Get Caught Up:
Click here to read Part 1 of this series: An Attitude of Gratitude
Click here to read Part 2 of this series: The Perspective from Paul's Pulpit.
Click here to read Part 3 of this series: Think Yourself Happy
So, let’s quickly recap what we’ve talked about over the past few weeks…
So, today I would like us to transition from our state of mind, perspective and thoughts to a couple of very important and practical things that we can add to our lives that will yield more happiness in our hearts. Amen?
So, lets turn over to 1 John chapter one and look at a practical way to be happy.
FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD = FULL OF JOY
This has been something that the Lord has constantly communicated to me - the importance of staying connected to Him.
Early on in my Christian walk, when I would take everything from struggles with my flesh to desires to grow before the Lord, it seemed as though the only response I would get from Him was - “You need to be spending more time with Me.”
It was during this season that He was teaching me about the importance of my fellowship with Him. He pointed me to the truth that spending time with Him is where we exchange our weaknesses for His strength. It is where we become spiritually strong. It is where we find the fulfillment, the peace and the joy that we need. Yes, times spent in simple fellowship with the Lord is where most of our answers are found, and that certainly includes joy.
The Apostle John made this point in chapter one of his first epistle. In 1 John 3-4, he says, “that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.”
Notice that he refers to this fellowship with the Father and the Lord Jesus and then says that these things were written to us that our joy may be full. So, our fellowship with God the Father and God the Son is evidently a big factor in experiencing the fullness of joy.
Other translations describe this fellowship as “relationship and communion,” and this is precisely what the word used to translate fellowship means. It comes from the Greek word koinonia which describes a “communion, fellowship, relationship, partnership or sharing.”
The Amplified Bible describes this fellowship with the Godhead as “a distinguishing mark of born-again believers.” In other words, having this personal relationship with God is what Christianity is all about. What we have is not another religion; Christianity is a relationship. Therefore, if we do not fulfill our primary purpose - which is fellowship with Him - then do you think we might lack some of these basic things that our heart yearns for? Sure, we will.
This is why John then said in verse 4 that these things he was writing to us were for our joy to be full. In other words, if we do not apply this foundation of fellowship with God, then our joy will never reach its full potential. Sure, we might be able to experience some joy from time to time by following other Biblical principles, but having our joy reach its full potential comes through having an active, living relationship with God. Amen?
The Amplified Bible went on to describe this fellowship with God as sharing “in the joy of salvation.”
The Amplified Bible translates these verses like so: “What we have seen and heard we also proclaim to you, so that you too may have fellowship [as partners] with us. And indeed our fellowship [which is a distinguishing mark of born-again believers] is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things to you so that our joy [in seeing you included] may be made complete [by having you share in the joy of salvation].”
3 We are telling you what we have seen and heard, so that you may share in this life with us. And we share in it with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing to tell you these things, because this makes us truly happy. – CEV
This is the life we have seen and heard. We are reporting about it to you also so that you, too, can have a relationship with us. Our relationship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing this so that we can be completely filled with joy. – GODS WORD TRANSLATION
Again I say, we are telling you about what we ourselves have actually seen and heard, so that you may share the fellowship and the joys we have with the Father and with Jesus Christ his son. 4 And if you do as I say in this letter, then you, too, will be full of joy, and so will we. – THE LIVING BIBLE
We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy! – THE MESSAGE
FULFILLED THROUGH FELLOWSHIP
So, since our fellowship with God is what yields joy and happiness in our lives, I want us to go to Philippians chapter four and delve into a good description of how our connection to Christ accomplishes this.
I believe the truth contained in this chapter to be one of the most life-changing truths that you could ever hear. Unfortunately, I learned this lesson the hard way and I believe when you hear it, you will find that you too have occasionally fallen subject to this condition as well.
Now I will warn you that this might not seem like the most exciting message to you, but I believe that if you will really hear my heart (and the heart of God), applying these biblical principles to your life, you will experience such a wonderful state of satisfaction that no one or nothing can ever take away. Amen?
WHAT IS CONTENTMENT?
In Philippians 4:10, we see a transition from Paul’s teaching on walking in the peace that passes all understanding to the main reason that he wrote them this letter - which was to show his gratitude for their financial and material support. But in verses 11-13, he pauses to make a point that I believe teaches an invaluable spiritual lesson.
He begins by saying in verse eleven, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.”
