Not Waiting for Happiness

“I’m not saying this because I need anything, for I have learned how to be content in any circumstance. I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor. I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.”

Philippians 4:11–13

Have you noticed how many people have delayed their happiness? They seem to believe that if they can achieve a little more success, acquire a little more wealth, or marry the right person then they will possess happiness. Happiness, they believe, is what follows effort, time, and, perhaps, a little luck. It is as though happiness is somewhere out in front of everyone who is industrious enough to pursue it. Happiness is something to grasp, they believe, and their minds remain fixed upon it until they have taken ownership of it. Striving day upon day toward the possession of happiness, what they miss is that the secret of happiness is already present in the lives of those who long for it.

Paul’s letter to the Philippian Church provides the secret of happiness—as God’s people, we are to live in humility, looking out for others more than for ourselves. That is a great reversal of the commonly accepted formula for happiness. Essentially, Paul teaches that if we are always chasing after happiness, happiness always remains beyond our grasp. On the other hand, if we occupy ourselves with looking out for others, adding value to other people, and promoting their welfare, happiness quietly joins God’s people and takes-up residence in them. Paul is urging God’s people to break free of the tiny little world of themselves and join the great enterprise of God’s work in the world.

Here, in the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippian Church, Paul further develops the secret to happiness. Having shared the secret of happiness, disclosed in the activity of Jesus who accepted humility to become like us, for the purposes of restoring us to God, Paul points to a mysterious strength that converges in our service to one another. That strength comes not from any person—or from the community of God’s people—but from the outside. It is God’s strength. There is far more going on when God’s people join with one another for the promotion of the welfare of others. The same Christ who became human to serve now empowers and enables God’s people in their service to one another.

Shortly following the death of his wife, J. R. Carmichael entered a nursing home. Yet, if you inquired about him, you learned that he is never in his room. It seems that each morning Mr. Carmichael would shower, dress, eat breakfast, and then move from one residential room to another. In each room, Mr. Carmichael spoke with the resident about their family, read the Bible to them, prayed with them, and told them that he loved them. Then it was off to the next room to do the same thing. Mr. Carmichael missed his wife every day but he never waited for happiness. Happiness found him, as he loved others deeply.



Where Battles Are Won

“Jesus was telling them a parable about their need to pray continuously and not to be discouraged.”

Luke 18: 1 (Common English Bible)

Here is a specific teaching of our Lord to be used against the assault of circumstances and battles of life: continuous prayer. Jesus teaches that prayer is the predominant means available to access the power of God and to experience God’s grace. The practice of prayer was a constant in Jesus’ life and ministry. After exhausting himself teaching and healing people, Jesus withdrew to a deserted place for prayer. Before calling together the twelve who would be his disciples, Jesus prayed all night. When faced with five thousand hungry people, Jesus took five loaves and two fish and prayed for a miracle. Once everyone had eaten, the disciples filled twelve baskets with the leftovers. And on the night of his arrest, the night that preceded his crucifixion, Jesus prayed. Jesus urges others to do what he was always doing.

What is it that we do when we pray? Simply, we bring our spiritual enemies, our battles that must be fought, into the presence of God. The enemies remain and the battles must still be fought. But we face the enemy and fight the battle in God’s presence. It is God that changes the equation. As a child, one of my favorite television shows was The Equalizer. The premise of the show is that someone—someone who is being unfairly victimized—finds that the odds are stacked against them. The battle was uneven. There simply was no possible route to face the battle, the enemy, and win. Then, through an introduction with a person with uncommon ability—the equalizer—the game is changed. The battle moves from hopelessness to certain victory. What is changed is that the battle is brought into the presence of considerable power.

There are people who seek to face an enemy or fight a battle on their own. There is an admirable grit that drives them. The desire of self-sufficiency occupies every cell of their being. One can hear the faint voice of a child, “I do it!” Unfortunately, many are sadly beaten. Bruised and broken, a reassessment of the enemy or battle is considered, strategy is modified, and they engage once again—alone. Present is a reluctance to accept the intention of God that we never face life alone. We are rarely strong enough for life’s enemies or the battles that must be fought. Jesus’ invitation in this teaching from Luke’s Gospel is that we take the battle into God’s presence and engage there. Life’s critical battles are lost or won by the decision we make. We are conquerors when the battle ground is prayer.

Another dynamic is also discovered when we bring our enemies and battles before God, they lose their stature. Frequently, the enemy appears as large as a shadow that is cast from a light on a dark sidewalk. From one place, the shadow is considerably larger than we are. Such a shadow can have a terrifying impact. It is all out of proportion with the image that has been caught by the light. The result is that we feel diminished. Yet, move along the same sidewalk, and the shadow changes. It may increase but keep moving. Eventually what is seen is that the shadow begins to decrease. This is the experience we have when we bring our battles before God. We bring them to a holy place where they are right-sized; the threat is shrunk. That is because we have brought them to a much larger place. That is where battles are won.



The Inner Circle

“During that time, Jesus went to the mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night long. At daybreak, he called together his disciples. He chose twelve of them whom he called apostles.”

