“I have learned the secret to being content in any and every situation.” (Philippians 4:12 NIV)
My wife has a poster framed and hanging in our dining room. It is a watercolor by artist Mary Engelbreit of two little girls gazing out a window on a beautiful summer day. Just outside that window we see flowers in bloom, the branch of a fruit laden tree and several bees and butterflies flitting about.
The girls are a study in contrast. One girl is very happy as she sports a big smile and her arms enfold two pots of flowers. The other girl is unhappy as she rests both elbows on the window sill with one hand to her face. She has a frown and her eyes are darting away from the little girl next too her. Underneath their picture is this quote from Abraham Lincoln: “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
Like so many things we carefully frame and position throughout our homes, it isn’t long before we fail to notice them. To be honest, if I were pressed, I doubt if I could recall half of what hangs on our walls. But recently I have found the poster of the two little girls staring out at me, repeatedly drawing my attention. And here is the reason. The message is a joyful reminder for me of what God has done in my life.
In years past, all too often I was more prone to frown than smile. Even on sunny summer days I had my share of bouts with depressive views of life. Those like me, who have battled dark clouds of the soul, know that beautiful surroundings alone do not alleviate unhappiness with its accompanying heaviness and hopelessness. At best, a person copes like the little girl in the poster, by diverting ones focus to other things.
I love the poster because it underscores how God delivered me from the tyranny of unhappiness. And it reminds me of a very powerful lesson He taught me in how to maintain that deliverance.
There are basically two kinds of happiness: happiness which is based upon our circumstances and happiness which is the result of an attitudinal choice irrespective of circumstances.
The pursuit of circumstantial happiness is illusive. Its attainment is based primarily on experiencing a preferred set of conditions or acquisitions. The problem is dream accomplishments and dream possessions do not long satisfy. There is always a new dream beckoning on the horizon and a new must-have product calling to us from the shelf. And besides that nothing pops the balloon of circumstantial happiness more than an economic crisis, a broken relationship or a life-threatening illness.
The turning point for me in conquering the tyranny of unhappiness was in realizing that God is more interested in my pursuit of contentment than happiness. In fact Paul writes that “godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6 NIV) It dawned on me that by substituting the word “contentment” for the word “happiness” in my ongoing self assessment of life dramatically changed my attitude. As I concentrated on learning to be content in whatever circumstances I found myself, I discovered that happiness was one of the by-products. In other words, focus on contentment and happiness will follow.
Paul’s discourse on contentment in the book of Philippians discloses the secret to a happy life. He begins by saying that contentment, i.e. happiness, is something that can be learned. It is not illusive. (4:11) He goes on to say that it is learned by choosing to be content in every situation whether fed or hungry, in plenty or in want and ultimately whether in the sun or under the clouds. (4:12) Then he draws back the veil and reveals the underlying secret to contentment and the happy life. “I have learned the secret” he says “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” (4:13) The word “everything” in this verse obviously includes the ability to choose contentment.
Therefore the secret is Christ’s power dwelling within us through the Holy Spirit. He enables and empowers us to choose contentment even in times of deprivation and hardship. And contentment then naturally leads to happiness. Experiencing that has changed my life. In the light of that I realize Abe was not far off the mark. We are about as content as we make up our minds to be – with Christ’s help, of course!
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