Our “Real Happy” sermon series has been focusing on Paul and the example he provided in terms of learning to be content regardless of one’s circumstances. Paul’s letters to the Philippians were written while he was imprisoned. It is hard to imagine Paul being content while in prison, yet his contentment in Christ is clear as you read the following passage from Philippians 4:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirableif anything is excellent or praiseworthythink about such things.Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in meput it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” -Philippians 4:4-9
It is easy to become focused on the large and small events in life that have an impact on our daily experience. We may not notice it at first, but if we only put our focus on the personal impact of annoying, inconvenient, sad, or challenging events in life, we put our true happiness at risk by allowing external events to have too much influence on our well-being. I’m not saying that we should ignore everything that isn’t positive, as if the world is a perfect 24/7 oasis of peace and calm. I am saying that the way we think about things turns into a powerful loop of internal self-talk that can either help us or hurt us.
This is why I think Paul’s time of imprisonment is so inspiring. What would be going through your mind if you were sitting in a Roman prison? Would you be able to think about how to utilize your imprisonment for the good of all? Would you be able to write encouraging letters laced with joy and profound faith in Christ?
One of the things I’ve noticed in my work as a leadership coach is that people can achieve extraordinary things, particularly when their mindset is focused on a positive vision. Brain scientists are learning more about the ways we can shift our behavior by changing the way we think. Physicians and others in the medical field are learning more about how our thoughts impact our body’s ability to heal and ward off stress and illness. Techniques like visioning and positive affirmations are not just ‘woo-woo’ self-help practices; they help to focus the brain and the body in important ways. Top athletes use similar practices as a way to train for peak performance.
I invite you to try this five-minute practice the next time you are feeling anxious:
- Turn off the radio and the car and put your cell phone on vibrate.
- Focus your thoughts on gratitude to God.
- Thank God for being with you in all things.
- Take a few deep breaths and just sit for a moment in a feeling of gratitude.
- Notice how this shift in the focus of your attention changes your breathing, your heart rate, and your level of anxiety.
I pray that none of us will experience the type of physical imprisonment that Paul experienced. But the truth is that we put ourselves into a form of our own mental and emotional prison whenever we allow external events to have too much power over our daily happiness. When we train ourselves to change what we tell ourselves about a given situation, what we feel about that situation changes as well. Real happiness comes through the confidence that God is truly with us in all things.