Luke 6: 12, 13 (Common English Bible)

John C. Maxwell, internationally recognized leadership expert, speaker, and author, writes, “Nobody does anything great alone.”1 Maxwell identifies this as The Law of the Inner Circle—the understanding that those closest to you determine your level of success. One of the earliest teachings in the pages of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, is that God intends that men and women live in a manner that includes God in their inner circle. Life isn’t to be a solo act, but one lived in the presence and guidance of our creator. Following this teaching, the Bible unfolds the narrative of lives that include God or those who chose to move forward without God. What comes into focus is that one choice results in life, the other death. A powerful plea is heard from the lips of God in the Book of Deuteronomy, “Choose life!”

In this teaching from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus goes to a mountain to pray. Jesus prays to God all night long. Jesus is including God in his inner circle. The content of Jesus’ prayers is soon disclosed—Jesus is seeking guidance for the extension of his inner circle. At daybreak, Jesus identifies and calls together twelve who will be called apostles. There is a night of prayer, and then there is a great decision. Our great lesson here is that our Lord took time to pray before he decided. Life also presents each of us with choices, choices that are personal and choices that are professional. Choices that may seem of little consequence and choices of considerable weight. Prayer always surrounds the choices of our Lord, and if we are truly wise, we will acknowledge that we are the stronger when God is included in all our decisions, small and large.

What did God do for Jesus in prayer? Prayer gave magnitude to the decision that Jesus would make. The choice of Jesus’ inner circle, the choice of the twelve that Jesus would teach, and mentor, and send into the world to share the Good News of God’s Kingdom, was a momentous decision. Prayer possessed Jesus’ mind of the gravity of this decision. Each of us is prone to live small lives with tiny purposes, lop-sided prejudices, and ambitions that rise no higher than a sunflower. As someone once said, the good is the enemy of the great. Without prayer, the gravity of decisions is reduced to little consequence. The natural result is a life that neither strives for something great nor achieves all God intends. Nothing kills the little things like our prayers.

Prayer also reaches beyond our own limited understanding of possibility. Someone once wisely commented that if we can ever grasp God and understand God’s mind, we must begin looking for another God. A God that we can comprehend is far too small to save us! Prayer to God, including God in our inner circle, is to draw upon insight and wisdom, and resources greater than what we possess. When we pray, we move into the realm of knowledge and possibility that we could never have imagined. Bigger ideas, bigger motives, bigger sympathies take possession of us. Prayer opens the windows of the soul to grandeur vistas where rich discoveries are made, and the heart is stirred to wonderous activity not before realized. Here Jesus teaches that the biggest outlooks come to those on their knees.



1 Maxwell, John C., The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You, 25th Anniversary Edition, (Harper Collins Leadership, 2022) p. 135.


The Great Wisdom of Prayer

“Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer.”

Mark 1:35 (Common English Bible)

It was said of the disciples long ago that people held them in wonder and awe that they had been with Jesus. To be with one of the disciples was to experience one degree of separation from our Lord. That close proximity to Christ resulted in an experience of spiritual vitality and power. God’s love, wisdom, and strength were no longer limited to one’s imagination as stories of Jesus’ life and ministry were shared. In the company of a disciple—or disciples—God’s presence seemed to come near. The vision of God’s glory grew more expansive in the heart as a result of being in the presence of one of the disciples. Perhaps that same fascination is what drives each of us to be photographed with those we admire. There is an unmistakable attraction and thrill to standing in the presence of those who have acquired a larger-than-life persona.

In this passage from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus had just finished a hard, grueling day. A similar day would follow. How could he be ready for it? What would be the spring of fresh physical, emotional, and spiritual strength from which he would drink? Mark gives us the answer and with it the key to Jesus’ vitality and stamina, “Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer.” This one verse suggests the great wisdom of prayer: Every morning, draw from the inexhaustible power of God by drawing near to God’s presence. That is done in prayer. Once when a man was asked what he was doing each day sitting alone in a church, gazing upon a picture of Jesus, he answered, “I am simply looking at him and he is looking at me.” Prayer is time with God.

The weakest, humblest life can be made stronger when placed before God. As we pray, the Bible promises that God will be there. There will be days when God seems absent. The Psalms tell us this. Pray anyway. Know that God is present. Day after day the eyes of the soul become more sensitive to God, the heart more aware of God’s still small voice speaking. Eventually, prayer becomes that daily practice by which the individual soul becomes intertwined with the presence and strength of God. The fact of intimate communion with God is the great reality of true, regular prayer. In prayer, we come to see ourselves surrounded by God’s love and concern for us as we begin each new day.

How strange, how foolish it must seem to God that we should be content with so little prayer. This particular occasion, mentioned in this one verse of Scripture from Mark’s Gospel, was no unusual occurrence for Jesus. Jesus prayed often; Jesus prayed for himself and for others. Jesus took time for prayer before each day and before every difficult challenge that drew near to him. Jesus teaches prayer to us by example, for he knew from his own experience that prayer was a vital part of navigating the inevitable difficulties that each one of us must face. Today, many Christians are troubled by weakness, doubt, and fear, largely because they miss the help that prayer might provide. The greater wisdom of prayer is simply discovering—and experiencing—that we never have to face a day alone.