Attitudes for Joy and Peace
Scripture teaches that certain outlooks and attitudes produce joy and peace. We are suggesting adopting these Scriptural positions through “taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5) because what we choose to focus our thoughts on directly produces how we feel. Here are some of those attitudes.
Our circumstances do not determine who we are, how we feel, or what we choose. Because God has ordained that we have free will (the freedom to choose), we have both the right and the responsibility to walk our own path based on who God created us to be, rather than basing our choices on what others think of us, what others do, or what happens to us in our circumstances. God would not suggest that we give thanks in all circumstances unless it was possible for us to do so. In the midst of difficulty, we can choose to focus on those things outside of us that are happening to us, or we can choose to focus our hearts and minds on what Jesus has done for us, His love for us, His presence with us in the midst of the circumstances, and every good thing He has provided for us, because these things are unchanging and ever-present in our lives.
However, gratitude is not possible without an acknowledgement that I need help. The truth is, I need Another. I am built for relationship. If I believe it is all up to me, or if I believe I can save myself or do enough to “earn” love, or determine my own value and worth, or protect myself, I will miss the great gifts of Jesus’ love, His protection, and His valuing of me. I won’t even see them, because my eyes will be focused on myself. Instead, I will foster resentment in my heart, because my beliefs leave me feeling like I “should” do it myself or I “have to” do it myself, and I will feel fear and shame instead of loved and loving. Resentment is the antithesis of gratitude.
So we encourage you to decide to focus your hearts on those things that are stable and sure (who God is and who He says you are), those things that are good and right and true, and express your gratitude for those many gifts. Then check your feelings, and see if you don’t begin to feel peace and joy.
It is interesting to note that joyous and peaceful people are not those who have experienced little or no difficulty; they are not the ones who have had it “easy.” Paradoxically, people whose lives have been relatively easy or without struggle often are quite dissatisfied, feel quickly overwhelmed, tend to give up readily, and feel entitled to things continuing to be easy. These people often do not know how to cope or respond when difficulties arise, and consistently seek the easy road instead of the righteous or truth-based road. But difficulty will arise for all eventually. In fact, we are promised by Jesus that we will have trouble in this world (John 16:33). Rather than avoiding or ignoring difficulties, joyous and peaceful people are those who persevere in the face of struggles, and walk through struggles to the end with Jesus. The verse we have chosen to capture the Biblical perspective on perseverance is: Romans 5:3… we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
One of the “roles” the enemy suggests that we play is the Victim role. Several elements make up this role, including abdicating responsibility, giving up freedom to choose, powerlessness, blame of others or circumstances, hopelessness, helplessness, and paralysis. Perseverance demonstrates to us that we are not victims, that we can push ourselves farther than we first believed, that we are capable of more than we realize, and that we are worth fighting for. According to Paul, perseverance produces character in us; in other words, inner strength, and the ability to stand up, take responsibility, and face adversity with honor, discipline, and values. In the face of perseverance, circumstances lose their “power.”
