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Meet the Ultimate Grave Digger and Joy Robber

October 21, 2019

Are you currently struggling with your attitude and your joy? Are you struggling with circumstances beyond your control? Is the sound of your own wheels driving you crazy? Do you want your joy back? If so, the book of Philippians in the Scriptures unmasks four joy robbers for us, one in each of the four chapters of this epistle. The mission of the four grave diggers is to dig a grave for your joy and bury it. 

Joy is mentioned nineteen times in the book of Philippians. The word mind is mentioned fifteen times. Joy is directly linked to how we think. Joy is determined by how we process what is going on around us. One may become a magnet for calamity just by the way he or she thinks. The answer? We change our thinking, perspective, and old ways of processing things. In this life, we can’t avoid pain, but we can avoid joy. Pain is inevitable but misery is optional.

In chapter one, the Apostle Paul identifies and unmasks circumstances as the first and most dangerous of the joy robbers. We humans generally make this mental assumption, “Circumstances need to go my way to make me happy. I should never suffer.” The fact is the person whose happiness depends on ideal circumstances is going to be miserable much of the time.   

Consider Paul’s circumstances when he wrote a letter to the church in Philippi. Firstly, he was in a Roman jail. He was chained to the Praetorian Guard, the special operations force of the Roman empire. These were soldiers from Caesar's very own household. While Paul was in jail, other preachers were preaching Christ for their own financial gain. They were also critical of Paul. They were doing this intentionally hoping it would cause Paul to be even more overwhelmed by his circumstances.

But wait, there’s more. Very soon, Paul was going to give a defense of the gospel. This is the emperor who crucified Christians upside down and burned them. On top of that, most of his friends had left him. Even the Philippian church he was writing to was trying to turn back to their old religious ways and falling in love with material things. Finally, there were two women in the church in a spiritual duel, creating two factions in the church.

Talk about challenging circumstances. I'm sure there are some of us with bigger problems than Paul's but not by much. Yet even in all these circumstances, Paul says, "Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel..." (Phil1:12).

While living amid these circumstances, Paul never loses his joy, perspective or attitude. His circumstances didn't rule him. He ruled his circumstances or at least his reaction to his circumstances. He was a thermostat, not a thermometer! Thermometers go up and down. Thermometers are reactive. Thermostats are pro-active. Thermostats click on the power when heat and cold comes.

Paul kept on rejoicing no matter what. He was able to see the big picture. He was confident there was going to be a, "and now, the rest of the story." He knew when you're down to nothing, God’s up to something. He knew he had problems, but also knew he had a resource bigger than his current circumstances.

The Scriptures say the joy of the Lord is your strength. Paul knew if you lose your joy, you lose your strength. If you lose your strength, you can't fight. If you can't fight, you will lose the battle of perspective. Happiness is circumstantial. Joy is a choice.

Yes, Paul was in jail, but he points out most of the people in the church had far more courage to preach the gospel now that he is in jail. Wow! There's a positive. Not everything is negative. This is quite a strategy for spreading the gospel. Lock the pastors in jail and their congregations will start speaking out about their faith. Not a bad strategy, unless you’re a pastor.

Paul goes on to tell the Philippians, “all the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. (Phil. 4:22). Get that? The Praetorian Guard, the Roman elite, were becoming "saints" or Christians. Paul wasn't chained to them. They were chained to Paul. Paul had a captive audience. Those poor soldiers couldn't escape this joy-filled Christian. The good news of gospel went right into Caesar’s very own household, through his household. A hundred years later, Rome was mostly a Christian nation. Where did it start? In a jail cell. 

Perhaps you feel like you’re chained to a bad circumstance. Consider this. Maybe it's chained to you. Bad circumstances can turn into an unbelievable opportunity when you don’t lose your joy. In every circumstance he says one thing, “I rejoice, and I will rejoice.” Despite his circumstances, he chose joy over depression. The joy of the Lord was his strength. It can be yours also. Move from being a victim to be the doctor.

Remember, it’s joy first and circumstances second. This brings a Source and Resource higher than you into the equation. It's more than positive thinking. It's ‘God thinking.’ The results are peace and power beyond life's ups, downs, and all arounds.

Let your joy change the world but don't let the world or circumstances change your joy.

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Ed Delph is a leader in church-community connections.
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