Monday, March 24, 2014

Learning the Secret

For the past four or five weeks a friend and I have been reading together through Paul's letter to the Philippians. We finished it this morning, and we were both equally struck by how much practical value in packed into this short little book and how it speaks into our lives, especially in regard to our mindset. When it comes to positive thinking, Zig Ziglar has nothing on Paul, who writes this letter from a prison cell in Rome and yet the constant theme throughout the letter is rejoice, be content, think on good things. This letter gives new meaning to the trite phrase we often use, "It's all good." For Paul, it truly was "all good."

Whether it was enemies preaching the gospel with ulterior motives (1:12-20), the uncertainty of his immediate future destiny (to live or die, remain in prison or be released, 1.21-26; 2.17), his own past failings or regrets (3.12-14), or experiencing either poverty or abundance (4.10-14), to Paul it was truly "all good." "For," he said, "I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am...the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need" (4.11-12).

Throughout the letter Paul admonishes his readers to rejoice. He speaks of joy or rejoicing no less than ten times in this short letter. He tells his readers to "do all things without grumbling or disputing" (2.18). He urges us to unselfishly consider others as more important than ourselves, just as Christ did (2.1-8), to be anxious about nothing, but be filled with thanksgiving (4.6), and to dwell on the things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent, and praise-worthy (4.8). If that is not positive thinking, I don't what is.

Yet how often do we find ourselves discontent, grumbling, grouchy, and negative? We complain about the government, we complain about the evil in the world, we complain about how slow the church is to change (I'm looking in the mirror on that one), we complain about upper-level management at work, we complain that the weather is too hot or too cold or too rainy or too dry. The list goes on and on. Not that we should stick our heads in the sand and pretend nothing needs fixing. But the old saying goes, we are either part of the solution or part of the problem.

It really comes down to perspective. The glass is either half empty or half full. To Paul, the glass was not only half full, but actually all the way full and overflowing, even when it appeared nearly empty (4.10-14). How could he be so positive and joyful no matter the circumstance? It was a secret, he said, and he had learned what that secret was (4.12). But he doesn't keep it a secret. The secret is Christ: "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (4.13). For Paul, to live was Christ (1.21), and that was the secret. Jesus changes everything. He is the secret to having a joyful, happy life. He is the secret to being positive. He is the secret to seeing the beauty and blessings of life even in the most difficult of circumstances. Jesus makes it "all good" so that in him we can rejoice always.

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