We have a choice, then. Will we agree with the enemy to be the Victim of life, where circumstances dictate how we feel and what we do, and lie down, give up, and give in; or, will be partner with Jesus, stand up in the face of suffering with Him by our side, and persevere through the struggle to the other side? Will we fix our eyes on the circumstances, or on Jesus? We encourage you to persevere, so that you may learn that you have the strength of the presence of Christ within you to rely on. Joy and peace are the results. As Jesus says, at the end of John 16:33, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Some may think that an attitude of contentment arises from things going how you want them to go, having everything you want, feeling “as good as” someone else, or an absence of difficulties; however, this is not the case. Contentment, like every other attitude, is a choice. If I rely on external things, such as the approval of others or circumstances working out just how I want, to determine my feelings, then I abdicate my personal choice and give away all of my power to those external sources, whether those are people or circumstances. Do you see how transient and temporary my joy and peace would be? Any little thing could come along and disrupt my peace, and the worldly state, based in sin, gains great power in my life. Yet, Jesus came to alleviate the impact of sin, so clearly basing contentment on any external sources is not what He has in mind. For this important concept, we have chosen two verses that present different facets of contentment: 1) Galatians 6:4 Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, 5 for each one should carry their own load. 2) Philippians 4:12 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, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
The Galatians verses discuss the destructive nature of comparing ourselves to others, and trying to gain contentment through achieving a positive comparison to someone else, whether we are comparing their abilities to ours, or their achievements, or their situations and outcomes. Comparing ourselves to others in any way leads to discontentment. Jealousy and dissatisfaction lead to discontentment. In contrast, knowing who God made you to be, and choosing to be that in every situation, leads to peace and joy. God made each of us with His hand, on purpose, with a distinctive, specific set of thoughts and desires in mind for us. We each fulfill a very explicit and unique place on the battle line against the enemy. He absolutely adores who He made us to be. It is, therefore, a joyful thing to share God’s feelings by “taking pride in (our)selves alone” for being who we are in Christ. Being content with who He made and knowing we are each one of a kind is a peace-generating outlook.
Our second verses from Philippians highlight the perspective that achieves contentment separate from our circumstances. The conclusion Paul draws in verse 13 is that contentment means a focus on Christ, and a reliance on His strength and presence, no matter what our circumstances may be. Paul is clear that it isn’t having plenty that meets his needs; in fact, having plenty and being in need are presented side-by-side as if they are one in the same. Our circumstances are a setting in which we have our relationship with Jesus. That relationship is unchanging, not swayed by circumstantial variations, which gives us a solid and secure foundation on which to stand, no matter what happens. Knowing where my feet are planted, and feeling that sense of safety and certainty, results in a strong and assured peace.
An attitude of contentment, then, is about knowing who we are according to Christ, focusing on and living based on who we are and how we are in all situations, and relying on the consistency of love in the presence of Christ for our strength, our assurance, and our stability.
We mentioned that the role of Victim is one that Satan likes to get us to play in our lives. Another role he likes to encourage in us is the role of the Judge. Both roles, Victim and Judge, abdicate responsibility. Taking responsibility for our choices rather than blaming someone else or shaming ourselves brings peace and joy. The verse we have chosen to capture the Scriptural perspective on responsibility is Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
Both the Victim and the Judge are centered on the illusion of control. While they are two sides of the same coin, using control in different ways, both grow out of a root of fear and are established in an attempt to control (situations or others). As the Judge, I never have to look in the mirror and see my role in problems that are occurring in my life, or between me and others, or between God and me. I am too busy looking out at the actions of others, seeking someone or something else to blame for those problems, to notice my own responsibility. However, the truth of God states I am responsible for my own choices, and will reap what I have sown. Not taking responsibility may look attractive on the surface – after all, if it is someone else’s fault, who can find “fault” with me (including me)? I don’t need to defend myself or feel bad about myself then; instead, I can point to others to take the fall. However, the satisfaction or relief is short-lived, because consequences start happening anyway, even if I don’t choose to accept responsibility for them. It is built into the fabric of creation, and is even expressed as a law of physics, that actions produce reactions. The reason God created such a system was out of love for us. Imagine for a moment what our lives would be like if our actions produced no predictable results. How could we ever learn what is beneficial and what is harmful? Without resulting consequences, we would be repeating the same harmful actions over and over again, but never learning. We would also be living in a world ruled by chaos, without order and without understanding or wisdom. So it was love that determined choice and consequence, which gave us responsibility and in so doing produced real freedom. Accountability, then, is part of love, and removing responsibility or consequences for choices ultimately removes freedom.
If I take responsibility I am able to choose differently in the future. Shame (the Victim) is like quicksand that binds us to the same behavior over and over again. Blame (the Judge) keeps us from seeing what we need to change and realizing that we can change. True freedom does not come from avoidance of responsibility; it comes from acceptance of responsibility and all of the very valuable lessons that grow us in that process.
