A new study, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, shows that life expectancy in the United States declined for the second year in a row. The new average life expectancy for Americans is 78.7 years, which puts the U.S. behind other developed nations. So why has the U.S., a global leader in the length of life for its citizens in the 1960s, fallen so far in this measurement for quality of the nation’s health?
The broader cause behind the decline is simply and sadly: despair.
Easy But Not Simple
So the solution to the problem is really a “No-Brainer” right?! Well, on the surface the response that any logical thinking person would have would be to say: “just stop despairing!” That’s easier said than done however.
I don’t know about you, but my life isn’t perfect. Ask anybody—even someone who on the outside looks like they’ve got it all, and that things are perfect; they will likely give you a list of things that aren’t so…well, perfect. The sad fact is that since Adam and Eve, humanity’s first parents, literally ate us all out of house and home, life is just hard! Sin makes everything hard.
The Apostle Paul, writing to discouraged and despairing Christians in the ancient city of Corinth(see 2 Corinthians 4) reminded them that even in the midst of the worst of the worst one could and should still have hope…hope that a best and perfect thing is coming!
A Compelling Reason to Become a Christian
To me, this is the most compelling reason to both become and live like a Christian—a Christ-follower! To be honest, if I wasn’t a Christian, I can certainly comprehend why I would be despairing. We all would! Pastor Andy Stanley insightfully observed: “Following Jesus will make your life better and will make you better at life.”
For the most part a Christian doesn’t get to choose what happens to them in life—even when following Jesus’s life and teachings. So how do we as Christians, in the midst of the mess of life, learn to live our lives in order to maximize our opportunities to live a productive, peaceful, powerful, and purposeful life for Jesus? Well, I’ll tell you after I tell you a little story, first.
Hope vs. Despair
You think you’ve got it tough? Imagine being taken into captivity by a pagan kingdom and marched many miles away from your land, people, and everything you’ve ever known…then imagine getting a letter from home. What wonderful words of encouragement and hope will be in it? Epic fail! In the letter you’re told that you will be in captivity for 70 years! And what’s more, God Himself confirms that He was the one who put you in this situation! Then, through a prophet, He gives you this gem:
Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29: 5-7, NIV)
Did you hear right?! Did God just encourage you—in the midst of slavery and imprisonment—to just “get on with living your life” and do your best to be contented? WHAT?! Choose hope instead of despair.
The Power of Choice
So maybe you’re not in a physical captivity in a pagan land, but I’d bet that there are things in your life that haven’t worked out the way you thought they would; things you wish you could change; choices you wish you could go back and make again…I could go on and on, but you get the picture. How about choosingto live above all the chaos, danger, dysfunction, discouragement, and despair in the world these days? What God is telling you is that you, empowered by His Holy Spirit, have the power tochoose tohave hope. You have the power to make a choice to be contented and be thankful for the situation you’re in—whatever it is. Let me put it the way your grandmother used to tell you: “bloom where you’re planted.”
The Secret to Contentment
The Apostle Paul, agrees with what I just told you. Don’t believe me? Read what he wrote…from jail:
Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. . . . And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4: 11-13, 19, NLT)
Did you catch it? Paul says that the secret to contentment is found in Jesus. That’s simple and yet very profound. You have to understand where Paul was when he was writing this letter. Remember, he was in jail! Paul wrote to encourage the Christians of Philippi in their faith during his imprisonment in Rome. In the midst of being in shackles, possibly chained up to other people, without clean water, electricity, Hot Pockets, cable TV, Facebook, the Internet, Nintendo Wii, or anything else, he wrote that he had learned the secret of being content.
Then in verse 19 of that same passage, Paul again repeats his main point: the same God who took care of Paul so long ago can take care of us. Not only can He take care of us, but He is able to supply ALL OUR NEEDS! Praise God! One of Jesus’ disciples named Matthew put it like this: “But more than anything else, put God’s work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well.” (Matthew 6:33, CEV)
There’s Nothing to See Here!
Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes—and, by the way, the wisest person who’s ever lived—wrote these deep words:
All of life is far more boring than words could ever say. Our eyes and our ears are never satisfied with what we see and hear. Everything that happens has happened before; nothing is new, nothing under the sun. Someone might say, ‘Here is something new!’ But it happened before, long before we were born. No one who lived in the past is remembered anymore, and everyone yet to be born will be forgotten too. (Ecclesiastes 1:8-11, CEV)
If we are too focused on having things, we can get to the point where we’re always looking for the next best, newest, biggest, fastest, etc. But in the end, just as Solomon said, we will never be satisfied. But if we focus our attention not on having more stuff but on having more of a relationship with a person (and not just any person—Jesus), then we’ll never be disappointed. We’ll find that we indeed won’t be empty or thirsty, for Jesus said,
Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life. (John 4:13, 14, MSG)
I don’t know about you, but as I continue learning to be content in and with Jesus—I learn how to make my own weather. Then I, as the old Southern gospel song says, will “drink out of my saucer because my cup is runnin’ over.”
 Grace Donnelly, “Here’s Why Life Expectancy in the U.S. Is Dropping Again This Year,” Fortune; accessed December 12, 2018.
See 2 Corinthians 4.