The Unparalleled Benefit of Living In an Unchangeable Situation

The Unparalleled Benefit of Living In an Unchangeable Situation

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What would you rather have if you only had one choice: a change of circumstances or a change of mind about your circumstances? My question is critical and ties directly to the quality of life you will experience with God and others, especially when things go badly for you. I suspect most of us would prefer a change of circumstances over a change of mind about our circumstances. I would. When disappointment comes, I usually look for the exits and go into flight mode. How fast can I get to higher ground? Our self-preservation instincts are normal but not always wise when a higher aim from a divine orchestrator may be working a superior plan.

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Valuing Losses

The unintended consequence of the “quick exit mentality” is perpetual vulnerability to our circumstances. Like a puppet on a string, bad days will keep us vulnerable, especially when we can’t get out of them. It is a strategy for being controlled by what’s happening outside of me rather than the operations of the Spirit of God inside me. I need a victory mindset that lifts me above the fray even while in them over a victim mindset that keeps me nervous about the next shoe that will assuredly drop. Vulnerability and fear motivate me to control my circumstances to live a victorious Christian life, which is an unrealistic probability. Think about the last negative thing that happened to you. How did you respond? Your response—right or wrong—is vital in revealing yourself and what you cherish the most. Jesus talked about our hearts and treasures in Matthew 6:21 and how we will serve one or the other.

  • A wrong response is when we try to manage our circumstances or manipulate things so they change according to our preferences.
  • A grace-empowered response is an acknowledgment that the Sovereign Lord is in control, and though people or events might not change to our wishes, there is persevering grace to help us during the crisis.

Let me illustrate these tensions with Biff and Mable. Mable wants Biff to change. She is correct. He should change. Sin has captured him, and for many reasons, he has not been able to extricate himself from his caught-ness (Galatians 6:1). She has become frustrated and impatient with him—for years. Rather than helping Biff through his sin patterns, she complicates the problem by being demanding, controlling, and critical. Added to these problems is their wayward child, though Biff has yet to connect his issues with his son. Like Mable, Biff is sincere in wanting their son to change, but his rebellion has tempted him to sin. The Lord is too slow for Biff, so he resorts to sinful manipulations to reel Biffy back into the fold (Matthew 18:12). Biff and Mable’s responses to their circumstances are similar and a far cry from the worshipful response of Job.

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD (Job 1:21).

Mable and Biff do not realize that God is more interested in helping them change their minds about their circumstances than changing their circumstances. They only see what’s happening as unchangeable, and both are angry—for different reasons. When Job reflected upon his seemingly unchangeable circumstances, he fell to the ground and offered a worship-filled response to his Lord. His mindset was more on the Lord of his situation than the situation itself. If our goal is for our situation to change, which is not necessarily a wrong goal, the first step is to recalibrate and focus more on how we think about what is happening to us. We can miss this truth so quickly when staring trouble in the face. Our friend, Job, perceived how his gains and losses were not as significant as the God who was in the gains and losses. The New Testament equivalent to this kind of God-centered thinking was Paul when he said, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7).

Gains and Losses

Paul learned to live counter to his troubled world (Philippians 4:11-13). He was not impressed with the things his culture offered. For him, reputation, image, position, power, materialism, affluence, relevance, and style would give him bragging rights, but they were comparable to manure. He took all the good outcomes and things he possessed and threw them in the garbage heap because he found something surpassing those human-made aspirations. He moved his exemplary accomplishments from the profit column to the loss column, which left nothing in his profit column but Christ. Paul would rather have Jesus than anything this world had to offer, and his worldview was not over-spiritualized Christian-speak. His practical theology was consistent with his view about the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.

If you put Paul’s perspective in a formula, it would say, “Jesus + nothing = salvation, and Jesus + nothing = sanctification.” Authentic Christianity is relinquishing our desires from ruling our hearts for the opportunity to gain Christ alone. You are most potent when the surpassing worth of knowing Christ causes all other loves in your life to fade into the background. You should not attempt to add Jesus to the plus column of your life in addition to everything else you want. To have Jesus plus other things will always leave you vulnerable to those other things, tempting you to micromanage your vulnerable life to maintain a level of certainty that calms your fears. This self-reliant collection and maintenance of dreams will create unnecessary competition in your heart. You will forever live in tension until Christ rules supreme in your life, plus nothing else. Jesus knew this temptation was a problem with some of His followers. He was the latest fad, a misguided perspective, motivating Him to adjust their perspectives on what it meant to be a follower.