Surrender is about letting go of the illusion of control. As long as we believe that we have control over anything, we will create anxiety within which destroys our peace and robs our joy. I want to emphasize what I am saying here: there is no such thing as control. We like to hedge around this issue with such statements as “I don’t control others, but I am in control of myself” or “I’m not in control but God is in control.” In buying into these thoughts, we are continuing the illusion that there is such a thing as control. There is not. God is Sovereign, which means He has the authority and right to rule, but He does not determine outcomes, because He has given us free will along with a role as participants in the working out of His will. Satan also exerts his usurped authority to impact things in this world, if he can get us to cooperate by believing his lies. Thus, many factors impact what happens and how things turn out. We have no control because control does not exist. For example, I decide I want to write this post about surrender, and sit down at my computer with every intention of writing it; however, my computer doesn’t start, or refuses to open the internet, or loses everything I have written so far for some unknown reason (technology does this kind of thing to me all the time!). It didn’t matter that I fully intended to write the post. My action does not determine the outcome, and God’s will is not always done on earth as it is in heaven (thus the instruction to pray for it to be so). What do we have, then, if there is no such thing as control? What are we surrendering to? God asks us to surrender our whole selves into His hands and His heart. He asks that we walk with Him through every circumstance, no matter what the outcome, knowing and trusting that He loves us. The verse we have chosen to capture the Biblical perspective on surrender is 1 Peter 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on Him because he cares for you.
Have you noticed in your own life that things do not always go the way you want them to go? Have you experienced that sometimes bad things happen? If we believe that control exists, it is the logical conclusion that when bad things happen it is our fault or it is God’s fault. This response, while the logical extension of a belief in control, does not endear us or bring us closer to God, and ultimately leads to self-loathing as well. The next logical conclusion is that I must live in fear of the bad thing happening, and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again, either by controlling situations and others, or by protecting myself. The fear-based response of trying to exert more control where there is none, and the shame-based response of blaming myself or God, is very self-defeating. It increases my anxiety rather than making things better for me. Satan loves it when he can get us to agree with control. Trying to control and worrying about outcomes - in other words, approaching life with fear - destroys peace. And the more we distance ourselves from God, the less joy and peace we have in our hearts.
God gives us choice to replace control, so making choices without an expectation of a particular outcome, and resting with God after making the best possible choices we can make according to His guidance and leadership, increases our joy and peace. We have a partner Who loves us dearly as His precious children. Rather than trying to control, doesn’t it make more sense to abide with Him, listen to His voice in every circumstance, and walk through every situation holding His strong hand? When we choose this path, outcomes are not as important as the journey itself, and being with Him is everything.
Forgiveness is often misunderstood. It does not mean the sin against you doesn’t matter or didn’t happen. Nor does it mean those who sinned against you are off the “hook” for the sin. Jesus is clear that He hates sin, and desires that no one would sin. Sin matters; sin has real consequences. Instead, forgiveness simply means you know you are not the judge – that you allow Jesus to take the sin against you so you don’t have to carry it, and that you know and trust He will deal with it well. The verse we have chosen to capture the Biblical perspective on forgiveness is Colossians 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
An important aspect of forgiveness is found in the last sentence of our verse: we forgive because we know we have been forgiven. At times, when someone sins against us and we suffer the consequences of the sin of another, we forget how often and how deeply we have sinned, and that Jesus suffered the consequences for our sins. But when we remember our own sin, and we recall how Jesus carried our sin for us, we are more likely to allow Him to carry the sins of those who have sinned against us.
Giving the sins of others against us to Jesus to carry has a wonderful result – our burden is lightened, because when we carry sin of any kind, we are weighted down by that sin. Even more than the consequences of the actual sins of others against us, allowing those sins to bleed away our own joy and peace is much more damaging to us. It doesn’t take the offender to acknowledge their sin, to repent, or to ask for forgiveness in order for us to forgive. Forgiveness happens between God and the forgiving person alone. In fact, carrying the sins of others, where we have no authority to do anything with or about the sin, leaves us feeling powerless and trapped. Forgiveness, as defined by giving the sins of others against you into the hands of Jesus, frees us, places the sinner in the hands of the Lord Who can do something with the sin, and restores our peace and joy.
