Monday, June 23, 2008

"The Secret"


Australian author Rhonda Byrne has written a blockbuster bestseller book entitled The Secret. (Atria Books/Beyond Words, 2006). Byrne says that this secret has been known by great people throughout history, like Beethoven and Abraham Lincoln, the secret to getting what you want (although I’m not sure if we want to be deaf like Beethoven or assassinated like Lincoln, but I digress.) Popularized by people like Oprah Winfrey, The Secret teaches a New Age philosophy called “the law of attraction,” which is basically another way of talking about the power of positive thinking.
But before you rush out and buy Byrne’s book or watch her film, let me share the real secret with you. You can open your Bible to Philippians 4:12 and find that the secret has already been revealed.
In this verse, the apostle Paul says, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” Aha! Here’s the secret. And it’s not in New Age philosophy, it’s in the Bible. What is the secret?
(To continue reading "The Secret," click on "Comments" below and read the first comment.)

1 comment:

Brother Bob said...

I. The secret is in Christ

Positive thinkers and New Agers like Rhonda Byrne tell you, “You can do anything if you set your mind to it.” The Bible disagrees. It’s not about you—it’s about Him. The secret is not in you, it’s in Jesus Christ.
Listen to what Paul says in Philippians 4:11-13:
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:11-13, NIV)
The word “content” is the Greek term autarkeia, used by Stoic philosophers to mean “self-sufficiency.” The Stoic philosophers in Paul’s day tried to eliminate all desires and emotions in order to be content. They said the secret was not having wealth, but not wanting so much. Socrates was their hero and great example of the self-sufficiency.
For the Stoics, contentment was a human achievement. But for the Christian, contentment is a divine gift.
The Stoics were saying about the same thing that people say today when they say, “You can do anything you set your mind to do.” The Christian says, “No, you can do anything through Christ!” As verse 13 says, “I can do everything through Him [Christ] who gives me strength.”
In verse 19, Paul repeats this theme, saying:
“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:19, NIV)
Notice that he does not say God will supply all your wants. He says God will supply all your needs. There is a big difference.
British style writer Neil Boorman has decided to burn every branded thing in his possession. "I am addicted to brands," he confessed in a magazine article:
From an early age, I have been taught that to be accepted, to be loveable, to be cool, one must have the right stuff. At junior school, I tried to make friends with the popular kids, only to be ridiculed for the lack of stripes on my trainers. Once I had nagged my parents to the point of buying me the shoes, I was duly accepted at school, and I became much happier as a result. As long as my parents continued to buy me the brands, life was more fun. Now, at the age of 31, I still behave according to playground law.
Boorman finally realized that the happiness found in his possessions is hollow and short-lived, leaving him with a "continual, dull ache." So he's taking drastic action and turning to a life of simplicity. He summarizes:
The manner in which we spend our money defines who we are. … In this secular society of ours, where family and church once gave us a sense of belonging, identity, and meaning, there is now Apple, Mercedes, and Coke. … So, this is why I am burning all my stuff. To find real happiness, to find the real me. (Neil Boorman, "Bonfire of the Brands," BBC Magazine, 8-29-06)
Many of us think we need things that we don’t. We think we need to have all kinds of stuff. The average American consumes twenty times more sodium (salt) than the human body needs. (Prevention, March 1997).
Yes, there is a difference in needs and wants. And how does God supply our needs? Verse 19 says, “in Christ Jesus.” It is through faith in Jesus Christ, who saves us from sin, gives us peace and forgiveness, and prepares a place for us in heaven. Through him is the secret of contentment.
But there is more. For once we get this contentment, how do we keep it?

II. The secret is in prayer

Is it positive thinking? That’s what many New Agers like Rhond Byrne, author of The Secret. Some pastors do the same. Preachers like Norman Vincent Peale, Robert Schuller and Joel Osteen point right here to Philippians 4:8 as their example: “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable…think about such things.” They say: “See! You need to think positive thoughts and your life will be better. They are only partly right. If we look at the entire passage we see that there is more to it than simply thinking positive thoughts. The secret is not so much positive thinking as it is positive prayer.
Listen to Philippians 4:6-8:
“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. 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.” (Phil 4:6-8, NIV)
So the positive thinking is rooted in positive praying. It is more than just thinking good thoughts, but it is talking to the God of the universe about those good and positive thoughts through prayer.
So often the apostle Paul asks believers to pray.
In Ephesians 6:18 Paul says to pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:17 he says to pray continually. The KJV puts it: “Pray without ceasing.”
And twice he uses the example same phrase “devote yourselves to prayer”: in 1 Corinthians 7:5 and Colossians 4:2.
Paul knew that the secret to contentment came from God through faith in Christ. Thus the contentment continues as we stay connected to God through prayer. That is why, even in a prison, he could say in Philippians 1:19:
“For I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.” (Phil 1:19, NIV)
Dr. Jonas King once went to visit the children in an orphanage. The children were seated in a school-room and Dr. King stood on a platform before them.
"So this is an orphanage," he said. "I suppose that many of you children would tell me that you have no father or mother, were I to ask you."
"Yes, sir;" said some little voices.
"How many of you say you have no father? Hold up your hands." A forest of hands were put up.
"So you say, you have no father?"
"Yes, sir."
"Now," said Dr. King, "do you ever say the Lord's Prayer? Let me here you."
The children began: "Our Father who art in heaven--"
"Stop, children," said Dr. King; "did you begin right?" The children began again: "Our Father who art in heaven--"
"Stop again, children," said Dr. King. "What did you say? Our Father? Then you have a Father; a good, rich Father. I want to tell you about Him. He owns all the gold in California; He owns all the world; He can give you as much of anything as He sees is best for you. Now, children, never forget that you have a Father. Go to Him for all you want, as if you could see Him. He is able and willing to do all that is for your good." (Pulpit Helps, cited in Stories for Preachers and Teachers.)
Yes, the secret of continued contentment for the Christian is in prayer to our heavenly Father, who cares about our every need.

