Few people in the first century had a deeper understanding of God's grace than the apostle Paul. Redeemed from a life of vicious brutality as a rigid legalistic Pharisee, the man turned the corner, repented, and through Christ's empowering became a gentle soul, gracious and affirming. Understanding. Forgiving. Approachable. He reached the place where he was willing not only to offer hope to the Gentiles, but to live among them, though he himself would bleed pure Jewish blood.
No one that I know endured the level of hardship Paul did as a good soldier of Christ. What makes him all-the-more amazing is this: never once does he leave a hint of complaint over being chained to a burly Roman soldier or about the inconvenience of being confined to such cramped quarters. The man simply would not grumble. By God's grace, he lived above it all. I repeat, he had learned the secret of contentment.
The great temptation is to allow that to embitter you — to turn you into someone who lives under a dark cloud, where doom and gloom characterize your outlook. Life's hard. You live in a situation that resembles a house arrest. You feel chained to your past, unable to escape the restrictive circumstances. Maybe you've lived this way so long that negative thinking has become a habit. You can't imagine thinking any other way.
I've got wonderful news: there is hope beyond your circumstances. You can live above them. If a man named Paul could live above his unbelievably trying circumstances, so can you. But Christ must become your central focus. He, alone, can empower you and teach you to live above the duress of adversity. Your external circumstances may not change, but deep within, you will. As Christ is allowed first place in your thoughts, changes will occur. Those changes will be evident to your mate, your children, your friends, and your coworkers. Instead of seeing yourself as a victim, you will begin to realize a strength that is not your own. The result? You will make a difference because of the way you respond to the circumstances that once defeated you. To the people closest to you, your contentment despite your circumstances will be nothing short of heroic.
Cling to hope! Focus on Christ, despite your circumstances.
Taken from Charles R. Swindoll, "Despite Your Circumstances," in Great Days with the Great Lives (Nashville: W Publishing, 2005), 335. Copyright © 2005 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide.