I think we could all agree that Paul was the greatest preacher who ever lived (besides Jesus, of course). Not only did he preach with his lips, but he also preached with his life. In other words, he wasn't a hypocrite. He practiced what he preached. And probably one of the best lessons we can learn from Paul is how to be happy and content in the midst of difficult circumstances.
Paul was certainly no stranger to hard times. He was imprisoned countless times, stoned, shipwrecked, beaten, rejected, and ridiculed. Yes, if anyone knew about hard times, it was Paul. Yet look at some of his writings:
Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. - Philippians 4:11
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself: I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews: - Acts 26:1-2
And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them. And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. - Acts 16:22-25
And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. - Galatians 6:9
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. - II Corinthians 12:9-10
Content. Happy. Singing. This is not the response we expect from a man who has been through so much. We expect bitterness and complaints, not thanksgiving and praises. But still, I think he tops it all in the following verse.
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. - II Corinthians 4:17
Light affliction? I don't consider shipwrecks or beatings to be light afflictions. What did Paul know that would allow him to stay so positive despite the constant trouble that surrounded him? Actually, it isn't so much what he knew but what he believed and focused on. He didn't just know that God would work all things according to His plan; Paul believed it and acted on that belief. Many times we hear Paul speak of pressing toward the mark or striving to reach a goal. That was the secret to Paul's success. He didn't focus on the here and now. He looked to the future.
While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. - II Corinthians 4:18
Paul had the attitude of "Who cares what happens to me on this earth? This body is temporary. What matters is that I do everything I can to make an eternal difference in as many lives as I can. There is a higher purpose than my comfort and convenience." And that, my friend, is the attitude we must take is we want to be truly happy and content in this life. We have to stop focusing on what we think would be best for us and allow God to have his way in our lives. We need not be concerned with fame or riches but with reaching a lost and dying world and sharing the news that Jesus saves.
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 3:13-14