One of the most common mistakes Christians make is holding on to “when and then” thinking. When a certain event or activity happens, then I’ll be happy. When I get into college, then I’ll be happy. When I graduate, then I’ll be happy. When I get married, then I’ll be happy. When I get the job, then I’ll be happy.
In Philippians, Paul offers his own life as an example of how to be happy no matter what life brings. Paul wrote this letter, which is the happiest book in the Bible, from prison. Paul was an expert on being happy and joyful. He spent two years in jail in Caesarea on false charges, was sent to Rome and shipwrecked on an island where he was bitten by a snake. He was imprisoned again for another two years in Rome with a guard chained to him 24 hours a day. Paul had every reason to be unhappy. Instead, he wrote this book on happiness and joy.
In order to be happy, we must look at every problem from God’s point of view. The reason we are unhappy is because we look at situations from our narrow, limited point of view. We should instead look at life through the lens of scripture.
Look at what Paul said in Philippians 1:12, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” In other words, Paul saw all the difficulty as an avenue to point people to Jesus.
In order to be happy, we must never allow others to control our attitude. People can bring us down. In Philippians 1:17-18, it says: “The others do not proclaim Christ sincerely, but from a spirit of selfish ambition; they think that they will make more trouble for me while I am in prison. It does not matter! I am happy about it — just so Christ is preached in every way possible, whether from wrong or right motives. And I will continue to be happy.”
In essence, Paul says: “I’m not going to let other people control my attitude. I’m not going to let anybody steal my joy.”
In order to be happy, we must learn to trust God.
I’m a problem-solver and want to fix everything. I clean or paint scuffs on our walls at home often. I buff out smudges or scratches on the cars regularly. I’ve even tried to fix my wife and kids when I thought they needed fixing. But God doesn’t need my help, nor does He need me to fix everything. He just wants me to trust Him.
In Philippians 1:20, Paul writes, “I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die.” Paul had God’s perspective and completely trusted in God. Can you trust God and believe what he says in his word?
In order to be happy, we must stay focused on God’s purpose. Paul was aging, in prison, a long way from home in Rome, and awaiting death by execution. These don’t sound like happy times. Even so, Paul said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). The way to happiness is self-sacrifice, not self-gratification.
The only way to be happy is to admit that a life of fulfillment can only come by following and trusting in Christ and then to order my life around that understanding.
Jonathan Jarboe is the senior pastor at Pathway Church. Worship services are held on Sundays at 9 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. College small groups meet Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. More information is found on pathwayonline.com.