It’s 5:27pm, and the world is alive with sounds, smells, laughter, barking, barbecues lit, and music playing. For many, this hour, this moment, is full of the people they love, the friendships they cherish, and memories just beginning to be made. For many this is just another beautiful weekend crowning a long, but productive workweek; the sweet satisfaction of rest and respite after all their labor. For others, this hour could be anything but sweet. For others this is just another day without a husband by their side or father for their children to look up to. It is just another day without enough food, a day without freedom, a day without love, a day without hope, a day without direction. This seemingly beautiful Saturday night may in fact be just like any other that passes with tears, with sorrow, with less than full joy in the absence of all that could be or the lack of what is.
I think we can all agree, the world is a complex place, fraught with sadness, disappointment, catastrophe, despair, abuse, injustice, broken dreams, broken lives, broken promises, broken people, hurt, wrongdoing, disease, pain, and on and on it goes. For those who have faith in God remember that even Jesus said, “in this world you will have trouble.” Yet, even in all that this life cannot promise or deliver, we can still find joy in the midst of our circumstances. Even in your failing health, failing marriage, or failing dreams, you can still hold onto and relish the good that is, and have confident expectation of better to come. Yes, even in the most despairing, unfair, and disadvantageous of circumstances you can still find reason to be joyful and even enjoy this life God has given.
Paul summarized it plainly in his letter to the Philippians:
“…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to becontent. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” [Philippians 4:10-13]
To be content. In whatever situation. This is a high charge. Even higher still a few verses up in this chapter Paul again charges, “rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”
If you have lived past even a decade or two in this life, it remains no mystery that there exists in the heart an insatiable desire that leaves one feeling as if there is never enough to fill. It’s the human condition; to want more than what we’re given. Wasn’t that what prompted Adam and Eve in the garden? Here, with abundance at their fingertips, their ever hungry bellies wanted just a little bit more. Utopia wasn’t enough. And though we most likely live a far stretch away from the paradisiacal world that Eden most certainly was, there is still so much beauty, goodness, and plenty that surrounds us that often goes unnoticed, overlooked, and flat out disregarded.
A baby’s cries; she is alive. A songbirds melody; there is music in the air. A stranger’s smile; compassion still lingers in this war torn, greed filled, God numb world.
There is plenty of cause for us to have joy and rejoice despite the chaos swirling about our lives, the world, or our close circle of friends and loved ones. Despite all the conflict, the losses, the failures, the world still has much good and sweetness to offer us while we fulfill our purposes here in this life. Troubles don’t discriminate against anyone, and chances are, they’ve visited you on more than one occasion and in varying degrees. Maybe you’re even in the thick of your life’s greatest battle as you read this post.
Yet what separates those that can find satisfaction and joy in life between those that wallow in whatever ill has been doled out to them? Does God give some greater favor than others? What is the distinction in the man or woman that sorrows and despairs and the one who rejoices in all?
In a word, I’d like to argue, our mindset.
“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven..”
― John Milton,
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines mindset as this: “a mental attitude or inclination; a fixed state of mind.” When our mind is fixed on the negative, or we dwell on the lack rather than the gain, we are in essence creating a mindset of misery. What we focus on, we magnify, give rise to, and increase. If a problem looms in front of us and we fix our gaze ever on its formidable place in our path, we will never have eyes to see the way out–or oftentimes, through. Although it’s never anyone’s first choice, sometimes God allows us to go through certain trials, for reasons unbenounced to us. But to ask the “why” questions will often force us out of the awareness of His grace and love for us and into the dangerous territory of accusing a good God of bad. The longer I live on this earth, the more I realize we have such little control of the circumstances that come our way. Yet, what we do and can control is our response to them.
The ever wisdom-rich book of Proverbs tell us that “as a man thinks in his heart, so he is,” drawing an important connection between our heart and our mind. Though this is not a post to get into the theology of this subject, I think many of us can agree that the condition of our soul, our heart, and our being, will affect the way we operate in the world. If our mind is fixed on the seen, the circumstance, the bad in our lives, then our heart is prone to despair and discouragement, and vice versa. To change our mindset, we have to change our heart. And to change our heart requires a supernatural force outside of ourselves and our own self-control and self-will.
The prophet Jeremiah says this of our soul-filled organ: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”(17:9) intimating that we have no power to sway it in and of ourselves. The very next verse (17:10) states that “…I the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives.” Therefore, continually asking God in prayer to renew our hearts and our minds is key to maintaining a joy-filled, confidently hopeful and Godly outlook on our lives.