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-27).

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To Know Him

Though Paul was a great man who accomplished many things in his pre-regenerative life that surpassed nearly everyone else of his day, he was willing to let go of all those things because he found something superior. To be willing to let go of everything you value for the sake of Christ is the ultimate victory and your most significant challenge, which is why many people chose not to follow Jesus any longer (Matthew 19:22). Are you willing to count everything in life as a minus for the sake of gaining and knowing Christ? Paul’s life presents a mirror for us to examine ourselves to see if we will follow him as he followed Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Will we adopt Paul’s worldview as our own? After his conversion, Paul changed his mind about how he fit into God’s world. He began to see how the things he cherished could be over-valued even to the point of controlling him.

He learned that only one thing needed to reign supreme in his heart (Matthew 6:24). This lesson is one of the hardest things anyone can learn. At least, it is for me. I’m not asking you to walk away from all of the things you possess. My appeal is not a call for self-flagellation or a vow to poverty, so you can prove that Christ is most important. I’m asking if you would be okay if Christ were all you had. If your world falls apart—as Job’s did—and all the advantages you once had are no longer yours, can you get to the place where knowing Christ is enough? God is not calling us to punish ourselves through ascetic practices. He is not a mean parent who wants to harm us by taking things away from us. Some people live with this view, always thinking the other shoe will fall because God does not want to bless them. This kind of thinking is foolish. The Father gave His Son to die on the cross for Christians.

If someone gave up his child so we could live, I think it would be safe to say that we are loved, and He would not withhold any good thing from us. See John 15:13, 3:16; Psalm 84:11. His desire is not to withhold or keep us from success but to release us from the captivation and domination that this life can have over our thinking, even if those are our closest relationships. He knows the only way to be strong is by being willing to suffer the loss of all things while standing in the confidence of Christ’s faithfulness on our behalf. We are not strong because we can control our lives, relationships, and circumstances. Our strength is proportional to the degree to which we rest in Christ’s ability to work in and through us. Paul knew this, and when he looked at his foundation, he realized he had built it with the wood, hay, and straw of personal accomplishments (1 Corinthians 3:12).

Letting It Go

His rank, pedigree, standing, and influence became rubbish in his mind because he knew those things were manufactured and maintained by his personal power to persevere. His strengths were unguarded weaknesses that convinced him that he could do all things through himself who strengthened him. Paul decided to chuck anything that made him weak, which was everything the world called strong (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). He made the great exchange: “I will replace all my worth with the surpassing value of knowing Jesus.” He learned the secret to life: when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:10), which brings you to a penetrative question: where are you vulnerable; where are you weak? He let those things go knowing there was something better found in Christ (Philippians 3:10). You are only as strong as your vulnerabilities.

When Job thought about these things, he said it this way, “For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, but trouble comes” (Job 3:25-26). What is the one thing you pray God won’t take from you? Be careful here. God is not that mean parent who wants to watch you suffer. He wants to bless you. The biggest blessing He could ever give you is to be free from being controlled by the things in this life. If you are governed by what you are afraid of losing, you need God’s intervening power because you are not free. You must be “okay” with losing all things while obtaining Christ as your most valued treasure. Perhaps you could start by mentally letting those things go so they no longer dominate you. Perhaps going back to your salvation experience might help with this spiritual reset.

Do you remember renouncing the world for the greater riches found in Christ after He saved you? Perhaps you’re at that spot again where you need to consider forsaking the world for the greater riches found in Christ. You did it at your salvation; now it’s time to do it again during your sanctification. Moses was in a similar spot, though he had more to lose than most of us. When the Hebrew writer thought about the life of Moses, he said, “He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward (Hebrews 11:26).” Isn’t that profound? Do you yearn for what Moses, Paul, and Job had? If so, I want you to proceed by reflecting on these steps to freedom that will help you to practicalize the gospel in your life.

