Most people don't enjoy life; they just endure it. They think that they can't be happy because of all the problems in their life. Their life has to be perfect before they're happy. But there's not such thing as a problem-free life. If you wait to be problem-free, you'll never be joyful. If you're going to learn to be joyful, you've got to do it in the middle of the problems of life.
Who do you think lives the ultimate lifestyle? Millionaires? Celebrities? Executives? Retired people? I'll tell you who is living the ultimate lifestyle: joyful people. The people who are really living the ultimate lifestyle are those people who have joy in their lives. The sad thing is - most of us aren't joyful. If we did a joy audit, we would find most of us simply existing from day to day, and trying to get by. The motto of many of our lives would be TGIF, "Thank God it's Friday." We live for the weekends. We simply exist the rest of the time. We're not joyful.
Now, all of us once were joyful. If you go to a schoolyard, I think you will find that about 90% of the children there are joyful. Do they have problems? Absolutely. Are they joyful? Absolutely. Joy is not the absence of problems; joy is the attitude that you carry regardless of your problems.
"Happiness" comes from the word "happenstance" from which we get the word "circumstance". It depends on happenings. Joy is internal. Happiness is external. You have a happy time at Disneyland, you leave and you lose your happiness. Joy is constant. How do you have happiness in spite of what is going on in your life?
We're going to look this morning at one of the most joyful people who ever lived. His name was Paul. Let me give you some background to his story today. Paul was in miserable circumstances. He was under house arrest on trumped up charges awaiting a trail whose outcome could result in his execution. We don't know exactly where he was, but he was facing a trail before Nero, who was not exactly known for his niceties towards Christians. On the way to Rome, he would have faced shipwreck, being stranded on an island, bitten by a poisonous snake, all before arriving to Rome and spending another two years there. In Rome, he would have no privacy. Every four hours he would get a new guard. He would be chained up 24 hours a day. I think you could say that Paul was in miserable circumstances.
But what does Paul say? In Philippians 1:18 he says, "I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice." What's Paul's secret? How can he be so joyful in prison? Paul gives us four essentials to living a joy-filled life:
1. I NEED THE RIGHT PERSPECTIVE
We all have problems. You brought them here with you this morning. They may be health problems, work problems, family problems, or money problems. It's easy to get discouraged about personal circumstances, or to take unimportant events too seriously. But Paul teaches us that our problems aren't as important as our perspective towards these problems. What is perspective? Perspective is a right evaluation of your circumstances. You need the right perspective in your life.
If you go to the doctor, one of the skills that you're looking for is that the doctor knows how to diagnose your problem. If you have a sprained ankle, you don't want them checking your wrist. You need someone who is able to properly evaluate your condition. If you're going to have a joy-filled life, you need the right perspective.
In Philippians 1:12, Paul says:
And I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including all the soldiers in the palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ.
Why could Paul rejoice? Paul had always wanted to go to Rome to do an evangelistic crusade, but he was never able to make it there. Now he's probably in Rome, and he's chained to the palace guard - possibly the most elite troops of the Roman Empire. If these guards indeed were the elite troops, then there could not be a more strategic group for Paul to reach with the Gospel. When they retired after 12 years they were made leaders in Rome. God puts Paul in Rome, Nero pays the bill and chains a future leader of Rome to him every four hours. These guards had an inside route to the emperor. Eventually Paul himself would speak before Nero. Paul was held captive, but as a result, Paul had a captive audience with whom he could share the gospel. They tried to shut him up, but instead they gave him a pulpit.
Not only this, but listen to verse 14: "And because of my imprisonment, many of the Christians here have gained confidence and become more bold in telling others about Christ." Others were emboldened by Paul's example. They saw what he was doing and decided that they could do it as well. If Paul had become depressed by his circumstances, it would have depressed the others. Instead, Paul saw that his attitude was affecting the attitudes of other believers around him. Other believers became bold because Paul was bold.
WHAT'S THE LESSON HERE FOR US? God has a purpose in each of my problems. God never wastes a hurt. God has a higher purpose in every problem that you have. Romans 8:28 tells us, "And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them." Every detail of our lives is worked into something good. God has a purpose in everything that we go through. Many times we don't see the purpose until later, but we can be assured that God has a purpose in every single one of my problems.
