The Difficult Days

Series: Philippians

A few years back, when I was in Jasper, Texas, one of the members there was having a hard time. As a young man he was very active, and even as an older man he continued to be active in things like fishing, gardening, golf, and more. But, just a few months after we moved there, he had a surgery to replace his eyelid that had some small cancerous areas. Well, the surgery was troublesome and he was basically never the same after that. On top of the old age he was dealing with, he couldn’t see and his physical abilities went down dramatically.

Additionally, his wife had multiple health episodes during that time that caused her to spend time in the hospital. Eventually, they lost their independence, had to sell their home they had enjoyed for years, that I think they built, and just before we moved, they moved down closer to one of their daughters. During that time, as I considered his situation and others in similar conditions, I wrote a lesson. Today’s lesson is based on the one I wrote for my friend years ago.

Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:8 - Is where the Preacher, who I believe is Solomon, is bringing his book to a close. He has spoken throughout the book about “life under the sun” or life as we see it and experience it through human perspective, and he challenges his audience at the end with how they should live. It’s a vision that is relevant to all ages both young and old.

Notice, if you “should live many years, let him rejoice in them all.” This is an attitude towards aging that is important for everyone. But he mentions as well to “remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. Everything that is to come will be futility.” That’s the reality, our lives ultimately wind down and become more difficult over time. And further, God is going to bring everything to judgment. These truths help us live joyfully and wisely in the difficult days.

In chapter 12, he challenges them again to remember their creator in their youth, before these difficult days come. And he gives a poetic description of the deterioration of the body. All the strength is failing, the beauty is fading, the pleasure is declining, and death is drawing near.

Children grow up, we all grow older, friends and loved ones pass away, life becomes harder, and the logical reaction is “I have no delight in them” and “vanity of vanities”…”all is vanity.” It’s easy to complain and become bitter at our lives as we age. But, we must be careful, this is what the wise man is saying about life under the sun. This word “vanity” is the Hebrew word for smoke or vapor - it is a metaphor for our lives. We can’t hold on to them, it’s like grasping for the wind. It’s a short little while and our lives are gone (James 4:14). But, these words are meant to be instructions for us to help us live wisely, wether we are old are young. What do we do?

While not a direct parallel, consider the context for Philippians 4. Paul is in prison for the gospel, he has lost freedoms and is limited against his will. He has suffered greatly and perhaps has physical afflictions like eyesight issues (Galatians 4:13, 6:11), and his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7). He is facing some very difficult days? How does he handle them? If we look carefully, the instructions are similar to what was written back in Ecclesiastes.

Rejoice in the Lord Always (Philippians 4:4-5)

The first thing Paul mentions here is rejoicing in the Lord. And he even steps in and says it again! Now, this is the same thing Solomon had said. He told the young man to rejoice, to remove grief and anger. But here, Paul points us to the true source of joy - the Lord. In contrast to all the sadness, grief, and frustration that age can bring on us, we need to look to the Lord.

If we carefully examine our lives, the Lord has been wonderful to us. I like Dave Ramsey’s saying when someone asks how he is “better than I deserve.” That’s exactly right. All of us are blessed people if we know the Lord (Romans 4:7-8). We serve a very good God who has given us life, breath, and all things (Acts 17:25), every good and perfect gift that we have comes from God (James 1:17). And these things have been given in love for us to enjoy. See, as we age, it’s easy to forget all the good days that God has given in the past, and to fail to appreciate what we have presently, and to appreciate future blessings that may come.

God’s character has not changed even though life has become more difficult. Remember, these challenges are meant to drive us back to God so that we will not trust in the blessings of this life, but instead put our hope in God and the true life he will give (1 Timothy 6:17-19). That’s a critical attitude. It is a gentle spirit or reasonable attitude that Paul wants all men to know.

Paul also adds that the Lord is near. Now, it could mean that the Lord is near in our affliction, which is definitely true. But it could also mean that the Lord is near regarding judgment. Both of them are important for this time in life. Jesus cares about the challenges you’re in right now and there is a glorious future and comfort ahead for those who rejoice in him.

A spirit like that is a powerful message to the world. How many of us have been shaped and encouraged by people with this attitude? I think about Matt Bassford and all he went through in the decline that led up to his death. These two things were part of his life, he knew the Lord was near and he was looking ahead. That’s the attitude we need in our lives.

Be Anxious for Nothing (Philippians 4:6-7)

Next, Paul zeroes in on worry. Worry, that divided mind, can be a consistent enemy at any part of life, but especially in difficult circumstances and old age. As we age the worries can increase. There are more people to worry about - your children, grandchildren, etc. We want them to be safe, we’re concerned about their relationship with God, we want good for them. There’s also constant doctors appointments, fear of bad news, fear of the future with its possible pain or suffering. If that’s not enough, we fear what will happen to us and/or our spouses when one of you dies. There is an anxiety about being left alone and not knowing what life will look like.

Instead of this, Paul doesn’t want us to give into the worry. If we give into worry it will consume our lives. It’s been said that worry is like a rocking chair, it gives us something to do but we don’t get anywhere. That’s just the truth about worry. What can we do instead?

Paul tells us the answer is prayer. We need to realize what is in our control and what is not in our control. And, as we age, it seems like the list of what we control gets less and less. We need to go to God with EVERYTHING by prayer and supplication.

Further, notice he adds “with thanksgiving”, that’s an important exercise, while we are pouring out our hearts with requests, we are also counting our blessings and being thankful to God. That’s a powerful ritual that helps transform our outlook.

As a result, God will give us his peace that surpasses all comprehension that will guard our hearts and minds in Christ. Realize this, God is wanting to take all our worries and give us his peace. Why would we not take that deal? As “What a friend we have in Jesus” says “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! O what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer!” Let’s take up God on that offer to bear our burdens.

Dwell on… Practice these things (Philippians 4:8-10)

The next step is to change what we’re thinking about and doing. Instead of letting bitter thoughts and attitudes creep in, let’s have a positive outlook. Whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and of good repute needs to be on our mind. If there is any excellence or anything worthy of praise we need to dwell on them or ponder them. These kind of things are all around us even when we are in the darkest of days. The words “whatever”, “any” and “anything” are all encompassing. They encourage us to search around us, go outside of our circumstances, and find the good that is still present around us.

Life is not all bad! Even in difficult days - wether that’s a prison cell, job loss, the loss of a spouse, or more. There are still grandkids, friends, and family. There is still the church. There is still God’s word. There is good being done even when things are evil and hard. And even if things feel overwhelming in the moment, there is still good in the future. We are one step closer to our salvation every day (Romans 13:11).

But Paul is not content to just have our minds focus on the good things, he wants them to participate. He says all they learned, received, heard, and seen he wanted them to practice. That’s how they can be confident that the God of peace would be with them. What did Paul do? He loved others, served others, encouraged others, sacrificed for others, and so much more. He participated in the things he described in verse 8.

Be concerned about others and look for opportunities to serve them - Paul appreciated it and we do as well (v 10). Age and difficult days may make service more difficult, but we aren’t worthless. In fact, there are some things that we can’t do until we are older (Titus 1, Titus 2). If we are consumed with all the evil and bad around us, we will lose valuable opportunities to improve our lives and help set up the next generation. Life may be challenging, and we may have to serve in a different way, but we are still valuable to God and to one another. Look for specific ways you can serve, pass on your pearls of wisdom, write cards, make phone calls, etc. Be creative! When we are involved in these things, God is with us, that brings us peace.

Learn to be Content (Philippians 4:11-14)

Ultimately, Paul is giving us practical training about becoming content in our circumstances. That’s the lesson Paul had learned. Paul has had many ups and downs in life, but he had learned the secret of contentment was realizing that all things are possible through Jesus.

Now, that might be obvious, but it’s an easy thing to forget. Everything we do and have right now is enabled by and given by the Lord. Further, the Lord is the one who can supply us the strength to make it through the difficult circumstances we are in. It is in rejoicing in the Lord,  giving everything to him, and dedicating our minds and lives to him, that we learn contentment. The Lord is enough. The Lord is sufficient. He is all that we need.

Contentment is a powerful principle. Often times, the reason we are bitter is because we are discontented, and that discontentment might even be with the Lord. We must be very careful to appreciate the life God has given and that we have lived so far. We need to understand our limitations, while also being thankful for what God gives and what we can accomplish now.

See, there is something fundamentally flawed when we are always complaining. A friend of mine helped me years ago by showing me “the root of bitterness is not getting what we think we deserve.” Do we feel like we deserve a better life? Do we feel like God has somehow been unfair to us? If so, we’re wrong. We do not receive what we deserve often times!

Instead, it is through contentment in Christ, the power he gives, that we can overcome our difficult days. And even more, it can cause us to step in and share in the afflictions of others. The attitude of contentment with Jesus allows us to step in and serve others who are suffering - perhaps in a nursing home, homeless shelter, the church, our families, and more. Jesus is enough and as long as we have him, we have everything.


See in returning back to Ecclesiastes, we have a second person that comments on these depressing words - Ecclesiastes 12:9-14. This is wisdom and truth for our lives. The preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly - he is giving answers and hope in our lives. Further, these words are like goads and well driven nails - those things can hurt at times, but they are always for our good. They are given by one Shepherd. These words are sufficient. And what is the conclusion? Everything has been heard: fear God, keep his commandments, this is everything. Why? God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good evil.

That sounds like a depressing ending, but I don’t think it is. Realize these are the words of the One Shepherd - the one who lays down his life, his love, mercy, and grace are enough. His will guide us and make our cups overflow - be content with Jesus. Love and trust him.

But further, judgment is important. Don’t do evil obviously. But realize, every good deed, even the hidden ones will be remembered. That gives us enormous encouragement and motivation. God has paid the price for our sins, and he will not be unjust to forget our good works. Be content with Jesus, rejoice in him, give him your anxieties and work for him.