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Who doesn’t want to be be peacefully happy? All the time. In every type of circumstance and situation. I think we all know at least one person who is always serene and smiling, no matter what they are going through. And we want to know, “What’s their secret?”

The Apostle Paul was that kind of guy. Always full of joy. Always rejoicing. He wrote the book of Philippians. In this book he tells his readers to rejoice always. He tells them this because he knows it’s possible. He is living proof. He writes this letter that is so full of joy and hope, from a prison, while in chains (1:14), and he is rejoicing. (1:18)

So Paul, what is your secret? What is the secret to living a life of peaceful happiness.

Paul writes in chapter four, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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.”

The definition of “content” is “the state of peaceful happiness”. And there is a secret to attaining that state of mind – that state of being. It is not something that just happens to a person one day. It is something we need to learn. Something Paul needed to learn.

Paul wasn’t always peacefully happy. At one time in his life he was a religious zealot, full of anger and condemnation at all those around him who were not living up to the high standards of the Torah, the law. It was bad enough all those Jews who were lax in their obedience to God’s Holy Word, but then come the Followers of the Way, who were proclaiming the Messiah had come, and his name is Jesus.

Paul set out to destroy them and their belief in this false Messiah. Paul writes to the Philippian Christians that he had learned to be content; he had learned to be peacefully happy, and that education began on the road to Damascus, where he had a life changing encounter with Jesus, the Messiah.

The first key to unlocking the secret of a life of peaceful happiness is having a life changing encounter with Jesus. It’s usually not as dramatic as a bright, shining light and an audible voice from heaven, as Paul experienced, but it is a deep and meaningful revelation of the truth that God loves you and wants you to be happy. It’s an understanding that Jesus, the Son of God, humbled himself by coming to earth as a human baby, served humanity, died on a cross to forgive our sins, and rose to life so that we could live in right relationship with God and with our fellow human beings.

The second key to living in a state of peaceful happiness is found in Philippians chapter 2. Paul says that we should be like Jesus in his humility, in his servant attitude. He says we should do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but, in humility, should value others above ourselves. (2:3-8)

That can be mighty difficult in the competitive world that we live in. We are taught from a young age to win, to be the best, to get ahead. Our pride tells us to look down on others, climb over others, bury others. Indulging in all that” getting ahead” stuff usually leads to sad, angry lives, rather than happy, peaceful lives. Jesus says that we should “love one another as we love ourselves.” That includes valuing others above ourselves. Doing that is freeing, invigorating and enlightening.

The third key that opens the door to a lifestyle of peaceful happiness is thinking. Think, think, think. Paul admonishes the Philippians, and all believers, in chapter four to Think about whatever is true. Think about whatever is noble. Think about whatever is right. Think about whatever is pure. Think about what is lovely. Think about whatever is admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. When we think about these things, the God of peace and the peace of God will be with us (4:7-9)

This is an important key. If we primarily think good, happy, peaceful thoughts, we will live good, happy peaceful lives.

This is also a difficult key, because in our world we are conciously and unconciously thinking negative thoughts, or unproductive thoughts. We think alot about family, our job, our financial situation. Sometimes we think about politics and the news. With social media we think more and more about what other people think about us. We are bombarded by advertisements that try to get us to think that we will really be happy if we buy what they are selling.

Paul tells us that thinking good thoughts is the secret to peaceful happiness. That can be hard work, and not necessarily fun or exciting. It’s a learning process. Paul says twice that he had to learn it.

If someone wants to be a doctor, they have to spend a lot of time learning medicine. If someone wants to be a lawyer, they need years of studying law. To be a great chef, you go to a culinary academy and recieve instruction in cooking and baking. It takes a lot of time to be good at anything. Same with living a life of peaceful happiness. We need time, alone time in silence, normally, to think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.

So, as I read Paul and his letter to the Philippians, I see three main keys to enjoying a lasting state of peaceful happiness:

  1. Encountering Jesus and establishing an intimate relationship with him and our heavenly Father.
  2. Having a humble attitude like Christ had when he came to earth and lived and died among us. In humility, valuing others above ourselves. As C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less.” Think about God and others more.
  3. Take time to think about the good things of God, His Word, His creation and His love. Those things that are right, true, pure, noble and excellent.

When we consider the situations, circumstances, and difficulties of our lives, we can ask ourselves, “Am I truly peacefully happy, deep down inside?” If the answer is no, then perhaps we should look at the three keys above and make some changes in our lives, knowing that God will help us because he loves us and wants us to be happy.