You need this perspective. You need to know that God has a purpose in what you're going through. No matter what it is, God has a purpose for you. God never wastes a hurt. I need a perspective to live from.
Rate yourself on this from 1 to 5. Do you see life from the right perspective? Do you recognize that God has a purpose in everything that you're going through? Rate yourself from 1 to 5 on this.
Here's the second essential for joy-filled living:
2. I NEED THE RIGHT PRIORITIES
When life gets tough, you need your priorities to be clear. A lot of people aren't joyful because their priorities in life are mixed up. They are focused on themselves and their happiness. They are focused on what other people expect from them. They even make their priorities the problems that other people give to them. What was Paul's priority?
In Philippians 1:15, Paul writes:
Some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. They preach because they love me, for they know the Lord brought me here to defend the Good News. Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me.
In essence, he's saying, "These guys are kicking me when I'm down. They're taking advantage of the fact that I'm in prison to build their own reputations." This group was delighting in Paul's difficulties, thinking that the worse it got for Paul, the better it would get for them.
How did Paul react? He tells us in verse 18, "But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice."
Paul said that he wasn't going to let anyone - critics included - steal his joy. Their motives might be wrong, their style may be wrong, but so what? They're preaching the Gospel. Paul had a priority to live by. He lived to see good news about Jesus preached, and as long as that was happening, Paul didn't care about anything else. I need a priority to live by.
Listen to what Paul said in Acts 20:22:
"And now I am going to Jerusalem, drawn there irresistibly by the Holy Spirit, not knowing what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit has told me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. But my l ife is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesusthe work of telling others the Good News about God's wonderful kindness and love.
Talk about priority! Paul had his priorities in place so much that even death was secondary. If you have nothing you're prepared to die for, then you have nothing to live for. Paul had something to die for. He had a priority.
The problem in life is that we let unimportant things crowd out the important things. We tend to forget what's important and live for what's urgent. How many times do you have a fight in your marriage and you realize that it's over something trivial? Or how many times do you examine a year of your life at your birthday and realize that it's been a year wasted?
Jesus said of God in Matthew 6:33, "He will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern." What's your primary concern? What's your priority in life? Is it your work? Is it your family? Is it your career? Your marriage? Jesus said, "He will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern."
There's a word for putting anything else first in our lives: idolatry. The minute that we make anything else first in our lives, we're idol worshipers. When we have our priorities right - when our priority is God - nothing can take our joy away. Proverbs 3:6 says, "Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths." I need a priority to live by.
HERE'S THE LESSON FOR US: I need to focus on what's really important. I need to focus on God's priorities in my life. I need to start living according to God's priorities rather than my own priorities.
Now, I want you to rate yourself from 1 to 5. If you sense that your priorities have been a little mixed up lately, give yourself a 1 or a 2. If you have really been focusing on what's important - on living for God and making the Kingdom of God your primary concern - then give yourself a 4 or a 5. You need the right priority.
Here's the third essential for joy-filled living:
3. I NEED GOD'S POWER
Life has a way of wearing you down. When you're young you're invincible. You think you can take on anything and anyone. As you age, you realize your limitations more. If you're not a little bit tired - if you haven't yet hit your limitations - then either you're not old enough, or you're not hanging around enough young people.
We need a power to live on. Paul did. In verse 19, Paul says, "For I know that as you pray for me and as the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will all turn out for my deliverance." Paul says that there are two things that keep him hanging in - the prayers of God's people, and the help of the Holy Spirit. You need a power to live by.
What can you do with God's power? Without God's power, it's all up to you. I mentioned last week that when we think it's all up to us, we become stressed out and joyless. When we think that everything is up to us, we lose our joy because we're not sure what is about to happen in our lives. We're not sure if we have enough energy to face tomorrow.
But with God's power, you can know that you will have anything you need to face whatever happens in your life. Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13: "For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need." You don't have enough strength to face your life on your own. You don't have the resources within you. But you don't need to. Your strength lies with the one who can continually empower you for everything that you will face in life.
Listen to God's promise in 2 Corinthians 9:8: "God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others."
God has the power to take care of all your needs. As Paul writes this, he's talking about financial needs. His point is that if we honor God with our finances by being generous, God will show his power by taking care of our mortgage, our credit cards, our bills. God takes care of his people.
