my current circumstances from a glass half full perspective or a glass half empty perspective?”
Here’s why. Each of us has zero control over our circumstances. We have zero control over the economy, what our kids are going to do tomorrow, and whether or not someone crashes into us the next time we’re driving on the highway.
But what we do have control over is our perspective.
We have a hundred percent control of our perspective, in every circumstance, no matter how difficult. This gives us the power to actually live above our circumstances.
We can actually live above our circumstances when our perspective (how we choose to look at things) interprets our circumstances, rather than allowing our circumstances (things that happen to us) to determine our perspective.
Now, you might be thinking, “That sounds great, Chip, but c’mon, how do I actually do this?”
First, we need to ask: “Where is my focus? Is it inward, or outward?”
The Apostle Paul was someone who was able to live above his difficult circumstances because of his outward focus. While in prison, he writes about this in a letter to the Philippians. At this point in his life, he has suffered multiple beatings and a total of 39 lashes.
If you were in prison, after doing God’s work and being beaten to an inch of your life – three times -- then left for dead and stoned, and now, God’s great reward for your faithful service is to stick you in jail, what kind of letter would you write? Most of us, including me, might write a “glass-is-half-empty letter.“
But here’s what Paul writes: I thank my God every time I remember you.
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:3-6)
Isn’t this an unusual letter? Don’t you think the church in Philippi should be writing Paul letters, telling him, “Paul, it’s going to be okay. Hang in there.” But Paul is the one encouraging them.
That’s because Paul’s focus isn’t inward -- it’s upward. He’s focused on what God is doing, not on his dire circumstances.
Instead of thinking about how awful the food was, or how dark, dirty and damp were his surroundings, Paul chose to reflect back on the good memories he had made in Philippi. He thought about the revival and the relationships, and what God did.
Paul’s attitude was one of gratitude. It’s as if he was saying, “Every time I pray for you, I pray with joy because I remember all the good that happened! Even though I’m in chains, my heart is soaring!”
What about you -- where’s your focus?
Is it inward, focused on what you don’t have, what’s wrong with your circumstances, what other people ought to do, who you’re going to blame, why it happened, how unfair it is, and why you got a raw deal? Or, is it upward?
If you’re struggling with this, like many of us, here are two ways to develop an upward focus:
1. Practice gratitude.
Thankfulness isn’t something that comes over us; thankfulness is a choice that we make. We don’t feel to be thankful; we choose to be thankful.
We can choose to be grateful, and to remember the significant people in our life, the things that God has done, the things that really matter, the people that we love, and the people that love us. We can willfully choose to start thanking God for them.
We don’t pray only when we feel like it. We choose to pray. And how do we pray? We pray with joy, remembering past usefulness, the people that mattered, and the things God has done.
Remember, our feelings always follow our focus. And if our focus is upward, I guarantee that in time when we just choose, our feelings will follow.
To learn more about the power of perspective, listen to Chip’s series,
Living Above Your Circumstances.