III. The secret is in suffering

This is something you will not hear from popular TV preachers or New Agers. Suffering doesn’t sell DVD’s or draw big crowds. Yet if you really want to know the secret of Christian contentment, it comes through suffering. Actually it is finding joy in the midst of suffering.
Rhonda Byrne lists Beethoven as one of the great figures in history who knew the secret. Well, she doesn’t emphasize that Beethoven went deaf, and yet wrote his Fifth Symphony, which includes his famous “Hymn to Joy,” while a deaf man! Beethoven understood a secret alright, a secret about suffering.
Philippians was written from prison, yet it is often called the “Book of Joy.” Fifteen times Paul refers to joy. He says it so much that he almost apologizes for repeating himself:
“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.” (Phil 3:1, NIV)
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil 4:4, NIV)
Often he talks about joy the midst of his discussion of suffering. For example, look at what he says about selfish preachers who stirred up trouble for him while he was in prison:
“But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” (Phil 1:18, NIV)
In speaking about the joy in suffering, Paul makes one of the most shocking statements in Philippians 1:29:
“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.” (Phil 1:29, NIV)
Literally, “granted” means “grace.” You could translated the verse, “grace to suffer.” What a strange statement. Yet throughout scripture the secret of contentment is found in counting our suffering as joy.
Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt 5:11-12, NIV)
The apostles rejoiced in Acts 5:41 when they were persecuted for preaching the name of Jesus: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” (Acts 5:41, NIV)
James reminds us in James 1:2-4: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4, NIV)
In the city of Calcutta, India, one of the worst slums is called Anand Nagar, which means “the city of joy.” This makes no sense, for people on the streets of Anand Nagar are suffering from hunger, leprosy, and extreme poverty. Yet the ministry of Mother Teresa is also there, sharing love to the poorest of the poor in the name of Jesus Christ. Despite their poverty, many have found true love and joy in the midst of their suffering. And so it is true that there are people in Anand Nagar who live in true joy, while many people in America grow fat and suffer depression and feel sorry for themselves. (See book review of The City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre, Grand Central Publishing, 1990 on www.amazon.com.)
And here in Philippians Paul says that instead of sulking about his circumstances, he rejoices in them, and so should we.
“But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.” (Phil 2:17-18, NIV)
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil 3:10-11, NIV)

CONCLUSION: The Christians at Philippi knew that Paul practiced what he preached, because they all knew the story of how the church got started at Philippi. The story is found in Acts 16. Paul and Barnabas went to look for a synagogue to share Christ with the Jews first, but all they could find was a small group that met down by the river. They didn’t even have a man to lead them, so they depended on a woman named Lydia. But Paul and Barnabas weren’t discouraged. They shared Christ with them, and Lydia and others believed. Soon Paul and Barnabas were thrown into prison for the gospel. With their feet fastened to stocks and shut up in an inner cell in the dungeon, did they feel sorry for themselves? No! Listen to
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” (Acts 16:25, NIV)
At midnight in prison, most of us would at least have been trying to get some sleep. But Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. What happened next, only God could do. God sent an earthquake, broke their chains, and the prison guard rushed in, fearing they had all escaped, was going to fall upon his sword and commit suicide. Paul told him they were all still there, and not to kill himself. Then the Philippian jailer asked that great question: “What must I do to be saved?” And Paul told him: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” And he did!
No wonder Paul could write to the Philippians and say, “Even if I am being sacrificed for the faith, I am glad and rejoice, and you too should rejoice.” And they knew he really meant it. For they knew he had found the secret to true contentment. It isn’t something you can get for $19.95 on DVD, or by watching the Oprah Winfrey Show. It is found in Christ, in prayer, and in the joy of suffering for Christ. The bottom line is that the secret is in Christ, and Christ alone.
What Paul told the Philippian jailer and repeated to the Philippian church is true today: What must you do to be saved? Believe on Jesus Christ.
Have you learned the secret?

Copyright 2008 by Bob Rogers