Friday, September 28, 2007

A Philippian Attitude Adjustment

It's easy to feel upbeat about life when things are going your way. Opportunities at work + social standing + love at home = a positive attitude. Then you get extra credit because an optimistic outlook breeds further success: professionally, socially, and personally.

But what about when life gets hard? When work is stifling? When your popularity drops? When home means tension or loneliness? Just about the last thing in the world you want to hear is: "You need an attitude adjustment." Yet, in truth, you probably do. But how? How can you change the way you perceive your life, or even the way you feel about it?

We find answers to this question in the New Testament letter from Paul to the Philippians. If anybody had the right to a bad attitude, surely it was Paul. Years of faithful ministry brought much personal suffering. He was writing to the Christians in Philippi from a prison somewhere in the Roman Empire (scholars aren't sure exactly where). The charge against Paul? Telling good news about Jesus. The possible penalty for his crime? Death. I can imagine that if I were in Paul's sandals, I'd be feeling down about life, and even about God. Self-absorbed pity would be my prison cellmate.

But, strange as it seems, Philippians abounds with joy, and not just joy, but a consistently buoyant and visionary perspective on life. How is this possible? Is Paul genetically wired to look on the bright side? Hardly. Rather his positive attitude rests on the bedrock of his relationship with the living God.

This article begins a multipart series on a Philippian attitude adjustment. From Paul's little letter, we'll learn how to see our lives through the lens of confident faith, even when things are tough. We'll let Paul teach us how to have a genuinely positive attitude, not by pretending or denying, but by letting God permeate our thoughts and feelings.

Philippians kicks off with one essential component of a good attitude . . . grateful remembrance:

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. (1:3-5)

Paul doesn't become mired in his moment of hardship. Rather, he remembers how the Philippians have been "sharing in the gospel." Koinonia, the Greek word translated as "sharing," can be used both for intimate friendship and a business partnership. Here it refers to the Philippian participation in Paul's ministry, as well as their mutual affection. Paul's recollection of how God has helped the Philippians to be his colleagues fills him with joyful gratitude. He doesn't feel alone because his Philippian partners have been with him since day one.

A genuinely affirmative attitude doesn't start with us. Rather, it begins with God and his grace. Grateful remembrance points our minds in God's direction, lifting us out of the fog of self-absorption. It broadens our perspective. It strengthens our confidence in God's faithfulness. And it enables us to rejoice, even when life is hard.

If you haven't done so yet today, why not take a few minutes to reflect on God's goodness to you? Whether you're exalting with enthusiasm or feeling like you're locked up in some prison, remember what God has done, and be sure to say "Thank You." That's the beginning of a new way of thinking, feeling, and being. It's the start of a Philippian attitude adjustment.

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