By making this statement - “not that I speak in regard to need,” Paul was clarifying to them that his joy and contentment was not based on the offering that the Philippians had sent to him. He did not want to give the impression that the provision that they sent him was the source of his joy that he repeatedly mentioned throughout this letter. Yes, he wanted them to understand that he had already learned how to be truly content before he ever received their gifts.
Then he went on to explain this by saying in this verse - “for I have learned…” This phrase is extremely important to understand because the supernatural contentment that he possessed was not something that just fell on him like an apple out of a tree. No, consistent and unwavering “contentment” is evidently something that is learned.
You see, contentment is not a state of being; it is a state of mind. That means that you have to learn to be content in your situations and circumstances just like a child has to learn that they are not always going to get their way in life. This is what the Apostle Paul had to learn, and this is exactly what each of us will have to learn as well: Your circumstances are not to dictate your contentment; you are to learn (i.e. to be trained) to be content despite your circumstances.
So, what does it mean to be content? How do we define contentment? The word “content” literally means “to be satisfied and independent of circumstances” or “to be self-sufficient (or in our case, Christ-sufficient).” So, Paul had learned to be satisfied despite his circumstances. He had learned to live a Christ-dependent life where the difficult things that happened to him did not steal his joy because his contentment was not based on the situations that he found himself in. You could say, Paul was less dependent on his circumstances because he was more dependent on Christ!
Now I feel that I need to say this lest I be misunderstood: While I believe that we must learn to be content as we are taught here, I am not referring to being a doormat for the devil either. Some things that come into our lives are inspired by Satan and his cohorts. Therefore, if we adopt the mentality that we are going to just be content during these demonically inspired attacks and do not actively resist him, then he will just walk all over us. No, we must resist the things that are brought into our lives by the devil! No, what I am referring to by this term “contentment” is our attitude as it pertains to these undesirable circumstances.
You see, if we lose our joy over a negative situation that comes into our life, then we are failing to be content from a biblical perspective. However, this contentment that Paul was referring to is not having any ambition or desiring something better for ourselves. These desires to grow and excel are natural and God-given; but at the same time, we are not to become so dissatisfied with our current state that it is negatively affecting us emotionally. Paul goes on to explain this further in verse twelve…
INDEPENDENT OF CIRCUMSTANCES
He went on to say in Philippians 4:12- “I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things, I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” In this verse, the Apostle Paul explains the extent of his circumstances…
In the first part of verse twelve he said, “I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound…” The word “abased” means “to make low or to be humble.” You could say that being abased is living a lower standard of life. On the other hand, the word “abound” means “to overflow and to live in prosperity.” So, by his own testimony, Paul was saying that he knew what it was like to experience both abundant prosperity and abject poverty. He experienced both extremes throughout his ministry. But in the midst of all this, he never let his circumstances affect his joy because he put his hope in the Lord and not in his natural condition. We would do good to learn this as well.
He then said, “everywhere and in all things, I have learned to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” Here, Paul was saying that he had experienced both ends of the totem pole of life in general - which included “everywhere and in all things!” That means that wherever he went and whatever he did, he had highs and lows.
We too can experience good times and bad times in any situation. It is inevitable. We can count on having the highs and lows in anything we do and everywhere we go because, as Jesus promised us, in the world we will tribulation (John 16:33). There will be times of happiness and bliss and there will be times of sorrow and grief. So, if this is to be expected, then we are going to have to learn to be content no matter what our circumstances are in order to live the life of perpetual joy that we are called to live.
So, allow me now to paraphrase verse twelve: In essence, Paul was saying, “I know how to live in both abundant prosperity and abject poverty. In every place I have been and in every situation, I have learned to live free from my circumstances, having my stomach full and having my stomach empty, having all my needs and desires met and seemingly having none of them met.”
Now that, my friends, is the epitome of having fluctuating circumstances, isn’t it? Yet Paul maintained a life of joy and contentment in the midst of the most extreme of circumstances.
But again, Paul had learned something! As a matter of fact, the Greek word used for “learned” in verse twelve is a different word than the one used back in verse eleven. This word means “to be initiated into a secret.” Paul had, through his experiences of poverty and prosperity, learned to live independent of his circumstances because he had been initiated into the secret of contentment. Amen!
So, would you also like to be initiated into the secret of contentment? Then we need look no further than verse thirteen where this mystery is revealed!
THE SECRET TO CONTENTMENT
In Philippians 4:13, Paul went on to give us one of those truths that many Christians love to quote and post on their wall. He said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
I just love the Amplified Bible’s translation of this verse… “I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me [I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me: I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency].”