In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel wandered around for forty years. It wasn't long before the people began to complain about the lack of food. They accused God of abandoning them - of not providing their needs. God responded by saying, "In the evening you will have meat to eat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God." But God only gave them enough for each day. If they tried to take more than they needed, then the bread went rotten.
That's what God is like. God provides what we need when we need it. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, "Give us our food for today" (Matthew 6:11). We don't need tomorrow's food. We don't need tomorrow's strength. God is an expert at providing just what we need, when we need it. You don't need tomorrow's strength. You need God to provide enough strength for today. God has promised to do that.
HERE'S THE LESSON FOR US: With God's power, I have everything that I need. With God's power you can maintain your joy, because you know that God will provide everything that you need, just when you need it.
Rate yourself from 1 to 5. If you're trying to live on your own power, give yourself a 1 or a 2. You're waking up everyday and trying to plow through on your own strength. You've probably realized by now that it's not enough. If you are living under God's strength - praying everyday that God would provide everything you need for that day's living - then give yourself a 4 or a 5. I need God's power in my life.
4. I NEED A RIGHT PURPOSE
Paul was in prison. He was facing possible death. They had taken away many of his freedoms. But they couldn't take one thing away from Paul. They couldn't take away his purpose.
Listen to what he wrote: "For to me, living is for..." (Philippians 1:21). Now, stop there and ask yourself what you would fill in. Living is for what? Fill in the blank here honestly. We all know what we're supposed to answer. But what is your life for?
If you look around you, you'll find that most people would answer like this:
- "For me, living is for POSSESSIONS." Get all you can. Spend all you can. Living is for possessions. If you live for possessions, your worth is only as good as your net worth. If you live for possessions, you'll never experience true joy.
- Some people say, "For me, living is for PLEASURE." If it feels good, do it. Go for the gusto. Do whatever you can do to get pleasure, because pleasure doesn't last. Many people are living for pleasure, but pleasure never lasts. Pleasure isn't enough.
- Others say, "For me, living is for PRESTIGE." It's about power, influence, position, popularity. Image is everything. It's about the right car, the right job, the right clothes. It's about impressing the right people. Some will do anything to impress others.
The problem with possessions, pleasure, and prestige is that they don't last. They don't even last for a lifetime, let alone an eternity. You know that the people with the most possessions aren't the most joyful people. Those who have had the most pleasure aren't the most joyful people. Those who have the most prestige aren't the most joyful people.
What's the secret to joy? It's found in having the right purpose. Paul says, "For me, living is for Christ." That's the only purpose that makes any sense. If you're living for anything else, it's not a good enough reason for living.
The best use of your life is to invest it in something that will outlast it. If your purpose is to live fo r Christ, then he gives you a purpose for living that will outlast your life. He gives you significance. He plants within you the ability to accomplish eternally significant. He wipes out all the mistakes and sins of your past. And he gives you the assurance that your life will last for all of eternity. Paul knew that death would mean the beginning of eternity.
If you're living for any other purpose than Christ, you're living an empty life. You're living a very temporary life. You don't have any lasting joy. But there's an answer. Stop being preoccupied with yourself. Commit your life to Christ. And you will find true joy.
HERE'S THE LESSON FOR US: Joy comes from putting Jesus at the center of my life.
Rate yourself from 1 to 5. If you're living for possessions, pleasure, or prestige, then give yourself a 1. If you're not perfect, but you're consistently working at putting Jesus at the center of your life, then give yourself a 4 or a 5.
The ultimate lifestyle isn't what the world says it is. People say that the ultimate lifestyle is about possessions, pleasure, and prestige. It isn't about any of that. It's about being grateful and joyful. It's about living with the power of God.
Some of you have been living without that power. You've got the wrong perspective. Your priorities are out of whack. You're living without enough power. You need a new purpose.
This morning you can come to God and say, "God, I've messed up. I've been trying to live my life my way, but this morning I realize that I can't go on. I need new management. I need you to become the Lord, the director, the boss of my life."
"Today I acknowledge that I have sinned and let you down. I thank you for the forgiveness that Jesus offers through his death. I today ask you to become the Lord, the director of my life. And I thank you for your forgiveness. In Jesus' name, Amen."