By “presence” we mean more than one thing. Presence indicates living in the presence of Jesus, focused on Him at all times and in all things. Presence also means living in the moment, being fully present where you are with what you are doing, and being fully who you are in the here and now. These concepts are integrally and inseparably related; for I cannot be fully present if I am not in His presence, and I cannot be fully in His presence unless I am completely present and wholly myself. Because we have different aspects of this idea joined together for the exploration of this final attitude, we have chosen multiple sections of Scripture to capture the Biblical perspective on “presence.” The first is Psalm 16. The whole Psalm extols what comes from living in the presence of the Lord, but here we will pull two verses to focus on. Psalm 16:8 I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 11 You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Our second verse is Jesus’ teaching on living in the here and now. Matthew 6:34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Our third verse shows the importance of being fully who you are in Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
First, let’s talk about living in the presence of the Lord. He is with us always, as He promised He would be, so the choice to be “present” with Him is ours, and it is based on what we choose as our focus. Our physical senses are inundated by the worldly perspective, but we have a choice as to where we will “fix” our eyes and what we hear with our ears. We can surround ourselves with truth, love and beauty, and we can place constant reminders in our surroundings to keep our thoughts on His truth. We can choose not to indulge in focusing on sin-based behaviors and lie-based thoughts. We can speak truth to ourselves and aloud to others, so that our ears are reminded continuously of that truth we know from Him. But most of all, I believe the most critical aspect of living in His presence involves centering ourselves on Him, talking to Him, listening to His responses, and watching His actions and reactions. As He said, He only did what He saw the Father doing (John 5:19) and He is in the Father and the Father in Him (John 14:10). Later, Jesus goes on to enjoin us to remain in His love (John 15:9) and to pray that we would be in Him as He is in the Father and the Father is in Him (John 17:21). From these teachings of Jesus, we can see that it is both possible and preferable that we remain “in Him”, as He was with His Father, focused only on what His Father was doing and saying. To live in this manner means choosing to pray without ceasing, as we are taught by Paul to do (I Thess. 5:17): prayer defined as an ongoing, two-way conversation with the Lord, where we ask Him for truth in all circumstances, where we take the time to listen and look for His direction and guidance, and where we allow Him to pour out His love in our hearts.
Now let’s explore being present in the here and now. Focusing on the past or on the future is actually focusing on something that is not real. The past is over and cannot be altered, or even experienced, in the here and now; therefore, it is not our present reality. The future has not happened yet, and is only our imagination of what might be, not the reality of what will be. Nothing about our imagining is real, because it hasn’t actually occurred, and may never occur. Thus, the only thing we have is right here, right now, this present moment, today. In James, the author warns against focusing on tomorrow, observing “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14). And Jesus instructed the disciples to pray “give us today our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). It is clear, then, that we are to live in the present moment, fully immersed in now. Further, living in the now removes anxiety and creates peace, as Jesus presents when He teaches about the lilies of the field and the birds of the air (Luke 12:24-31).
Finally, what does it mean to be fully present as who God made you to be? Being present means being honest, open, genuine, transparent, and vulnerable. It means not hiding, and not self-protecting. As prophesy states, “I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line; hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie, and water will overflow your hiding place” (Isaiah 28:17). Jesus is truth and light. We cannot hide ourselves and be in the light and truth at the same time. We cannot pretend to be something other than who He made, or put on a mask or false face, and be in the light and truth at the same time. He put His light – some aspect of His nature – into each of our hearts to shine into the world, and show Him to the world. We are here to bring the Kingdom of Heaven into the world, for it is within us now. So, knowing who He says you are – and if you don’t know, you can ask Him to show you and/or tell you who He made you to be – and then living out of that truth is the essence of being fully present. Living fully as He made us to be in His presence is the ultimate joy, the truly abundant life, and total immersion in the peace that transcends our comprehension. - Donna Lane
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Donna E. Lane