"I want you to know that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel." (Phil.1:12)
OK, let me get this straight — your imprisonment, being shackled, accused, in danger of execution, unable to continue your earlier calling to establish new churches, and your isolation — these have all been good for the gospel, and for that you rejoice. Say what?
How do you do that? How do you have that kind of outlook when everything around you is opposing your well-being? While I hate to say it, the first thing that pops into my mind is that phrase I have heard so many times from so many pulpits — you need to have an attitude like Paul's. Change your attitude. But doesn't that just beg the question? Where did Paul get this attitude of his, so his joy has much more to do with something in him than what is going on around him?
Some people seem to think this is merely a choice. We can change our attitude by an act of the will. Well, that's only partly true. I can change where I put my focus. And if things are going reasonably well for me, I can probably even change my attitude by reminding myself all that is well in my life. As things go bad, I might even be able to hold onto some of both a good and bad outlook at the same time. But when things get as bad as what Paul was going through, most of us would have to be in total denial and at best, pretend to have a better attitude. How do we ever develop a truely resilient outlook like Paul's?
If we look at what Paul just said previously, there may be some clues. He had just prayed for his readers, that they would "abound more and more in real knowledge." That is, the more we know God (not just about God), and the more we are mentored by Him so we know more of what He knows, the more we will experience "real knowledge." And as he prayed, that real knowledge will then lead us to know what matters and how to live well in our broken world. That will, in turn, change our outlook on our circumstances to be more like Paul's.
Paul's reference to his situation and his prayer for his readers — these two things are not side by side by accident. Paul opens his letter with the very prayer that will help them understand his message of rejoicing in all things (4:4). We do not achieve a good attitude by trying to have a good attitude. We discover such an outlook as the fruit of what God is doing in us and for us as we learn to engage with Him.