Circumstance vs. Outlook

As broken creatures, we tend to equate things or connect things that we shouldn’t.  One of the most applicable correlations of this is by connecting our present circumstances with our present outlook.  Things back up on us mentally, physically, and even spiritually.  Sometimes our mood lands somewhere before we have time to reason what life circumstance precipitated that situation.  Looking at the letters our beloved Apostle Paul wrote while in prison – such as Philippians, Colossians, and II Timothy – we will not read an outlook that aligns with his circumstances.  They are some of the most uplifting of all his epistles, and without the historical reference point of where he was at the time, we would not naturally glean from his language and tone that his circumstances were naturally dire.

Reality is Reality: One of the things to keep in mind when circumstances decline is that even though that is a present reality of life, our outlook doesn’t necessarily align with reality.  Today’s culture believes that perspective (or outlook) determines reality.  It does not.  Reality is reality.  And even the present reality with all of its ups and downs will not alter or deter the coming blessedness that is also a present reality.  Heaven is not something that will one day exist.  It exists now.  It is every bit a present reality as the next meal I will eat.  But all the prisons that Paul lived in, beatings he took, and scorning that he endured, none of that altered what heaven is and one day would be experienced by him when his time here was over.

Outlook is chosen not ordained: When you contrast Paul’s outlook while in prison to others in like circumstances, it is apparent that Paul made choice on how to deal with it.  Compare his outlook to John the Baptist’s from Matthew 11.  Both were in prison for simply preaching the gospel, but while John wondered if Jesus was really the Christ, Paul learned in whatsoever state he was in to be content.  If God governed outlooks as the “can’t help it” doctrine would imply, then men in the same circumstance for the same reason would have the exact same outlook and yet they are diametrically opposite.  The lesson for us today is that our outlook is what we make of it, not what circumstances or “fate” dictate it to be.

Change outlook to uplook: When you see what Paul’s focus was during his prison epistles, his love and affection for the brethren encouraged and invited them to look where he looked.  His focus was on things above, and when it came to his last epistle to Timothy (days or weeks before his execution), he was ready to go, not afraid, and not bitter about anything that had happened to him. (II Timothy 4:6-14) When the focus is directed down on things here, we will end up singing “poor pitiful me.”  When our outlook stays upward focused, we will sing “Worthy art Thou.”

Friends, I wish I could tell you that I lived up to this in any neighborhood like Paul did.  I haven’t suffered half of what he did, and yet I don’t look upward half as much as he seemed to.  My spirit gets disquieted within me.  Even as honest and noble as the reason for the rumbling seems to be, the thought of God’s enduring work and a life that never ends should dispel the rumblings that disturb our peace.  There are seasons of indignation against those things that are not upright, and we go through seasons of sorrow in the house of mourning.  However, even while in those seasons, we can still have the uplook that Paul did to rejoice in those things that endure, and not get tied up in knots over the transitory things of this world.

May we strive to live our lives with the lyrics of a song that stand up and walk while looking at the travels and ministry of the Apostle Paul.  Content with beholding His face, my all to His pleasure resigned.  No changes of season or place, would make any change in my mind.  While blessed with a sense of His love, a palace a toy would appear, And prisons would palaces prove, if Jesus would dwell with me there.

In Hope,

Bro Philip

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