Though all of us have different adverse circumstances affecting us, we each need to remember that we are left with a choice of how we will respond. Ultimate defeat might not be in the circumstance, but rather in our response and in our attitude.
Confronting adversity is not a choice in life, but the attitude we have in the midst of adversity is a choice. Often, we allow the circumstances to dictate our attitude. Adversity can cause us to feel angry, bitter and anxious. These feelings are normal reactions, but we can choose to move beyond them. Many older people who have lived through much adversity tell me it is possible to choose a different attitude in the midst of adverse circumstances.
Much has been written about the power of positive thinking. One would be hard pressed to find a better example than the Apostle Paul. Paul demonstrated that adverse circumstances do not have to dictate whether we have joy.
Paul endured imprisonment, floggings, near-death experiences, lashes from Roman soldiers and three shipwrecks. He faced danger from rivers, bandits, his own countrymen, non-Jews and those who pretended to be Christians but were not. He faced danger in the city, in the country and at sea. He went without sleep and knew what it was like living with hunger and thirst. After he established churches, he faced the daily pressure of concern for them.
However, adverse circumstances did not dictate Paul’s attitude. Paul believed success was possible despite difficult circumstances. He could have allowed any number of his defeats and sufferings to deter him from his goals. But it seems that with every setback, he only became more determined to share the love of Jesus with others. Paul simply chose not to allow negative events, difficult circumstances or other people to dictate his attitude.
To the church at Philippi he wrote: “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).
These verses were written from prison, another strong piece of evidence that demonstrates Paul’s optimistic nature. In fact, four of the 13 New Testament letters attributed to Paul are known as prison epistles: Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians and Philemon. Even from prison, Paul was undeterred from his goal and chose to have a positive attitude. Instead of focusing on himself and his problems, he chose to focus on the Lord’s work.
The world takes away many things from people, but rarely does the world take away one’s ability to choose or respond to the issues of prosperity or adversity. You may be in bad health. Financially, you may be hurting during this time of recession. You may have been the victim of gossip by a family member, co-worker or friend. You may have missed an important opportunity for advancement in your career. In each of these examples as in most, what is not lost is a person’s ability to choose a positive response.
Good coaches teach that we choose the extent to which people or events can knock us off balance or empower us. Recently in a radio interview, former Georgia player and Auburn coach Pat Dye referenced the Alabama and Georgia football game, stating that the Georgia team would not be “man enough” to handle the Alabama team.
How did Georgia’s coach, Mark Richt, use these comments? He used them to empower his team. He chose to take negative comments by someone else and turn them into a motivating force for his team to help them reach their full potential in the game. This is how we need to use adversity—as a catapult to success.
All the struggles, physical pain, accidents, setbacks, discouragement and pressures of life that the Apostle Paul faced would have discouraged the average person to the point of quitting. For Paul, adversity seemed to catapult him to reaching his full potential. Even when all was taken away, he was still left with a choice of how he would respond.
Though all of us have different adverse circumstances affecting us, we each need to remember that we are left with a choice of how we will respond. Ultimate defeat might not be in the circumstance, but rather in our response and in our attitude. A positive attitude in the midst of adversity can be the catapult to our success.
Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. A version of this column first appeared in The Moultrie Observer.
Michael Helms is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Georgia.