Gains and Losses

Steps to Freedom

Step One: The first step to freedom is to realize the nature of the call on your life. The Lord systematically and incrementally puts you to death (Romans 12:1-2) as you walk with Him. We’re on a slow “death walk” with Jesus. The more you resist death, the more difficult you will make your life and relationships (John 12:24). Though Jesus talked a lot about cross-carrying, many Christians do not make this connection to their lives, and you see it when the disappointments mount. Dying to ourselves is not a one-time event but a repeated action all our lives. Therefore, we must have a worldview about dying to ourselves just as much as we need to learn how to practice it. Our worldview must prepare us to step into the practical reality of this perspective when things do not turn out as we had hoped. Perhaps spending time reflecting on the seriousness of the call of Christ on your life to die to yourself would be time well spent.

Step Two: The second step to accessing the surpassing worth of knowing Christ is identifying the things that mean the most to you. These are the things that control you. Think about your fears or anger because they will reveal what is most precious to you. Fear and anger are typical responses from the person losing something they don’t want to lose. You must name it and claim it. You have to own what manages you. You want to renew your mind, pleading with God to release you from the control of those things you fear losing. You will never change if you’re unwilling to step away from what competes for your heart’s treasure. Perhaps a few diagnostic questions will help you think through the controlling influences in your life.

  • What situation in your life tempts you to anger? Most anger is a manipulative tactic of an insecure person who fears losing something vital to them. Their fear tempts them to anger, to corral and contain what they think they will lose.
  • What situation in your life tempts you to fear, leading to controlling anger? Do you see how fear and anger work in tandem?
  • What person in your life are you trying to control? Many parents succumb to this temptation, as well as spouses. We want those we love to behave a certain way and don’t let it go, even attempting to control them. Remember what Mable was doing to Biff and what Biff was doing to Biffy?
  • What situation are you trying to bend to conform to what you want? You want to devote adequate time to thinking about the people you love and the situations you want to change.

Step Three: The third step is to confess these things to God and perhaps a trusted friend. Paul admitted that he enjoyed what he had and what he was. There was a long time in his life when he was not going to let go of those things. Like Gollum from J.R.R. Tolkein’s  “The Lord of the Rings,” who loved his gold ring, what Paul possessed was precious to him. Those things affected his thinking to the point of ruling his life. Part of Paul’s process of being released from this bondage was to let others know what those things were and how they dominated his thought life. He made a public confession, which you may read in Philippians 3:3-6. One of the most freeing things you can do is articulate to someone what has gripped you. Let others in on your fears. I’m not suggesting you post your fears on social media, but one close competent friend who loves you is a treasure you want to invite on this journey with you.

How do you respond when you look out over the landscape of your life and see people or situations that are not meeting your expectations? If your habitual reactions are sinful, you have not found surpassing worth in Christ. You are not free (John 8:36), and you will never be free until you wrestle through the challenge I’m laying before you. Carefully read Paul’s public confession and ask the Father to help you to emulate his example. What would you rather have if you only had one choice: a change of circumstances or a change of mind about your circumstances? This question is critical and ties directly to the quality of life you will experience with God and others. I’m not sure if the Lord will ever change your circumstances. I am sure He can change your mind about your circumstances. Listen to Paul.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:7-8).

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Call to Action

  1. What does it mean for you to die to yourself? What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the statement? What do your initial thoughts reveal about you? What do they reveal about God?
  2. When you think about losing something to gain Christ, do you believe you will lose it or be willing to lose it? What is the difference between those two things, and what does your answer reveal about you?
  3. What is something you are fearful of losing? Why are fear and anger instructive diagnostics that reveal what’s crucial to you and how the loss of those things has so much control over your life? When did you respond angrily because the situation exceeded your ability to manage it?
  4. Why is it essential to share what the Lord is doing in your life with another person? Have you ever made a commitment to God but did not tell anyone your plans, and you broke your commitment? How would permitting a friend access to your journey have changed the outcome?

The next time you’re in an unchangeable situation, will you think about the things I have shared with you? Perhaps in those moments, it would serve you to read this chapter again and work through the questions I have asked. Job’s situation never changed, but he did change after a while, so don’t beat yourself up if the struggle is intense. Anything worth having comes through much effort. Ask God to give you the courage to step into your unchangeable situation rather than run from it. Expect Him to give you the grace you need to endure and even change. Christ is worth the effort.

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