• johned@aibi.ph

Finding Peace In The Midst Of Life

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 (NIV) Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him--for this is his lot. {19} Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work--this is a gift of God. {20} He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.

How many people taste their food? How many really enjoy sex? How many celebrate the sunshine or the rain or the wind in their hair? There is a terrible tragedy in the un-enjoyed life. The life that is so immersed in worry and fretting that it never lives. Solomon writes extensively about the futility of such lives in Ecclesiastes and concludes that the un-enjoyed life is not worth living.

We seem to have lost contact with the hearty, earthy ability to enjoy our days. There is a constant gnawing dissatisfaction in most people's lives. As Thoreau said "Most men live lives of quiet despair". This is neither good or right or normal. God made Eden to be enjoyed, Jesus came to give us abundant life and Paul said to 'rejoice in the Lord always'. The "curse" did not end our ability to heartily enjoy life though it did diminish it. Many in the bible and today enjoy their work and their children and are happy. So what is the difference between an unhappy Christian and a happy Christian? There are seven differences that I have noticed:

Seven Differences In the Life Of Happy Christians

  1. Happy Christians believe that God is always good and loving towards them and is personally interested in them because that is His nature as our heavenly Father.

  2. Happy Christians have learned to let go of grudges and to bounce back from pain, hurt and disappointment. They have made this a priority in their Christian growth.

  3. Happy Christians have a positive attitude to God's creation and see it as good. This includes their own bodies and the various talents God has given them.

  4. Happy Christians are forward looking in their faith and are convinced that God still has things in store for them to do.

  5. Happy Christians stomp sharply on their "negative reflexes' such as automatically grumbling at change or the weather or the traffic. They turn off the inner critic.

  6. Happy Christians train themselves to live with (and even like) diversity - especially in people. They strive to compliment the strengths of others rather than belittling them.

  7. Happy Christians trust God sufficiently to let Him be in charge. Happy Christians are in the process of giving up their manipulative, immature and controlling behavior and becoming more like Jesus.

Paul's Powerful Secret

Happiness generally results from a purposefully chosen stance toward life, God and other people. It is rarely an accident or an inborn disposition. Its like the optimist and the pessimist. The optimist sees the glass half full, the pessimist sees it as half empty. Paul says that happiness and contentment were things that he learned. Lets look at some of his secrets to the happy Christian life.

(Philippians 4:4-14 NIV) Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! {5} Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. {6} Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. {7} And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. {8} Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. {9} Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. {10} I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. {11} I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. {12} I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. {13} I can do everything through him who gives me strength. {14} Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.

Firstly (verse 4) Paul makes rejoicing in the Lord a command. It is not a reaction. It is not even an option. It is a command to be kept perpetually. Rejoicing is thus something we put into place in our lives. It is as we continually rejoice in the Lord that we can know happiness and contentment in life. From this platform we can move onto the other secrets of a happy life.

Secondly (verse 5) we are to have a gentle attitude to others and to life. We are to placidly amidst the noise and haste, to walk softly and speak slowly. Harsh people are inevitably unhappy. They cannot "smell the flowers" - because they tread them underfoot. Gentleness nurtures life and its joys and makes the fruit of happiness grow.

Thirdly (verses 6 &7) we are to substitute prayer for anxiety. Fretfulness kills our happiness. Prayer brings peace. As we learn that art of bringing our problems to God with some intensity of emotion and pouring out our hearts before Him - it is then we find peace. Great peace. An essential part of peace is thankfulness and our prayers should be saturated with gratitude.

Fourthly (verse 8) we are to think on good and lofty and noble themes. These expand the mind and fit it for godliness. Mean, base, horrible thoughts make the mind unable to receive God's truth, his peace, his joy, or the happiness He grants through the Spirit to those that love Him. Noble and good and great thoughts give joy to God and open the mind to receive the truths and gifts that are from God. (1 Cor 2:9-16) I find dwelling on Scripture is good but you can also dwell on God's handiwork in nature. Also there is much good in Christian books, in good business books and classical literature. You need to select your material here with care but there is an almost infinite amount of really stimulating and wonderful material to read and think about. Paul seems to be familiar with the Greek poets and to approve of some of what they have said.

Fifthly (verse 9) we are to model our lives on those of outstanding Christians we know. If we do "the God of peace will be with you". That is a promise! This involves not just observing but putting it into practice as well.

Sixthly (verse 10) we are to appreciate the concern others have for us and to show gratitude for it. When we show gratitude we enlarge our hearts and demonstrate that we are not selfish. People who feel that kindness is "their right" and who do not say thank you inevitably end up unhappy.

