Living Above Your Circumstances

One of the most common factors in emotional depression is the feeling that our circumstances box us in, keeping joy, hope and peace beyond our reach.

I heard about an incident at a theological seminary when a professor noticed that one of his students seemed to be dejected. He asked him, “How are you doing?” The student somberly replied, “I’m doing okay under the circumstances.” The prof sensed that the problem lay in the student’s outlook. He quipped, “Under the circumstances?…What are you doing under there?” [1] But this introduces a crucial issue: Are you living under your circumstances or above them?

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The victorious Christian life conveys the note of living above life’s difficulties.[2] For example, Paul declared in 2 Corinthians 2:14, “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.” If anyone had an excuse to be depressed and defeated by overwhelming circumstances and problems, it was Paul. He testified,

“We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed–always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body” (2 Cor. 4:9,10).

One of the best examples of this victorious life perspective is found in the epistle to the Philippians. You recall that Paul was writing from a Roman prison cell. He had been condemned and almost assassinated in Israel, then experienced shipwreck in the Mediterranean, washing ashore with all of his fellow passengers on the small island of Malta. Now he was under arrest in the capital of the empire waiting for his trial before Caesar. Would he be executed? Left in prison? Released?

This makes the apostle’s spiritual joy, hope and confidence all the more remarkable.[3] What was Paul’s secret that enabled him to live above his circumstances? You may want to re-read this precious epistle to the Philippians to personally observe this answer.

One of author Stephen Covey’s “seven habits of highly effective people” is “think win/win.”[4] In other words, when problem solving, instead of merely seeking a solution to advance one’s own agenda, the effective person seeks a solution that will be mutually beneficial. In Philippians chapter one, we discover an even better approach–one only available to the Christ-centered believer. This perspective is essential to living above your circumstances. Let’s call it “think win/win/win.”

Winning option 1: Paul remains imprisoned in Rome

“Wait a minute; that doesn’t sound like a winning proposition!” Ordinarily, not; but in the case of one living above his circumstances, Paul would still “win.”

“But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Phil. 1:12-14).

With God’s all-sufficient grace and providence, the apostle would continue to be available to write dynamic correspondence from his prison quarters. How grateful we are for the Prison Epistles of the New Testament.[5]

Winning option 2: Paul is released

Paul assured his readers,

“For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death … Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith” (Phil. 1:19-22,24,25).

Paul would welcome an acquittal from the Roman court, but not just for reasons of personal comfort. Freedom for this devoted disciple meant another missionary journey! [6]

Winning option 3: Paul is martyred

“That’s a winning outcome?!” Yes, if one has a biblical value system. In the same passage Paul affirmed,

“… in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain … yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better … “(Phil. 1:20-23).

For the born-again believer, death has lost its sting (1 Cor. 15:55). “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).[7]

As a “winner” Paul could testify,

“I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:12,13).

God is the Potter; we are the clay. All of life circumstances–good, bad, or a mixture of both–spin the Potter’s wheel (Jer. 18:1-4).

Friend, with Christ as Lord and Life you can think win/win/win. God offers you this victorious optimism to live above circumstances if you surrender to God’s will and abide in Christ as your source of living–for today and in all your tomorrows. Circumstances with people, problems, and pressures can no longer be the last straw; they can become the finishing touch.


[1] The point here is not about the need for empathy; that is important too.

[2] This victory does not ignore problem situations or default on any responsibilities we may have to make things better.

[3] “Joy” is mentioned four times in Philippians (1:4,25; 2:2; 4:1); “rejoice” occurs eleven times (1:18;2:16-18,28;3:1,3;4:4,10).

[4] Stephen Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Simon & Schuster, 1990.

[5] Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon and 2 Timothy

[6] Bible scholars believe Paul conducted a fourth journey after being released. This is inferred from the background of the Pastoral epistles–1, 2 Timothy and Titus.

[7] These verses disprove the view of “soul sleep” between death and the resurrection of the body. Fourth century historian, Eusebius, wrote that Paul was rearrested and martyred under the reign of emperor Nero about A.D. 67.

Note the CD series by Bill and Anabel Gillham, “Rising Above Your Circumstances” www.Lifetime.org

Copyright 2005, 2013 by John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non-commercial use. Scripture quotations (unless indicated otherwise) are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.


The Gospel is available in over 6000 languages at Gospel Recordings Network! Visit http://globalrecordings.net

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Copyright, John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non-commercial use. Scripture quotations (unless indicated otherwise) are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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