Tired and bleary-eyed, I stared at the in-flight monitor and sank down into my seat. This was going to be a loooong trip.
Seventeen hours, to be exact. I felt my inner five-year-old urging me to ask the flight attendant (in a whiny voice), ‘Are we there yet?’
In my desire to land in Israel and begin what promised to be a phenomenal vacation with my wife, I was missing the small joys in the journey of getting there. The thought of life without wifi and being surrounded by passengers who (apparently) didn’t believe in showering had me in ‘just get through it’ mode. (I know, first-world problems.)
While we’ve all probably had flights like this, I’m not really talking about literal travel. I’m talking about how we travel through life day-by-day.
So often, we fixate on whatever we don’t like and begin to look beyond it to the next thing. When life will (supposedly) be better. But if we’re really honest, ‘better’ never comes.
How can we break free from the lie that real life lies up ahead so that we can live with joy and contentment now?
Missing The Journey
When we live like real life is just around the corner, we miss the journey and (quite literally) miss our lives.
You know how it goes. We think ‘Real Life’ will start when we’ll finish school and get our first real job. When we’ll find the right person and finally get married. When our marriage gets better. When we have kids. When they start sleeping through the night. When they leave home and we’re empty nesters, free to do whatever we want. When…
What are your ‘whens’?
By the way, I’m not trivializing the stuff in your life that’s difficult. We have a friend whose husband left her with several young children. I can’t imagine criticizing her for wanting to get past that.
Most of us are dealing with far less on a day-to-day basis, but we’re all facing something we’d rather not be. How can we long for something better yet find hope and contentment even if better never comes?
5 Ways We Can Find Joy For Our Journey
The book of Philippians is a great place to begin. We find Paul wasting away in prison through no fault of his own. We can be fairly certain that he’d rather get out, and, that he’s far worse off than we are.
But his response is – in a good way – other-worldly. He doesn’t whine or complain like I did.
Let’s take a look at Chapter 4:1-9, where we’ll find 5 ways we can find joy and contentment for our own journey.
Choose joy in the Lord. Paul tells us to ‘rejoice in the Lord. Again, I say rejoice’ (verse 4). Although he’s in jail, no one can take away his relationship with Christ, which is everything. No matter what we’re going through, we can find our own joy in the Lord, who has promised to finish the good work he’s begun in us (see Philippians 1:6).
Remember God’s presence. In verse 5, Paul reminds us that ‘the Lord is at hand’. He’s near, and that’s real. So often when we struggle, it feels like we’re living life on our own. But God is right there with us, and his love for us hasn’t changed one bit.
Turn anxiety into thankful prayer. ‘In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God’ (6). We can (understandably) dwell on our circumstances, but God invites us to find reasons to be thankful and talk to him about what we want with humility. For example, when one of my wife’s mentors was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder, she praised God for the ways it gave her chances to share Christ with her health providers even as she begged God to heal her.
Consider your focus. In verse 8, Paul gives us 8 things to focus on regardless of how life’s going. We can’t unpack them here, but in general he calls us to direct our attention to things that will help us worship God and find the best in others. Again, our ability to choose is highlighted here. Without ignoring the challenges, we can always find something to praise God for, and, something worth commending in others.
Find godly examples and follow them. ‘What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things’ (9). We need to find people worth following, and build relationships with them. Then we’ll see what’s worth building into our own lives. Around the time of this post, for example, I have the privilege of staying at the home of Dr Sam Molind. I only see him once or twice a year, but his unbridled enthusiasm for Christ, love for his family and boundless energy well into his seventies has made a massive impact on who I’d like to be. Who can you follow?
It’s Worth It
Let’s be honest. Sometimes fighting for joy right where we are doesn’t feel like it’s worth it, does it? Complaining and sulking – preferably with others – is far more organic than anything we’ll find at our local supermarket.
Finding our joy in Christ and focusing on what’s going well can feel like a forced pep talk that doesn’t really change anything.
But natural as that line of reasoning feels, it’s a lie. God says that finding our joy in him actually works.
‘And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus… and the God of peace will be with you.’ (7, 9)
Notice that although God doesn’t promise our circumstances will change, he promises to change us so that we can handle anything that comes our way. To be with us personally so we’ll have complete peace.
And in a broken, fallen world where something will always be not quite right, that’s even better than a quick fix.
Questions for reflection:
- What do you wish you could just get past right now?
- What piece of Paul’s advice could really help you, and, how can you start living it out?