By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill . May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.
Remember, O LORD, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. “Tear it down,” they cried, “tear it down to its foundations!”
O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us-he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.
Some call it the “act as if” principle. Others advise us to “fake it til you make it”. But what they’re all referring to is the fact that while you can’t control how you feel about your current circumstances, you can control how you respond to them. And if you choose to act like your circumstances are irrelevant to your happiness, your feelings will eventually catch up. That means if you feel sad, you can choose to act like you’re happy, and soon you will have cheered yourself up. If you’re a smoker and feel like you want a cigarette, you can choose to act like you don’t and before long you’ll be a non-smoker.
Some years ago I walked into the office of a prospective client during a time of economic down turn. On the wall behind the receptionist’s desk was a prominent sign that read, “We heard there was a recession, but we decided not to participate.” I don’t think it was a coincidence that this company was doing better than its competitors even though they all had similar products and serviced the same market.
Lately these have come to be known as “contrary-to-feelings” choices. But there’s nothing new about them. Paul knew all about doing this. So when the Church at Philippi was suffering intense persecution and asked him for help he wrote back,
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:4-7)
In the midst of persecution they were to rejoice, not just when things were good, but always. He said the way to find true peace, the peace that transcends all understanding is to be anxious about nothing, to thank God for anything, and ask Him to take charge of everything. And Paul wasn’t some theologian tucked away in a corner of the Temple, sequestered from the real world. He knew something about enduring persecution.
He also knew that our attitude is a major factor in determining how things affect us. That’s why he told the Ephesians to be made new in the attitudes of their minds (Ephes. 4:23) in order to live lives more pleasing to God. He knew that attitudes are just habits of thought. If we start thinking differently our attitude will change. When our attitude changes, our actions will soon follow.
We can tell he knew this because He also told the Philippians to focus on good thoughts during their bad times.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:8-9)
He promised that doing these things would bring them peace in spite of their circumstances. It was good advice then and it’s good advice now.