The Apostle Paul was in trouble often through his life. Things were going well one moment then the next he was either flogged, or chased out of town, or before unjust judges, or shipwrecked or subject to mob violence. He knew what it was like to have his bubble burst. Yet he once wrote to his friends from a jail cell…
I want to report to you, friends, that my imprisonment here has had the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of being squelched, the Message has actually prospered. All the soldiers here, and everyone else, too, found out that I’m in jail because of this Messiah. That piqued their curiosity, and now they’ve learned all about him. Not only that, but most of the followers of Jesus here have become far more sure of themselves in the faith than ever, speaking out fearlessly about God, about the Messiah. (Philippians 1:12- 14 Message)
What Paul is saying is that although everyone expected him to fall into a hole, he was just the opposite. How can that be? How can someone who was thrown into jail undeservedly, talk about their joy in life. Surely they should be down not up!
In the 1950’s Albert described a psychological model for people like Paul. According to Wikipedia, Albert Ellis who died in 2007 developed Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) and became the second most influential psychotherapist in history. He called it the “ABC of emotional life.” I confess I’ve have spent hours trying to work out exactly what he meant. Wikipedia says “A fundamental premise of his approach is “humans do not get emotionally disturbed by unfortunate circumstances, but by how they views these circumstances” – in other words what you believe about your situation is what determines whether you will thrive or feel like trash.
Ellis said his “A” stands for the word “Adversity.” These are the things that happen to us; this is my circumstances or my situation or the event that triggers my current situation. “C” stands for the outcome or the “Consequences.” This is how I feel about something. This is the way that I respond to the circumstances.
Then he says: In between the “Adversity” and the “Consequences,” the letter “B” stands for my “Beliefs” about what happened to me. So it is my beliefs about what happened to me that determine the outcome. It is my beliefs that determine whether I like Paul can rejoice in my troubles or be deleted by them.
Ellis says that the great illusion in life is that the things that happen to me – the adversities – control my consequences. They dictate what I feel. So that if good things happen to me — if I get a promotion, or it’s a nice day, or someone pays me a compliment, then I feel good. But if something bad happens, then I go down. So most of us believe we are at the mercy of the things that happen to us.
Sometimes of course, our beliefs are irrational and when these irrational ideas are corrected by some therapy, then the consequences can be much better. This can explains why two different people in exactly the same situation, can have exactly the opposite responses to it, because where they differ, is in their beliefs.
So How About You?
The truth is, none of us can change our past experience. It’s come and gone. The past is beyond our reach. And often our current situation is also beyond our control as well. When other people have brought about change, or when we lose someone close to us, we realise how powerless we really are. But we can change thing our situation or our past by our beliefs. If we believe the worst, we will move into a dark space. If we believe bad things can result in good outcomes we can move beyond our limits into a good space.
Maybe I Should Lead the Way!
I certainly have a tendency to go to the dark side and begin to worry about things I can’t control! So maybe I should lead the way and begin to change the way I think about my situation – or to quote Albert Ellis change “what I believe about what’s happening.” He said I can move to a much better place if I manage to do that!
Paul was in a good place because he believed good things were happening, through, or because of his circumstances. He believed God had a purpose in his life which was being fulfilled in a jail. So he was able to turn a bad situation into a source of joy. Maybe you should investigate what he believed – especially about the God who controls our world. It may change your belief about your circumstances. It may mean that you can experience the opposite of what you expect in your troubling circumstances. You can read his story in the bible. Look in the book of Acts. Then when you have finished that book, the next few books are letters written by him to other people in his life.
OF course most of the time, we can’t work out why things have happened to us. But sometimes, God allows disappointment in our lives to teach us something. We usually can’t see exactly what we are supposed to learn, until our current circumstances become part of our history. So maybe you are where you are, to give you a chance to learn something. If thats true, don’t miss it! If things were going well, you may miss the thing you need to learn and in the end be worse off.