FOCUS ON PRESENT
by Dale D. Meredith
University Baptist Church
Amherst, NY 14068
November 12, 2017
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Good News Bible, The Bible in Today’s English Version, copyright ©1976 by American Bible Society. Used by permission.
“I have learned to be satisfied with what I have. I know what it is to be in need and what it is to have more than enough. I have learned this secret, so that anywhere, at any time, I am content, whether I am full or hungry, whether I have too much or too little” (Philippians 4:11b-12).
HAPPINESS: The U.S. Declaration of Independence states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Out Declaration of Independence says that God has given us the right to pursue happiness. We all want to be happy. We need to define happiness and then determine how to “pursue happiness” or “find happiness.”
The dictionary definition of happiness includes a state of well-being and contentment. Well-being is defined as the state of being happy, healthy, or prosperous. Contentment is to be satisfied. In our reading the apostle Paul said that he learned to be satisfied so that he could be content.
We are in the process of determining how to be happy and how to pursue happiness. The first week we saw that just being prosperous was not enough to make one happy. John D. Rockefeller was so prosperous he had enough money to buy anything he wanted, and at 53 he was lonely, miserable, and unhealthy. He had to have body guards around the clock, he couldn’t sleep, because of the stress his hair all fell out, he could only eat milk and crackers, and doctors told him he would die within a year. He realized that if he died he couldn’t take anything with him, so he began to give his money away. The more he gave the better he felt. His health improved, he enjoyed playing golf until he was more than 90 years old, and he died at 97. It takes more than money and things to make a person happy.
Last week we found that practicing generosity can contribute to happiness. One can be generous without being wealthy. You can give time to help others. Jesus said that giving a drink of water, a meal, a shirt, or a visit was significant (Matthew 25:31-40). The apostle Paul said the churches in Macedonia were very poor, but they begged and pleaded to give and gave more than they could as they were extremely generous in giving to help God’s people in Judea (2 Corinthians 8:1-7). Practicing generosity can contribute to our happiness, but there is more. We now will consider why we should focus on the present.
DON’T CLING TO THE PAST: Isaiah 43:18 says “But the Lord says, ‘Do not cling to events of the past or dwell on what happened long ago.’” Clinging to events of the past or continually thinking of what happened in the past will not make you happy. If the events of the past hurt you or caused you to grieve, you will be unhappy as you think about them. You cannot change the past. You can be forgiven of what you did in the past, but then you should move on. If the events of the past contributed to your happiness and your situation has changed then you may be unhappy that the situation has changed, and you aren’t happy like you used to be. You shouldn’t forget the past, but don’t cling to the events of the past or spend large amounts of time thinking about what happened in the past.
DON’T WORRY ABOUT TOMORROW: Jesus said, “So do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own. There is no need to add to the troubles each day brings” (Matthew 6:34). You don’t know what will happen tomorrow. To continually worry about what will happen will not make you happy. You should not neglect tomorrow. You should have some plans for what you will do and how you will live tomorrow. I invested in a retirement plan. Jean and I would set short and long-range goals, but these were general guidelines and not “laws” we had to follow. They were really more like things that had to be done such as dates for future doctor appointments, vacation trips, people coming from out of town for a visit.
I had a good friend. We were in graduate school together. I was teaching an adult Sunday School class. Joe told me he thought God wanted him to teach junior high boys, but he had to get his degree first. We graduated and then he said that he was just getting established as an assistant professor and would teach boys when he was established. He did well and was granted tenure and promoted to associate professor in his department. He then said that he had to work harder to become a full professor, but that God still wanted him to teach boys. And he would as soon as he became professor. He was promoted to professor. Then, one day he died. He never got around to leading and teaching boys in Sunday School.
Jesus said, “You have a saying, 'Four more months and then the harvest.' But I tell you, take a good look at the fields; the crops are now ripe and ready to be harvested” (John 4:35). You can’t change the past. You don’t know tomorrow. You have only today.
FOCUS ON THE PRESENT: The apostle Paul wrote, “I have learned to be satisfied with what I have. I know what it is to be in need and what it is to have more than enough. I have learned this secret, so that anywhere, at any time, I am content, whether I am full or hungry, whether I have too much or too little” (Philippians 4:11b-12). If you carefully notice this is true only for the present time. He was satisfied and had a sense of well-being at that time whether he is full or hungry, whether he has too much or too little. The external conditions and situation did not control his happiness.
How can we pursue happiness in the present? Let me suggest four things than anyone can do. First, enjoy simple things: “How clearly the sky reveals God’s glory! How plainly it shows what he has done.” (Psalm 19:1). Let me give an example from one of my wife’s journals. On September 14, 2013, she wrote: “Went to bed about the same time 11-11:30 p.m. this week, but got up at 6:30 a.m. yesterday. It was going to be a busy day, and it was, and I wanted to go to Curves, a physical exercise place, early. I also wanted to see a sunrise. I’ve seen a lot of sunsets recently, but it’s been a while since I saw a sunrise.
“It was about 7:15 a.m. with light clouds to the east and dark ones over Buffalo. The sun’s rays were like very light molten gold. It was beautiful. As I drove toward Curves, I saw half a rainbow to the left ahead of me over Buffalo. The first raindrops started. As I headed onto Kenmore Ave. from Main St., I saw the other half rainbow to the right over Kenmore-Tonawanda.
