Are you ready for a shift?
Ever wonder why it seems some people are happier than you, even if they are going through more difficult circumstances than you? Maybe you have visited Christians in developing countries thinking you were there to minister to them in their need, only to realize that in their smile and joy and selflessness, you were the one who had the need.
Yeah, me too.
When Paul wrote Philippians, the greatest exposition on joy ever written, he was actually bound in chains under house arrest. Paul apprehended something our cocoon-existence-of-comfort-in-the-West can never provide.
So this begs a second question.
What are you looking toward to make you happy?
Whether it is opioids or people’s praise, whatever causes you to experience strong emotions of either happiness or disappointment — that is likely the thing you are living for. And it is very likely ruining your life.
I remember listening as a woman confessed extreme anxiety over her kids and their futures. She was brave to say it out loud, and I listened and I related and I prayed. She was looking at me asking, “What do I do?”
But actually I think the better question is, “Who is God?”
You see, if God is good, and loving, and in control, you can put your head on your pillow even with chaos swirling and the people you love out of your control, because you know Him and you know He has them, and He has you. He has all of it. Change is difficult and may come slow — after all, these are ingrained thoughts and entangled sins. But because we have been made new creations, we have the Spirit’s power and a choice to make. Changing our minds is possible. We do not have to spin.
If we’re spiraling down toward our ultimate fixation, we can flip it. We can spiral up toward God instead.
This is what Paul did. If all Paul saw were his circumstances and his inability to change his imprisonment, he would surely have been despondent. But his circumstances didn’t dictate his thoughts. It was his love of Jesus and trust in a good, loving, in-control God that consumed his mind and his purpose. And the same power that raised Christ from the dead, the same Spirit that empowered Paul to trust in the direst circumstances, is fully accessible for you and me. Right now. Are you ready for that shift?
Read Philippians 1
Read chapter 1 once all the way through without writing anything. Then read it again. On your second read, begin to jot down words and phrases that jump out to you. Get ready — this letter reads like a “best of” list of favorite and most quoted verses in the Bible.
As you read chapter 1, respond to the below:
- Write down some of the things you see that Paul is grateful for.
- In verses 9 and 10 what does Paul want for the Philippians and why?
- Read verses 15–17. What is the problem and how does Paul reconcile this?
- Rewrite verse 21 in your own words.
- Verse 27 talks about a “manner of life worthy of the gospel.” Describe what Paul means by this. Look at verses 27–30.
- Now read back through all of your responses and write down some themes. I want you to write a summary statement of Philippians 1.
Example: The goal of the enemy is to have us love more than God. God’s desire is we love Him most.
PHILIPPIANS 1 SUMMARY STATEMENT
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. — Mark 12:30 ESV
J. I. Packer, in Knowing God, says,
What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God. What is the “eternal life,” that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God. [John 17:3] What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight, and contentment than anything else? Knowledge of God. [Jeremiah 9:23] What, of all the states God ever sees man in, gives Him the most pleasure? The knowledge of Himself. [Hosea 6:6]1
To live is Christ and to die is gain. — Philippians 1:21 NIV
A consuming mission for Paul. “To live is Christ…” is Christ. What interesting phrasing. It’s not primarily an action. It is a state of being. It is to be with and to allow Christ to be in and through and with me as I live. It is less of a hustle and more of a state of being.
My son Cooper is adopted from Rwanda, and there are times when he will say to me, usually when we are punishing him for something, “I don’t want to be in this family anymore.” His actions and words are trying to change something unchangeable. He is an Allen. It is his reality no matter how he feels about it and no matter how he acts or doesn’t act.
Getting out of our own heads begins with understanding our position in Christ. We are His, and we live that out as a matter of fact… either aware and surrendered to that truth or in rejection to what is true.
To live “is Christ.”
- Our position is as a member of Christ’s body. “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27).
- Our minds are the minds of Christ. “‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ”
(1 Corinthians 2:16).
- Our lives making Christ’s appeal. “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
The more we understand our position with Christ, in Christ, through Christ, the less we try hard and the more we surrender.
It is the least active thing you can imagine doing.
Today I was all worked up about something I could not control at work. I was in knots about it and honestly it consumed my mind and time and even my mood all day.
Tonight I fell into bed and exhaled. I gave up. I told God what was true all along: “I lay here at Your mercy.”
We can hustle at His mercy; we can worry at His mercy or we can rest because of His mercy.
Being wholly surrendered to one thing will shift everything about us.
Whatever you find your mind most fixed on — that is the thing you are living for.
Our spirals can go one of two ways: up toward God or down toward the thing we’re fixating on. In the coming weeks we’ll start examining and dissecting our spirals and what to do about them, but for now we need to know that direction is everything. We want to go up, not down.
Here’s how a typical downward spiral looks.
Our emotions trigger a thought. For example, feeling overwhelmed might make us think, I’ll never get through all this and there’s no use trying. Thoughts lead to behaviors (like numbing or procrastinating); behaviors affect relationships (like the ones we shut out or put off to nurse our overwhelmed minds); and then there are consequences. Friendships grow stale, opportunities are missed, we’re left with things we don’t want. But those things make up our lives. It can start to get out of control.
In this study we’ll dig into each level on this spiral. But for now, know that when we spiral down, it’s because we’ve set our minds on something that isn’t God.
Here’s what it looks like to spiral up instead:
This spiral starts with a stance of surrender toward God that reminds us we are His, He is working through us, and we have a choice. So, when we’re faced with the emotion that threatens to send us downward, we take hold of one thought: I have a choice. We learn to choose thoughts that conform to the mind of Christ; we start seeing better behaviors, better relationships, and better consequences. Our hearts are “set on what the Spirit desires” as Paul put it. Focused on God, our spirals begin to flip.
I love that Paul says we have a choice about what we think, no matter what the world is throwing at us. Often I sit down with women, and I hear their stories, and it doesn’t matter what country or city we’re in, the struggles are the same.
The people who stand out to me are the ones who have chosen to trust Jesus more than trusting their ability to make everything work out fine.
These heroes of the faith are not subject to their own thoughts. They are not subject to their feelings.
They believe in one chief aim, and with every ounce of their power, they are working to think about Christ.
Jesus is the axis around which all their thought spirals spin. When their minds turn and turn, they fixate on Him. I want to learn to do the same.
Read Romans 8:5-11. In light of what you read, answer the questions:
Who are You, Lord?
And what do You want for me?
- J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1993).
Excerpted with permission from Get Out of Your Head Study Guide by Jennie Allen, copyright Jennie Allen.
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What are your answers to the questions Who are You, Lord? And what do You want for me? Come share with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full