Seventhly (verses 11-13) we are to learn to be adaptable Christians who can be content in all circumstances through the power of God that is in us. Learning to cope with stress is a matter of personal growth. Once we start learning to be adaptable it is tempting to require adaptability from others around us. However this is not what the verse says. The context is "I have learned to..." not "You must be..". Some people can take more stress and change than others. Paul sets forth his lifestyle as a commendable example knowing that many will find such flexibility difficult. The basis for coping with stress is not toughness or resilience but through trusting in the indwelling power of Jesus Christ:
"I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. {13} I can do everything through him who gives me strength. "

Kicking The Misery Out Of Your Life

There is a book by Barbara Johnson called "Pain Is Inevitable But Misery Is Optional So Stick A Geranium In Your Hat And Be Happy". Misery is optional - yet it is opted for by many. I think four or five things lie at the root of much choosing of misery. The first is "entitlement", the second is "revenge", the third is "the spirit of separation/isolation", the fourth is "my standards", and the fifth is "look what you made me do to myself". They all stem from that unjolly giant called self. To explain them a bit more:

Entitlement - eg "I am entitled to.(.be happy, that promotion, that girl/guy, my own way, to get drunk, to hit my wife..) and I won't be happy until I get what I am entitled to." This is the very opposite of the spirit of renunciation that pervades much of the New Testament. Jesus was entitled to stay in heaven as God but He chose to be born of a virgin, and to suffer and die. Jesus did not grasp hold of all He was entitled to. He held life loosely. Happy Christians can live life without being possessive of it. Be flexible about what you are entitled to.

Revenge- "I won't be happy until "justice is done/I get him back for that..". To make your happiness depend on your ability to take revenge is to built it on a sinful and shaky foundation. It is very clear that revenge is forbidden for the Christian:
.(Romans 12:19 NIV) Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.

The Spirit Of Separation- "Misery and loneliness are better than being part of group X, " or "I cannot be happy until I find the perfect group". Such people cannot handle differences and would rather separate than tolerate. This can be illustrated by a square containing a hundred dots arranged in a grid. Each dot represents a friend or associate. A conflict arises. A person with the spirit of separation says "I agree with that half but not that half"...and they now have 50 people "in their circle" and this seems fine. Disagreement sets in once more and they repeat the exercise and reject twenty-five and keep twenty five. They now have 25 in their circle and claim to "like small groups". However in such small groups conflicts arise as well and soon it is 12, 6, 3, 2, 1 ...zero "in their circle". They end up with no friends at all. They are miserable and lonely and deeply discontented because they have chosen to separate rather than reconcile and tolerate.

My Standards- "I cannot be happy while my standards are being so openly flouted around me in this slack and sinful world. When everyone finally gets their act together then I will be happy". It is good to have high and godly standards but they need not make us miserable. Our rejoicing in the Lord should be what sets the mood of our life not the sin of this world. Jesus was happy in a sinful world - not happy with it but happy in it.

Look At What You Made Me Do To Myself- "I am unhappy because you made me unhappy by not giving me what I wanted when I asked for it so I am going around in misery - I have to, you made me do it." This is simultaneously a)giving other people the power to make you unhappy b) denying that you have the power within yourself to be happy in difficult circumstances. Such people are robbing themselves of joy in two directions at once!

There needs to be a conscious renouncing of the above mental habits and a taking of responsibility for how we feel and for the amount of joy in our lives. We enjoy life by deciding to enjoy it. Please think about that - its true. Decide to enjoy your life and you will find each day a pleasure. If you look for something to complain about you will find it and you will become miserable by habit. If you look for something to rejoice in you will find it and be happy by habit. ("Under normal circumstances" because sometimes grief and deep loss and pain overwhelm our ability to choose to be thankful and happy.) Life is mainly normal and in that normality we can be "normally miserable" or "normally happy".

Solomon points out that a stillborn child has a better fate than a prosperous person who cannot enjoy their prosperity. The child does not enjoy life but sees no pain, knows no fear, and has no bills to pay or work to do. The miserable person does not enjoy life but has work and pain and taxes and all the rest on top. In the end the still-born child and the miserable man all end up in the same place - the grave. Solomon is saying "If you don't enjoy life than you might as well not live." This is almost Epicurean in that it seems to evaluate the worth of a life by the amount of pleasure in it. Actually Solomon is not endorsing Epicureanism. He is just pointing out the obvious - that a miserable life is not life as God designed it to be.

The abundant life is both a gift and a choice. Without God giving it to us we cannot have it. Once we have it we need to focus on it and receive it. We can only receive it by letting go of self and going to the cross with Christ. As we release our entitlements and need for revenge and the standards we impose on others and the desire for people to conform to our will and give us what we want - then - and only then - will we find our long sought joy.

(Philippians 2:14-15 NIV) Do everything without complaining or arguing, {15} so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe


This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.