Now this is a very popular verse and every one of us probably thinks we know what it means, but the important thing to understand here is that, in order to see what Paul was referring to here, we have to keep this verse in context. As we have already seen, Paul was speaking of the wide range of circumstances he had experienced and how he had learned to be content in them. Therefore, he was attributing all the things he could do through Christ to him learning to be content in all things. So, the reason that the great Apostle Paul could be content in his difficult circumstances was because Christ Jesus gave him the strength to be content! Amen!
So, we could flip this truth around and see another reason for discontentment in our lives: We will become discontent in all things if we are not drawing the necessary resources from Christ to be content. Amen? You see, if we are not abiding in Him - letting the spiritual strength that comes through Him to flow into us - then our natural response will be to attempt to draw those resources from other things. That is such an important truth to understand, my friend.
You see, we are all looking for happiness and if we do not put ourselves in the position to receive it directly from God, then we will automatically try and get it from something or someone else. That is just the way we are built. For example, many people simply cannot be alone. They have to be around friends or a significant other at every waking moment. Most of the time, the reason for this discontentment, is because they are not satisfying that part of themselves by having a healthy relationship with the Lord. The same principle can apply to other things as well. A lot of times we can become physically tired because we are not resting spiritually. We can have physical cravings because our spirit is malnourished. Sometimes our natural state is a reflection of our spiritual condition. If we do not let the Lord become our source for everything, then our joy, happiness and contentment will be based on whether or not we have all of these other things.
As a matter of fact, the word “content” is also defined as that which is contained. This shows us an invaluable truth: that our contentment is based on what we already have contained within us. In other words, in order for a Christian to be content in all circumstances he or she must learn to live from the inside-out, and not from the outside-in. If we learn to draw from the spiritual resources that we have contained on the inside of us, then we can become consistently joyful. Amen.
FILLING THE VOID
If you recall, I made the point that every one of us has been created like a puzzle, and there is one large void in the middle of our heart that only one thing will fit, and that one missing piece is Jesus Christ! He is the only thing that can complete the puzzle of our lives. Amen?
You see, the world tries to cram everything from sex, drugs, success, and family into that void, but none of those things can totally fulfill them. Sure, they might have some temporary happiness when they gratify those lusts for natural things, but it does not bring them that everlasting contentment that I am talking about. In fact, those other things just make the void bigger and worse.
But the truth is, this is not just true for the world: Even believers can digress in their Christian walk to where they attempt to satisfy themselves with the things of this world instead of through their personal relationship with the Lord. I am not saying that those who do this have lost their relationship with Jesus altogether; I am simply saying that we can walk in the flesh like the world, and when we do, our desires will be for natural and carnal things above spiritual things. In other words, when we walk in the flesh, like those who do not know God, we will try and fulfill ourselves through relationships, recreational activities, financial success, etc.
I have found in my own personal life that when I have walked in the flesh, my heart has gravitated to things other than the Lord. For example, at one point when I allowed myself to become distracted from the things of God, I turned to the game of golf to try and fulfill that inner hunger for joy and peace. Now, I did not exactly know what I was doing at the time; I just allowed that void back in my heart through not making the things of God my priority and was seeking that contentment in something else. I would find myself playing golf every spare moment I had, and when I did not play well, it would affect me emotionally. Why would I let my poor play disturb me so much? It was because it was far too important to me. I was trying to fulfill myself through this hobby, so when it was not working out too well, it robbed me of my joy.
But, thank God, there was a time after this, that I could go play a round of golf and, because I had the Lord back on the throne of my heart where He was supposed to be, I did not get upset when I did not play well. That’s right, it did not seem to affect me the way that it did when I was not abiding in Him. And why? It was because I was content through Christ! I was simply satisfied with the presence of the Lord that surrounded me once again. I was fulfilled and my joy was full, which nothing, including my “sub-par” golf game could steal! Amen.
Now I know that might be a petty example to some of you, but I use it to illustrate how even small, insignificant things like our hobbies can becomes idols in our hearts - thus being the source of our happiness and contentment.
Another example I can use from early in my Christian life that most of us can better relate to is relationships: During these early days, where I was walking in the flesh more than in the Spirit, one of the main things that I tried to fulfill that void with was with other people. For example, when I was abiding in the Lord and He had preeminence in my heart, I did not have to be on the phone talking to someone all of the time. I did not need to be hanging out with my friends and family constantly. The reason was because my relationship with God was where it needed to be, so I was not trying to fulfill myself with these natural relationships. I was simply content in the acceptance and goodness of my Lord and did not have to have the acceptance of my friends, co-workers or family.
