A major U.S. magazine printed these words in an article entitled, "Recession, Unemployment, Attitude And You:" "It is a gloomy moment in the history of our country. Not in the lifetime of most men has there been so much grave and deep apprehension; never has the future seemed so incalculable as at this time. The domestic economic situation is in chaos. Our dollar is weak throughout the world. Prices are so high as to be utterly impossible. The political situation seethes and bubbles with uncertainty. It is a solemn moment of our troubles. No man can see the end." Source? ----Harper's Weekly, October, 1857!
Helen Keller stated, "No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars or sailed to an uncharted land or opened a new heaven to the human spirit." Attitude dictates our actions; actions dictate our habits; and habits dictate our future. Tamara Eberlin, in her article in Good Housekeeping called "Are You An Optimist?" reported, "Positive thinking is a lot more than blind faith – and its power over people's lives is awesome. Optimists fare better than pessimists in almost every aspect of life, often achieving more, and enjoying greater social success. Optimistic people are also less susceptible to depression and physical ills." Proverbs 17:22 says, "A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired." (The Message).
From the Apostle Paul's words in the book of Philippians, we can learn some important lessons about attitude. At the time of his writing, he was in a Roman prison, idle instead of active, and trapped instead traveling. Yet, instead of complaining, he maintained a positive attitude. Note what he revealed:
1. DETERMINATION. He was determined to live above his circumstances by maintaining an optimistic attitude. He exhorted, "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!" (4:4). He had been beaten, forsaken, and was awaiting the executioner, yet he only spoke of his imprisonment four times. However, sixteen times he uses words such as "joy," "rejoice," and "gladness". Two times he uses "praise" and "thanksgiving". J. Gustav White said, "One man gets nothing but discord out of a piano; another gets harmony. No one finds fault with the piano. Life is about like that." Wilfred Yoder has suffered with the pain of arthritis for years, yet he maintains his enthusiasm. When people greet him and inquire, "How are you today?" he cheerfully answers, "Just fine!" When he is questioned about his sincerity, "How can you say you're fine when you're in so much pain" Wilfred's standard response is: "How I feel has very little to do with how I am. You see, the part of me that hurts is just a shell, not the real me, and the real me is fine!" Habakkuk 3:17 and 18, "Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there are not herd in the stalls – yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation."
2. DIGNIFYING. He dignified his situation with a perspective of optimism. Paul was sitting in prison, yet that was not his true address, for he declared that God has "raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." From his circumstances it seemed he was a prisoner of the Roman Empire, but he said that he was "the prisoner of Jesus Christ" (see Ephesians 2:6 and 3:1). John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim's Progress, who suffered a similar experience as Paul, said:
"For though men keep my outward man
Within these locks and bars,
Yet by the faith of God I can
Mount higher than the stars."
3. DECISION. Instead of complaining out of frustration, Paul decided to be content in his situation. He stated, "Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content," 4:11. The word "content" has a fascinating definition. It means "contained." Paul had learned the "containment" of God in every situation of his life, as he submitted to God's control. He was in a remarkable paradox: Even though he was physically bound in a Roman cell, his captors were not containing him and controlling him, God was. He rested in the Lord's sovereignty and providence. Oswald Chambers loved the poetry of Robert Browning and often quoted a phrase from the poem "Rabbi Ben Ezra": "The best is yet to be, the last of life for which the first was made. Our times are in His hand." As principal of the Bible Training College in London from 1911 to 1915, Chambers often said that the school's initials, B.T.C., also stood for "Better To Come." He believed that the future was always bright with possibility because of Christ. In a letter to former students written during the dark days of World War 1, he said, "Whatever transpires, it is ever 'the best is yet to be'." As some anonymous person correctly reminds us, "Sometimes we are so busy adding up our troubles, that we forget to count our blessings."
4. DEVELOPMENT. Paul developed and capitalized on his imprisonment, by using this time to write what is commonly called the "Prison Epistles," Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Also, he started a new congregation, Philippians 4:21, 22. He stated, "Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death," 1:20. Winston Churchill exhorted, "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." Thomas Edison's manufacturing facilities in West Orange, New Jersey, were heavily damaged by fire one night in December 1914. He lost almost $ 1 – million worth of equipment and the record of much of his work. The next morning, walking through the charred remains of his hopes and dreams, the 67-year-old inventor said: "There is value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Now we can start anew."
"How stupid life is!" said the mole,
"This earth is a dull dirty hole!
I eat, I dig, and I store;
But I find it all a bore!"
"The lark sang high in the blue;
"How sweet is the morning dew!"
How clear the brooks, how fair the flowers,
I rejoice in this world of ours."
Remember, "Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow." (Helen Keller).
Dave Arnold, Pastor, Gulf Coast Worship Center, New Port Richey, Florida
*Pastor Arnold has many materials, including his "Discipleship Manual," available at www.davidarnoldonline.org or phone 727 – 868 – 2089