Some key verses to dwell on in light of this prayer are these:
“Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.” (Ephesians 4:23)
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:12)
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)
“Taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” (2nd Corinthians 10:5)
In renewing our minds, we have to move from the natural world to the supernatural. From the seen, to the unseen. From visible signs to His invisible attributes. We have to go above our own puny understanding of how this world works and get back to what the Truth found in the Word of God says. We need to surrender what we see to the One who knows the unseen. We have to have a confident expectation of God and His indelible, unchanging nature if we are to expect good things of Him. How can we expect God to bless us and turn our situation around if we are constantly dwelling and focusing on the negative in our lives? He is asking us, imploring us, begging us even, to give Him those anxieties of the heart that arise when situations go array. To trust Him with every care, every circumstances, every sorrow, every loss.
If we truly believe that His thoughts toward us are good, that He has a hope filled future before us, then we must not fear when trials come our way but instead turn to the One who knows the outcome and pour out our hearts to Him in the midst of our cares and our hurts, for the Scriptures say, “He is a refuge for us.”
When we focus on all the good He is–all the power He holds, all the love He pours out–we begin to forget the fears that hold us to hopelessness. We begin to understand that He is the firm foundation upon which our lives can be built. When our circumstances have us feeling too weak to even begin to shift our perspective in our own strength we can meditate on the truth that even though our flesh and heart may fail, that God is the strength of our heart and our portion forever, (Psalm 73:26).
Going back to our passage from Jeremiah, we are given a beautiful promise if we choose to trust in Him over our own strength and understanding:
“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
8 They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
and they never stop producing fruit.”
Just preceding this beautiful blessing is a warning for those who don’t put their entire hope and weight of being on the One who holds eternity in His hands. It clearly states that when we trust in our human strength we will find ourselves weak and without hope. What a stark contrast from the beautiful partnership that He invites us into.
And really, it’s just that; this journey through the bog and mire of life. It’s an invitation for us to come alongside the God who will carry us through. You see, God isn’t the grand magician ready to wave His magic wand and make all of life’s cares and problems disappear. Not in the least. Yes, He is Sovereign and on His throne. Yes, He is able and willing. Yes, He hates evil and everything that comes along with it, including the thief Himself. Yes, He has come to give us life and even more abundantly. But the key to us entering into this reality is our faith that He is all those things despite everything else around us that shouts otherwise. Those who believe in Him and on Him are called blessed. Even in the midst of a string of circumstances that look like anything but blessings.
Because the blessing lies more in the internal state of our being than in the outward presence of our circumstances. Everything hinges on our faith. The difference is always in what we believe; about God, about His posture toward us, about our attitude and mindset toward Him.
When we bless the Lord in the midst of whatever it is we are going through and declare His goodness toward us, His people, we spark something in the Heavenlies that begins to shake the unseen world around us.
Again, this is the outcome for those who keep their minds “fixed” on Him:
“I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.”
How many of you, dear readers, would like to go through life “unshaken” no matter what comes your way? I, for one, want more of this mindset and way of living to become a permanent fixture and a normal response to whatever ails or plagues me.
We are told that in His presence there is “fullness of joy,” and in order to come into His presence we have to leave behind the baggage we have been toting through this hope-torn life. We have to give up the garbage that we have let stew in our minds in order to let His goodness, peace, and joy in. It’s a transaction, and the most favorable, vastly unbalanced-in-our-favor one that you will ever make. Give God your trials, your challenges, your disappointments, your losses, and gain His joy, strength, and favor even in the midst of anything amiss that remains.
Unfortunately, life won’t always turn around like the flip of a switch when we surrender these things to the Lord. Sometimes, many times, circumstances remain the same. But what changes, what matters, is our hearts. And when our hearts change toward God, our circumstances and our future begin to look different to us as well. When we soften our hearts to God, we allow Him to come in and do the work within us that will carve the valley of separation between the despair we left behind and the promise we approach ahead. And that just may make all the difference in our outcome.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us…
For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
[Romans 8:18, 24, 28]
The world is still teeming with beauty. There is still so much goodness, so much purity, so much to fill our minds with wonder and our hearts with worship. Let us not give way to the lies that tell us any otherwise. No matter how you may feel toward God or the lot you’ve been cast in in this season of your life, don’t let your confident expectation in the Creator of this vast Universe be swayed by the lie that this is all there is, that this is all we have, that the Kingdom cannot be possessed now, in this life. Believe beyond all shadow of doubt that you will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. In the here and now.
And know, that you know, that you know…that He is good. And that His mercies, new each and every morn, endure forever. There is more. More than what your circumstances or feelings may dictate. There is more. There is hope. There is joy. Even here, even now.
There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next.