Not only that, but I was also content with my single life. I was not driven to find a “significant other” because I lived in the reality that I already had my “Significant Other,” and that was Jesus. This was all because my focus was on the Lord and not on the opposite sex. I was simply content with my relationship with Him and was truly willing to wait on the Lord to bring my wife to me! (And, thank God, He did!)
Now, don’t misunderstand me: I am not saying that if you have desires for anything in this world other than the Lord that you are not abiding in Him. I am just saying that if you are truly abiding in Him then those desires for natural, carnal things will not steal your joy and you will not be bent on finding fulfillment through them. Your contentment will be found solely in your relationship with Jesus, and you will simply be satisfied! Nothing more and nothing less!
But the truth is, when we are abiding in Christ and He is abiding in us, the ups and downs of this life will not dictate our joy. We will not feel like we have to have something more or something better to be happy because we know that we are right in the middle of God’s perfect will for our lives which is in communion with Him. Therefore, if Jesus is on the throne of our heart, unfulfilled desires for these natural things will not rob us of our joy because our joy is found in the Lord.
Let’s take a look at a powerful passage of Scripture out of the 36th Psalm that teaches us more about this blessed state of contentment and satisfaction.
In the beginning of verse eight, David says, “They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of your house...”
The “they” being referred to here are the ones that draw near to God in faith and are putting their trust in Him (see verse seven). So, what does he say is the benefit of drawing near to Him? They are “abundantly satisfied with the fullness of God’s house.”
You see, to the Jews under the Old Covenant, the “house of God” was symbolic of the “presence of God.” So, the way David says that we become abundantly satisfied (i.e. extremely content) is by abiding in the fullness of God’s presence. This, of course, corresponds to Paul’s secret to contentment that we found in Philippians 4:13 - for our contentment and satisfaction level is directly tied to the amount of the Lord’s presence that we are currently abiding in. Amen?
In Psalm 16:11, King David put it this way: He said, “In Your presence is fullness of joy.” So, if we want to be full of joy and satisfaction in our hearts, then the answer is in learning to abide in the fullness of God’s presence. You could say it this way: the more of the Lord’s presence that we are abiding in, the more content and satisfied we will be.
There is no substitute for His presence, saints! It brings fullness of joy, contentment and satisfaction! The only reason (yes, I say that as an absolute), the only reason that we ever become discontent in life is because we are not drawing the strength for our contentment from the presence of Christ. For instance, if we ever feel like we need anything other than Christ, then we are showing signs that our heart is gravitating towards other things. If a circumstance causes you to lose your peace, God is not on the throne of your life at that time. Jeremiah describes this situation: “For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns That can hold no water. Jeremiah 2:13
The rest of verse eight goes on to say, “And you give them drink from the river of your pleasures.”
Didn’t Jesus say that if anyone thirsts, let them come to Him and drink (John 7:37-38)? You see, true satisfaction comes nowhere else other than being close to Lord and drinking from His well of salvation. He alone can satisfy our deepest needs - not a spouse, a job, or a hobby - just as water is the only thing that can satisfy us when we truly thirst. There is no substitute for Christ in our spiritual lives just like there is no substitute for water in our natural lives.
Then notice what David says in verse nine - “For with You is the fountain of life; In your light we see light.”
David goes on to say here that it is only being with Him (i.e. in His presence) that you and I can experience the fountain of life - that is, the life of God continuously flowing through your very being making us perpetually satisfied and content. He also said that in His light (i.e. in His presence - because God is light), we see light. In other words, when we are in His presence, we can see more clearly and our perspective will change. The things we used to think were important and that we had to have will no longer be our focus. We will be able to see what is important with an unclouded perspective and realize that all we need is the love of the Lord.
Church, let me reiterate this point: we do not need anything or anybody to be happy; all we need is Jesus. He is the secret to being completely content and abundantly satisfied. Amen!
So, the message in this chapter is evident: Learn to draw your strength and satisfaction from pursuing a relationship with Christ. Know that if you ever feel you have to have anything other than His presence and those wanton desires are causing you to lose your joy and peace, you need to check the condition of your fellowship with the Lord. Plug into your power source through spending time with the Lord and watch how abundantly satisfied you become. You will be able to say as Paul did, “I have learned the secret to being content; the secret is found in Christ! He is truly all I need!”