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Rejoice – verb – feel or show great joy or delight

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I have been reading Deuteronomy lately. Three times in chapter 12 the Israelites are instructed to rejoice. Two of these instances hearken back to my last post. Moses relays God’s instructions to the people that when they take control of the Promised Land they are to gather in a place that God will designate and offer sacrifices and offerings and rejoice. They are to celebrate God and his rich blessings that he had given them.

The third instance of “rejoice” in the chapter occurs in verse 18. Moses tells everyone that they are to rejoice before the Lord their God in everything that they put their hand to. This reminded me of what Paul said in his letter to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!” ( Philippians 4:4)

Moses told the people to rejoice in everything they put their hands to, and Paul tells people in the church emphatically to rejoice in the Lord always. After meditating on these words I decided, at least for one day, to be intentional about rejoicing in the Lord.

I get up pretty early most mornings, and when I went outside to begin my workday, it was still dark, and the sky was filled with stars. I rejoiced in this beautiful sight and gave thanks to God for his marvelous creation. All those stars! God didn’t have to make all those stars, but he did because he loves us and wants us to be happy. He wants us to rejoice, to feel great joy and delight.

I’m the gardener at the home for needy children here in Oaxaca, Mexico. One of my jobs is to water the soccer field. I turned on the sprinkler and rejoiced that we have water that keeps the field green and the kids have a wonderful place to play their favorite sport.

My wife, Anita, is the kitchen supervisor and was making breakfast that morning. Walking into the kitchen I rejoiced in the dedicated wife that God has given me, and that we could work together in ministry. Helping her make quesadillas I rejoiced that the children and staff would have a healthy, nutritious meal to start their day. I thought of Jesus words, ” I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…When you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me.” I wondered what the children would have had for breakfast, if anything, if it wasn’t for this home for needy children.

Afterwards I drove some of the teenage girls to their school in Oaxaca city. I rejoiced that they could go to a private Christian school and get a quality education that would prepare them for whatever career they might choose. I rejoiced that God chose me to be a part of their lives, to make a difference in who they are and what they would become.

And so went the day, rejoicing intentionally in the Lord and all that I put my hands to. I realized that no matter what we do, we have three choices in how we emotionally react. We can complain about what we see wrong or negative in our situations. That makes us angry or depressed. We can react indifferently which makes us apathetic. Or we can rejoice, which makes us alive to God’s presence and his blessings. This makes us happy, and after all, God does love us and wants us to be happy.

Most of the day the rejoicing thing went great because all my situations were pleasant ones. That changed toward the end of my day.

After work I took my daughters, Sally and Kelly, to their piano class. While they learn tunes on the keyboard, I teach the piano teachers daughter English. It’s a barter deal where no money exchanges hands and everyone is happy. I rejoiced that my girls enjoy learning the piano and I could bless the music teacher and her daughter with English skills.

When we finished we went to a little piece of property that Anita’s dad had given us. We are in the process of building a tiny house and have planted a few fruit trees that needed to be watered. I rejoiced at the thought of these blessings as well.

What we encountered upon reaching the property was not a blessing. Some mischievous young truant, or so I guess, had crawled under our fence, had climbed to the top of a shed where we keep a water tank, and had broken off the water valve, unleashing a thousand liters of water. How could I rejoice now?

I felt violated that someone had come onto our property and distressed over the waste of our water by some random act of vandalism. While I stared in disbelief, my daughters kept asking me “Why?”. ” Why, Daddy, would someone do this? “

I told them that this is how a lot of people act in the “real” world. I explained to them that they live in a Christian community and go to a Christian school, and while Christians aren’t perfect, they normally try to live by the standard of love, and that is what they are used to. People in the world who are not Christians, many times just live by the moment and if it makes them happy to cause pain to others and destroy things, they just do it.

After saying these words I found cause to rejoice. I told the girls that we needed to pray. So we prayed and rejoiced at the work God had done in our lives and was continuing to do. We thanked God that nothing worse had happened and prayed for the person who had done this, that he might see the light and come to know the love of God and find his joy in Jesus and not in random acts of violence.

We got back in the car and drove home. Most of the anger and frustration had left me, replaced by the “peace that passes all understanding.” Some disappointment remained, but it helped me to think of Paul’s words to the Roman church, “All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). And in this I rejoiced.

 

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