One of the major blocks of joy in our lives is when we don't know the secret.
The secret that produces a spirit of joy and of gratitude.
The secret that brings satisfaction to our soul and that makes others enjoy being with us.
The secret that, when we lack it, causes angst and anxiety. And bitterness and disagreement. And even fear and depression.
So what's the secret? And how do we get it?
Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11,12 - Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.
There's the secret.
In whatever circumstances.
Contentment - being satisfied with what I have, not wanting anything more. That is what brings us joy.
When I am in humble means - in other words, when it seems like there is something I need but I don't have it. How can I have joy then?
A few thoughts -
Maybe I think I need more than I do. I Timothy 6:8 says If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.
That pares down the list of "needs", doesn't it? Food and covering.
Not a new car or a lavishly furnished home. Not "successful" children or even a loving spouse. Not time for myself or a beach vacation.
Food and covering.
Thought # 1 - expect to deserve nothing more than food and covering. An attitude of entitlement leads to depression but gratitude comes when we don't think we deserve any more than food and covering.
Thought #2 - Psalm 84:11 tells us No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly. If there is something I want and I don't have it, I can trust my Father that, in my life, it wouldn't be a good thing. It might look like a good thing, it might even be a good thing for someone else, but if God has withheld it from me, it's not a good thing for me to have.
Thought #3 - If there is something that I need, I can be confident that the promise in Philippians 4:19 is solid and true - My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
When we don't have what we think we need, we become discontent. And we lose our joy. But if we learn to expect that all we need is food and covering, then we become very grateful for whatever we have. We learn contentment. We learn to trust our Father. We watch Him meet our needs. We are thankful. And we are filled with joy.
Sometimes it's not the lack of things that saps our joy, it's the abundance. We don't know how to live in abundance. (Right now some of you are saying - just give me the chance! :) )
I think that perhaps the greatest lack of joy I observe are in people who live in prosperity. Folks who have not learned the secret of contentment in times of abundance. "Too much" becomes a burden, causes stress, and even creates dissatisfaction to the point of wanting more and more and more. Unable to be satisfied. Joy is lost.
So how do we learn to be content and joyful in the midst of abundance?
By grasping the truth that, when God blesses us materially or otherwise, it is not so much to raise our standard of living as it is to raise our standard of giving.
When we have have more than we need, God wants us to GIVE.
2 Corinthians 8:14,15 puts it this way - At the present time, your abundance being a supply for their want, that their abundance also may become a supply for your want, that there may be equality; as it is written, "He who gathered much did not have too much and he who gathered little had no lack."
No, I am not advocating socialism but I am suggesting that the greatest joy comes from when we give to others. Double joy - to the recipient and to the giver.
Just to close with a couple more thoughts - one, this secret of contentment is not natural. It is not something we are born with or are gifted with. Paul says he learned it. We have to learn it, too.
We learn it through doing it.
And practice makes perfect.
Last thought - the key to contentment is the grace of God working in us. This truth is conveyed in a verse that is used in all sorts of contexts (maybe appropriate, maybe not) but it is very significant that Scripture shares it where it is....in the context of learning contentment....Philippians 4:13 - I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.