“Noted leaves turning and picked up first little pinecone yesterday.” She was enjoying simple things. Several places in her journals she wrote that she was happy.
Second, celebrate: “This is the day of the Lord’s victory; let us be happy, let us celebrate!” (Psalm 118:24). Many of you know my fun celebrating my birthday. I was born on Easter Sunday, March 24, 1940. March 24 was the date on the solar calendar. The solar calendar is based on the sun. Easter is determined from the lunar calendar. The lunar calendar is based on the moon. Because it is based on the lunar calendar Easter can be anytime from about March 22 to April 25. I like to celebrate from March 24 until Easter. Some years I can get as many as 5 chocolate cakes for my birthday. I like to celebrate my birthday because I like chocolate cakes, I’m still alive, I’m healthy, I’m loved, I can do what I enjoy, and it all contributes to my happiness.
Third, be a friend: “Do not forget your friends” (Proverbs 27:10a). “Friends always show their love.” (Proverbs 17:17a). “some friends are more loyal than brothers.” (Proverbs 18:24b). It takes time now to be a friend. It takes effort to be a friend. Be a friend with your spouse, child, neighbor, and others who need a friend. Don’t forget to keep up with friends. Show love toward friends. Be loyal to friends when they need your friendship and loyalty.
In 1 Samuel 18:3 “Jonathan swore eternal friendship with David because of his deep affection for him.” Jonathan’s father, the king, was jealous of David, persecuted him, and tried to kill him. However, Jonathan and David were such good friends they cared for and looked after each other. After Jonathan died, David became king. He searched for and found Jonathan’s disabled son. Then, David treated him as his own son (2 Samuel 19:3-13). Friends are a very important part of our lives.
Fourth, work enthusiastically: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23). I always advised my daughters and students to find what they liked to do and then follow that as a career. If you like what you do, you will be excited about going to work every day, do well enough to make a living, and be happy. However, you may be stuck in a boring job. Maybe you don’t like the boss. The company doesn’t appreciate you won’t pay you what you deserve. If you let those problems affect you, you will soon be miserable and unhappy.
Whether at home, at the office, on the job, at the church, in the community whatever you find to do jump in and do it with enthusiasm. Whatever you do, do it for the Lord. Don’t do it just because someone told you to or you have to. Do it well and gladly as a present for the Lord. The Lord has given you much. Do your work as a present you can give to the Lord. You can do that knowing He will appreciate your gift.
The secret to being happy is to enjoy what you are doing now. You can enjoy it if you see it as a gift for our loving Lord rather than for a few dollars more. You are alive. You shouldn’t live just to reach some goal or destination. You should enjoy the process or journey to destination.
THE DESTINATION: Robert Hastings1 has captured the sense of how to enjoy the journey in his essay "The Station.”
Tucked away in our subconscious is an idyllic vision.
We are traveling by train, out the windows,
we drink in the passing scenes of children
waving at a crossing,
cattle grazing on a distant hillside,
row upon row of corn and wheat,
flatlands and valleys,
mountains and rolling hillsides
and city skylines.
But uppermost in our minds is the final destination.
On a certain day, we will pull into the station.
Bands will be playing and flags waving.
Once we get there, our dreams will come true
and the pieces of our lives
will fit together like a completed jigsaw puzzle.
Restlessly we pace the aisles,
damning the minutes - waiting,
waiting, waiting for the station.
"When we reach the station, that will be it!"
We cry. "When I'm 18." "When I buy a new 450sl Mercedes Benz!"
"When I put the last kid through college."
"When I have paid off the mortgage!"
"When I get a promotion." "When I reach retirement,
I shall live happily ever after!"
Sooner or later, we realize there is no station,
no one place to arrive.
The true joy of life is the trip.
The station is only a dream.
It constantly outdistances us.
"Relish the moment" is a good motto.
It isn't the burdens of today that drive men mad.
It is the regrets over yesterday and the fear of tomorrow.
Regret and fear are twin thieves who rob us of today.
Regret is reality, after the facts.
So stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles.
Instead, climb more mountains, eat more ice cream,
go barefoot more often,
swim more rivers, watch more sunsets, laugh more, cry less.
Life must be lived as we go along.
The STATION will come soon enough.
Some asked for the following one page summary of the Focus on the Present section of message:
FOCUS ON THE PRESENT
by Dale D. Meredith
University Baptist Church
November 12, 2017
FOCUS ON THE PRESENT: “I have learned to be satisfied with what I have. I know what it is to be in need and what it is to have more than enough. I have learned this secret, so that anywhere, at any time, I am content, whether I am full or hungry, whether I have too much or too little” (Philippians 4:11b-12).
1.Enjoy simple things: “How clearly the sky reveals God’s glory! How plainly it shows what he has done.” (Psalm 19:1). 2.Celebrate: “This is the day of the Lord’s victory; let us be happy, let us celebrate!” (Psalm 118:24) 3.Be a friend: “Do not forget your friends” (Proverbs 27:10a). “Friends always show their love.” (Proverbs 17:17a). “some friends are more loyal than brothers.” (Proverbs 18:24b). 4.Work enthusiastically: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23)
The secret to being happy is to enjoy what you are doing now.