Where is your happy place? Would you be happy to spend the next year of your life sitting in your happy place, be it on the shore or in the mountains, doing absolutely nothing for that entire year? When life has gotten way too busy, it’s easy to imagine that a year like that would indeed make you very happy. But nothing could be further from the truth. Paul found his happy place in a cold Roman prison cell. How can this be?

“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. 15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice” (Philippians 2:12-18).

Having nothing to do can become a curse rather than a blessing. Paul was forced by a Roman chain to sit still. Surely that was frustrating, but even there, he had something to do. God graciously provided parchment and ink in order for Paul to write letters to churches, in places like Philippi. But I suspect that even if Paul didn’t have that to do, he would have lived his prison days with a sense of purpose. He would have regimented his prayer life, praying through lists in his mind of everyone he could remember. He would have recited Scripture in his brain, refreshing his memory verses. He would have occupied himself in sharing the gospel with every guard or fellow prisoner within earshot. And he would have been rejoicing in the same way as described in Philippians 2:18. 

“Yes, and I will rejoice,” says Paul. And we have access to the same joy. We can also say, “Yes, and I will rejoice.”

Paul’s happy place was not a place of earthly comfort, but a place of gospel purpose. There are few things as soul crushing as having no purpose in life. When life feels way too busy, it’s easy to imagine a life with nothing to do as being so much better. But God built us with a need for purpose. Paul found the purpose of life, and his single-minded pursuit of that purpose had one inevitable result—happiness. 

Paul saw everything through the lens of gospel purpose. When a chain had him stuck, he saw the courage it would inspire in fellow believers. When pretenders tried to stir up trouble for him by preaching the gospel, he saw the value in the message of the gospel going out, even if it be from insincere lips. Since his purpose was the advancement of the gospel, he was able to find joy wherever he saw progress.

And here is the great hope for our joy. No matter how dark the culture becomes, the gospel will keep on winning souls. There will always be a remnant saved by grace (Romans 11:5). The gates of hell will not be able to resist the Church in her mission (Matthew 16:18). We will always see that we are taking ground somewhere. So, we’ll always have something in which to rejoice.

Praise God, the fruit is abundant where God has us now. Have you noticed that we’ve been baptizing dozens every year? Have you noticed that new members are added to our congregation every congregational meeting? Have you noticed that ministries are proliferating, even reaching far away places like Malawi? Have you noticed that we even had the privilege of planting a church on the other side of Mt. Laurel? Have you noticed that the gospel is advancing by leaps and bounds right here in our lifetime? Praise the Lord! If advancing the gospel has become our purpose in life, then our hearts are soaring right now!

We were made for joy. Since we were made to glorify God, and, to quote John Piper, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him,” it stands to reason that our pursuit of God’s purpose and our own joy are inextricably tied together.

Are you happy? The answer to that question is the same as the degree to which you have been living to advance the gospel. Joy goes to the runner who is obsessed with advancing the gospel. When effective evangelism and discipleship has become a person’s passion, happiness is the reward.