(Living life beyond your circumstances)
Joy begins with a thankful heart. Recently in my quiet time I realized that I was in the habit of beginning my prayers by asking for stuff and it was not until the end of my prayer time that I thought to thank God for what He has already done for me, if I even thought to thank Him at all. How backwards is that?
Words To Remember –
“I will give thanks to you, LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.” Psalm 9:1
By Paul’s example, we come to realize the extent to which God has gone to meet our needs, the many reasons He has given us to be thankful. In his opening words to the Philippians, Paul mentions three things for which he is thankful:
°His fellow believers
°His ministry and the church
- Paul was thankful for his fellow believers.
See if this sounds familiar. You’re in your car, or at work, or maybe cleaning house, when suddenly, for no apparent reason, someone’s name pops into your mind. It may be someone you haven’t spoken with or even thought of in a long time. Suddenly, there they are and you feel a nearness, a connection that can’t be explained. I think that could be the kind of experience Paul is talking about in Philippians 1:3 when he says “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,”
Throughout Paul’s writings, we see his love and concern for the brethren. In all but four of his thirteen epistles, Paul opens his letters specifically telling his reader that he is not only praying for them, he is thanking God for them. What a great model for us.
We worship together, we fellowship with one another, we pray together; possibly -hopefully, we occasionally show our appreciation for one another. But, do we have that thankful heart we see in Paul? Do we thank God at every remembrance of one another? I can’t help but wonder what a difference it would make, not only in our individual relationships but also in the life of our churches, if we were more thankful for one another.
- Paul was thankful for his ministry and the church.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, as well as in his letters to other churches, he talks about the many obstacles of his ministry. Rather than complaining however, he turns each obstacle into a reason to praise God.
- So what if he was put in prison – his imprisonment gave courage to others.
- So what if there were those who were preaching for their own selfish ambition – Christ’s name was being proclaimed.
- So what if there was a good chance he would die for the faith – he would be with the Lord.
Paul kept his focus on his mission, not on his misery. Paul knew that the work God had given him was more important than his own needs. Paul understood that he had been entrusted with the building up of the Church of Christ and he was thankful to have been so called.
In the kingdom of God, there is plenty of work for all of us. Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9:37b).
God doesn’t need us. For His own reasons, God has chosen us to be His vessels. He graciously allows us to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. He has chosen to give us the opportunity to invest in eternity. And because He has so entrusted us, surely He is not pleased when we reject such a blessing. When our hearts are truly thankful, we will not only want to serve, we, like Paul, will consider it an honor and a blessing.
- Paul was thankful for his circumstances.
Of all that Paul was thankful for, his thankfulness for his circumstances is most difficult for me to comprehend. In the introduction, we touched on some of the trials and tribulations Paul endured. Paul gives us a detailed look of some of the suffering he went through in 2 Corinthians.
Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one–I am talking like a madman–with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28)
As if all this wasn’t enough, we learn in the following chapter of 2 Corinthians that Paul was given a “thorn” in his flesh.
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. (2 Corinthians 12:7)
Amazingly, all these things did not come as a surprise to Paul. We read in the book of Acts, that it was prophesied to Paul that he would suffer and even die for the ministry!
But the Lord said to him (Ananias), “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15-16)
And coming to us, he (Agabus) took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” (Acts 21:11-14)
And yet, Paul tells the Philippians “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12). How could Paul have such a thankful heart?
For one thing, Paul was a big picture guy.
He didn’t focus on his circumstances, he looked beyond them. He didn’t look inward, he looked upward. Remember Paul’s thorn in the flesh? The scripture tells us that he asked three times for Christ to remove it but God said “no”. Paul didn’t get discouraged and quit, he didn’t ask “why me Lord”?
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
Paul didn’t just accept his circumstances, he praised God for them knowing that the cause of Christ far outweighed his own comforts or needs, even his own life!
If we were to do an in-depth study of Paul’s life, we would find that his mental and emotional suffering was as great as his physical sufferings. He was mocked and persecuted, his ministry was brought into question within the churches he devoted to which he devoted his life. I can only imagine how he must have taken comfort from the words of Christ “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you”. (John 15:18)
With all the accolades, let’s not forget that Paul was just a man. In many of his writings he freely admitted his weaknesses and imperfections. But in the end, he always came back to the only thing that really mattered – the glory of Jesus Christ. Oh, to be like Paul, to say boldly-
“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” (Philippians 4:12)
How did Paul do it? How can we?
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
- One more word about thankfulness.
Before we leave our chapter on thankfulness, I want to take a minute to further encourage you. It is selfishness not thankfulness that comes naturally to fallen man, that’s why we need Philippians 4:13. But when we give ourselves over to Christ, and seek to have a thankful heart, joy will not be our only reward. James gives us some additional thoughts on the subject.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)
Like Paul, James tells us that if we will look to our future glory rather than our present suffering, we will not only come through the trial, we will be rewarded with a stronger faith, a greater endurance and complete and perfect joy. Unspeakable Joy.
Read Philippians Chapter 1.
- What are the reasons Paul is thankful for the believers at Philippi? [vss. 5-7]
- What is Paul’s prayer for the Philippians? [vss. 9-11]
- What is the “fruit of righteousness” Paul mentions in verse 11 and what are some specific ways we can see the fruit manifested in the Philippian church? [see also James 3:17-18]
- Why was Paul thankful for his imprisonment? [vss. 12-14]
- What was going on that could easily have discouraged Paul? [vss. 15-16]
- How were Paul’s adversities beneficial to the ministry and an encouragement to him? [vss. 17-18]
Finding your joy.
- Paul writes “He who began a good work in you is faithful to complete it. In what specific area(s) have you experienced Christ working in you?
2. Are you willing to ask God to reveal any “hidden areas” in which you need to grow? Record them here.
3. Think about a brother or sister in Christ who could use encouragement. Will you commit to be an encourager?
Write the name of the person.
Write down some ways you can let them know how much you appreciate them.
©2017 Sandra Bivens Smith