How Can I Have Joy in Difficult Circumstances?

Are you in a situation you'd rather not be in? Have you been given a hand by God and you'd rather just fold and give up? There are always situations that God puts us that are not how we want them to be. We question.

We get angry.

We doubt God's goodness.

Needless to say we have terrible attitudes and we often begin to find our wicked hearts rebuking God.

This is why Paul's attitude in the book of Philippians never ceases to amaze me. Paul is writing this letter in prison, yet it is one of his warmest and joyous letters he ever wrote. I'm not sure what situation you find yourself right now, but I doubt you are in chains being guarded by a burly Roman guard.

So what is Paul's secret?

What does he know that we need know?

What is he believing that we are not?

Well as we begin to look through the letter of Philippians, we begin to see why Paul is so joyous despite his circumstances. Here are three ways you can face whatever situation with joy.

1. Make Jesus Your Chief Treasure

Paul loved Jesus. Not only did Paul love Jesus, he counted all his worldly accolades and his prestigious reputation as rubbish in order that he may gain Christ (Phil 3:8). If Paul's whole life could be compared to a shelf, Jesus was not just an item on the shelf of Paul's life. Jesus is the shelf itself. Paul had a laser focus on Jesus, and ultimately nothing else mattered as long as he had Jesus.

When Jesus is all you live for, you will be surprised what you can live without. There is not cost to high, no persecution to great, and no suffering to overwhelming when Jesus is your treasure.

In fact the great irony is that it through those difficulties that the ecstatic joys of Christ increase. Just like a fine wine cleanses the palate and accentuates the flavor of the meal, so does suffering accentuate the depths of our knowledge of Christ. This is why Paul longs "I want to know him and the power of his resurrection, and share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death" (3:10). Paul wants to experience the joy of the resurrection of Christ and he knows that that joy comes through suffering.

Paul saw his chains not as obstacles to his joy but as catalysts. When you begin to see your trails not as obstacles in the way of your joy, but pathways to deeper joy there is nothing that life can throw at you that wills shake you.  The obstacles we fear become tools in God's hand for our joy and His glory.

2. Live Believing Dying is Gain.

Because Christ was Paul's chief treasure, he had a reckless fearlessness concerning his own life. Paul's chief concern is the glory of Christ and knows that Christ will be honored in his body, whether by life or by death (1:20). This is why Paul could say so boldly and confidently "to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (1:21).

Can you imagine that sort of freedom? Though Paul was chained to the imperial guard he was the freest man in the room. What could they do to him? If they keep him alive, he was going to live for Christ. If they kill him, great! He gets to be with his savior.

Christians should be the most fearless people on the planet. Because Christ has redeemed and set us free from the condemnation of our sin, the penalty of death is removed. There is no condemnation for those in Jesus (Rom 8:1). Therefore death is not a horrific, tragic end but a beautiful, new beginning. Paul, with Christ as his chief treasure, got this. Do you?

This is why he could go on to be content whatever the circumstances (see Chapter 4). Whether his stomach is filled or he hasn't eaten for days, Paul says he is content. Why? Because he is a man living for eternity. He is a man with his eye on the prize. He is a man striving for Christ and there is nothing on earth that can get in the way of his pursuit. He is running the race and pressing on to cross the finish line of death and receive his prize–his treasure, Jesus.

Do you live with such laser focus on Christ? Are you living as if dying is gain? Do you see the world through the lens of eternity? If so, there is no situation of your life that can still your joy.

3. See Your Hardships as Opportunities

I love Paul, because the man is sitting in prison and in chains. Though Paul is bound, the Gospel is not. In fact, it is spreading ever the more rapidly while Paul sits in his cell. Paul tells the church,

"I want you to know brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel, so that it has become known throughout the imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers having become more confident in the Lord by my imprisonment are much more bold to speak the word without fear" (1:12-14).

Isn't that amazing? When Paul gets locked up he doesn't throw a pity party. He doesn't say, "Ok God, I'm not sharing the Gospel with anyone until you get me out of here. I don't deserve this!" Nor does he say, "If God really cared about me he wouldn't have let me get arrested". No! Paul with Christ as his treasure continues to proclaim the Gospel to the audience the Lord has given–the prison guards. Even in his imprisonment, the Gospel was going forth and God was converting the guards. Not only that, but the Christians in the city are being stirred to evangelism through the example that Paul is setting. Rather than seeing his imprisonment as an affliction, he saw it as an opportunity to boldly proclaim Christ.

You're Right Where You Need to Be

I'm not sure what sort of situation you have found yourself. Maybe it is not ideal. Maybe it is not what you wanted. Maybe you are frustrated and burned out. Learn from the apostle Paul's example. Live with Christ as your treasure. Live knowing dying is gain. Live looking for opportunities to proclaim Christ. As you do you might just be surprised that this difficult place the Lord has placed you is right where he needs you to be.