One of my favorite shows is Alone. They take ten people, put them in a hostile environment with ten items and have them survive until everyone taps out. It appeals to me for many reasons, but one of my favorite parts is when the contestants have been alone and hungry for about 30 days. There is a huge psychological battle every contestant faces as they document themselves on this journey. Some grow to hate the location, the hunger, the isolation and the constant struggle for food and water. Then there are others who are in a similar location a few miles away that get ahold of the negative thoughts and begin speaking positive words instead. In every case, the ones who continue to speak negatively tap out of the contest. The one who can continue to find positive things through the struggle is the one who wins.
I’m not sure there’s another person in the Bible besides Jesus who suffered more than Paul. He was imprisoned multiple times in jails that were dark, nasty and had no humanitarian standards for prisoners. He was shipwrecked, beaten to a pulp many times, dragged out of cities, lied about, stoned, robbed, left for dead and abandoned. The things he went through, many of us couldn’t survive. However, Paul kept preaching the Gospel, writing letters and encouraging others through it all. My favorite story is when he was in a dungeon of a prison, bleeding and hungry, and he starts singing praises to God for all to hear. No matter how bad things were, he found a way to praise and refocus his attention on God instead of his circumstances.
David was a lot like him too. In Psalm 34:1-2 David penned, “I will praise the Lord at all times. I will constantly speak his praises. I will boast only in the Lord; let all who are helpless take heart” (NLT). He didn’t say, “I want to praise the Lord at all times.” He was saying, “I will,” as in he’s not going to give his mind the choice to do anything else. Do you have have an “I will praise the Lord at all times” attitude? You need to decide that attitude ahead of your circumstances, but even if you’re in the middle of hard times now, you can choose it. Praising God doesn’t change your circumstances, it changes you in the middle of them. It strengthens you and puts your focus on the One who is greater than what you’re facing. If you haven’t chosen to praise the Lord at all times, do it today and put it into practice. He deserves to be praised in the good times and the bad.
When I travel to New Orleans, there’s a certain homeless person I like to say hello to. He always makes me smile and he never asks me for anything. He’ll say, “It ain’t gonna cost you nothing to come say hello. I ain’t gonna rob you!” I then walk over and say hello and he puts a smile on my face. Except on a recent trip he called me over and said, “You know I never ask for nothing, but could you go in there and buy me an orange juice and sandwich? I’m about to curl up on my cardboard and I’m hungry.”
When I handed him his dinner, he hugged me and thanked me. He then asked, “You know what I’d change about the world?” My mind began to think of any number of answers. No more homelessness. No more hunger. No more devaluing people. No more selfishness. But before I could decide on an answer, he grabbed my shoulder, looked up at the sky, smiled a big toothless grin, and said, “Absolutely nothing!” He laughed, thanked me again and walked away.
I thought about his answer as I walked back to my hotel. Here’s a man, for whatever reason, is sleeping on a cardboard mat on the streets of downtown New Orleans and is exposed to the elements constantly, and he wouldn’t change a thing. Even though he has absolutely nothing to his name, he has found a way to be content. He’s learned to choose joy instead of bitterness over his situation. It’s a lesson we all could learn.
Paul learned that secret and told us about it in Philippians 4:12. He said, “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little” (NLT). That secret is choosing the joy of contentment with where God has you. That joy gives us the strength to endure whatever comes our way. It takes us from being a victim of life to a victor over our situation. Don’t try to change your world. Change your attitude. The next verse tells us we can. “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”
Throwback Thursday is a feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.
One of the things I believe each of us must do daily is to choose our attitude. If you don’t choose it, your day will choose it for you. I’ve lived on an emotional roller coaster before, and it’s not very fun. My mood, my happiness and my attitude all depended on how things were going in my life. Unfortunately, my relationship with God was also dependent on that too. If things were going well, then it was easy to praise Him. If things were going poorly, then I didn’t feel I had a reason to bless Him. In fact, many times I ended up mad at Him and making threats if He didn’t make things better.
At one point in my life, I felt like I was going through hardships that were as difficult as Job’s. I was losing everything that I cared about and I was powerless to stop it. I prayed and prayed, but things kept getting worse. I got angry at God and started to blame Him for everything that was wrong in my life. I remember reading Job looking for insight and help. In the first chapter, after he had lost everything, instead of being mad at God, the Bible says he fell to the ground and worshipped God. How could he worship at a time of such loss? I believe it’s because He had chosen his attitude before everything went down.
Psalm 104:33 says, “I will sing my song to the Lord as long as I live! Every day I will sing my praises to God” (TPT). This is a great example of choosing your attitude. The writer committed to sing praise to God every day as long as he lived. I know there are days when you don’t feel like praising, but praise anyway. No matter how bad life gets, God has done enough for you already to deserve praise every day of your life. When you think that way, it’s a lot easier to worship in the middle of a storm. Our gratitude, our attitude and our relationship with God should all be predetermined before bad things happen. We have to remember that no matter what is going on, God can work it out for your good.