Here’s a bold statement …
“If you want to live a happy life, let go of all expectations!”
This does not mean wake up and do nothing everyday. It means, let go of what you think your life and every experience in your life should look like. Learn to be content with wherever you are instead of wishing you were somewhere else.
The other morning, I was tired and grumpy, and exercising was the last thing I wanted to do. However, I forced myself to go to the gym. Actually, the real truth is that my husband was going, and since I was in the car with him, I had no choice–unless I wanted to take the bus home. So off to the gym I went; mad, resentful and grumpy the whole time.
As the time on the treadmill painfully dragged on. I was reminded of a principle we talked about in our Small Group Meeting (SGM) last week. This principle changed my attitude from being mad and resentful to giving thanks to God for the ability to be able to exercise. My workout became a form of worship to God. The Holy Spirit also impressed upon me that since I was here I might as well enjoy it. Why waste an opportunity being grumpy when you can CHOOSE to be content instead. The choice is 100% up to me. Talk about an attitude adjustment!
So right then and there, I let go of the thoughts that I ‘should’ be at home getting more sleep and I ‘should’ be doing more important things other than working out. And voilà, just like that, I was able to experience the presence of God. Why? Because God is in the here and now. You can only experience Him when you are present to His presence. That requires you to let go of your expectations about what you think you should and should not be doing and where you should or should not be.
Here’s the Principle
Much of our unhappiness comes from a pervasive feeling that we should be somewhere (other than where we are now), feeling something (other than what we’re feeling right now), doing something (other than what we are doing right now).
We can learn a lot about contentment from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:12-13
1. Be where you are
“I should have done better!” “I should be exercising!” “I should know better!” “I need to get more focused!” “I need more time!” “I should weigh less!” “I should be more organized!” “I need to go to bed earlier!” “I need to spend less time on the internet!” “I need to get my finances in order!” “I need to get my life in order!”
Sadly, all these ‘shoulds’ never inspire us to do better. In fact, they only leave us feeling worse about ourselves. These pervasive thoughts and feelings keep us distracted and frustrated, and most importantly, keep us from experiencing God in this present moment. They box us in on both sides as they keep us remembering our past failures, or they keep us from moving forward in fear. We’re either looking back in regret or looking forward in fear. We are out of God’s presence.
Paul understood that wherever he was, was right where he needed to be. No complaining, no resenting, and no wishing that he were somewhere else. He has a spirit of contentment. If you are a child of God, know and believe that wherever you are right now is exactly where you need to be, and you are not where you want to be because there is something that God is trying to teach you in each and every problem you experience. Instead of wishing you were somewhere else, ask yourself, “Lord, what are you showing me in this present moment?”
2. Glorify God in everything you do
If you’re going to exercise, see it as a form of worship. If you’re going to eat, see it as a form of worship. Give God thanks because a lot of people would give their lives to do what you have the ability to do. Don’t take it for granted. When we can take the focus off ourselves and onto God, we get energized and motivated–we get strengthened (Philippians 4:13). When we can understand that it’s not about us, but God who lives in us, it changes our attitude from a ‘should’ to ‘what a privilege!’ Can you glorify God right where you are right now, in whatever you are doing?
3. Know that pain is part of the process
Jesus teaches his disciples (and us) that everything worth pursuing will require sacrifice (Luke 9:23). I know we don’t want to hear it, but it’s true. There is no crown without the cross; no ministry without some misery; no power without pain. The sooner we can accept this truth, the sooner we can learn to take responsibility for where we are on our journey. If you want to look like the folks at the gym, then you’ve got to be prepared to make the sacrifices they do–you’ve got to put in the time.
Paul learned how to do without. He says that he learned the secret of living in every situation. He learned contentment in pain and sacrifice. Instead of always asking ‘why me or why not me’, ask yourself, ‘what are you willing to sacrifice?’
4. Be principle-led, not by your emotions or feelings.
Paul was focused on his priorities, not on what he felt he should be entitled to. If anyone should have felt entitled, it was Paul (2 Corinthians 11:16-33), yet he learned to detach himself from the temporary feelings of pleasure and pain and focus on the eternal.
As soon as we engage our emotions, it becomes a uphill battle. Our feelings are not facts and therefore are not a reliable source to tell us what we should and should not do. Don’t feel like going to the gym? Don’t feel like eating healthy? Don’t feel like going to bed at a decent hour? Learn to thank your feelings for sharing and remind yourself that they don’t control you.
Also study Proverbs 25:28.
Gratitude and contentment is not a special gift that’s only given to the holy and super-spritual. It’s something that we must all cultivate. Paul was not always like this, but he had to practice. He says, “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.” Don’t expect to get results if you don’t put in the time. Practice gratitude, practice contentment, practice healthy eating, practice being principle-driven and by your emotions. All of life is one big practice session! What new skills, habits, and mindsets are you committed to practicing?
Our SGM is every Saturday morning at 6:00 am EST. If you’re looking for a Bible study, plus a whole lot more, join us.