Cars, trucks and other products come in “base models” to which you can add much “optional” equipment. “Optional” means available to be chosen but not obligatory. Each option added comes at a price, of course. With this in mind, think about this anonymous quote – “In life, pain and suffering are inevitable, but misery is optional.” I first read that quote more than 20 years ago. It is witty, and grabs your ears. The question is, is it really true? The apostle Peter exhorted suffering Christians – “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials.” Peter had just reminded them they were “begotten again to a living hope … to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (see 1 Peter 1:3-6). The hope of Heaven gives Christians reason for great joy, even though suffering grief and trials here on planet earth. Peter reminds us that while pain and suffering are standard in life, Christians can opt’ out of misery.
Is misery an option, or is it standard equipment when suffering sets in? The question I am getting at is, is our attitude something we can choose, or does joy go out when difficult problems (and people) I did not choose and cannot be rid of or control come in? The apostle Paul speaks to that issue in Philippians 4:4 – “Rejoice in the Lord, always. Again, I will say, rejoice.” Does this kind of text in the Bible ever bother you? Do you secretly or not so secretly wish the Book said, “Rejoice in the Lord sometimes?” Like when the lab report comes back negative? Or that foul-mouthed, dirt-talking co-worker beside you at the factory gets fired? Or the IRS sends a letter saying they owe YOU thousands of dollars? Or your mate sees things your way and gives in instead of causing a stink? etc., etc., etc. But “Rejoice always?” How can that be done? Didn’t the apostle Paul ever have a “bad hair day?” Didn’t anyone ever mistreat or irritate him, or wasn’t he ever misunderstood or wrongly accused or quoted out of context or slandered? Didn’t he ever suffer any stress or pain in his life? Bible students know the answer to all those questions! Paul was in miserable circumstances much of the time after he became a Christian. Fact is, he was in a miserable situation when he called for an “always” kind of joy as he penned the book of Philippians. Read Philippians 1:12-18 and you will find he wrote from a prison cell. But Paul knew something many people, including many Christians never seem to learn – misery is an option, even if pain and suffering are inevitable. The joy Paul speaks of is “in the Lord.” His joy is grounded in Christ and on the things he has access to in Christ – whether in prison or out of it! I’m not trying to be simplistic about something that is truly profound – nor am I trying to make easy something we spend a lifetime struggling to do. But I am saying that Paul – while suffering and in hard circumstances – refused to allow suffering and difficulty to defeat him. He refused to give up control of the one thing he could control – his attitude and response to the suffering and difficulty life imprisoned him in. Even in a prison cell he chooses to rejoice in the Lord. He reminds us that while we can’t always opt’ out of painful circumstances or difficult things and people who help to create them, we can always stay in control of our attitude. You may not be able to control what’s going on out of the Lord, but because of the hope of Heaven, you can always choose to rejoice in the Lord. Misery is an option you can and should do without.