All my life I have wanted one thing. I have not wanted possessions or position or money or trinkets or toys (O.K., maybe a few trinkets and toys!) or relationships or even love so much as I have wanted the joy that comes from these things. All my life I have wanted to be happy.
All my life I have wanted to be happy! I have been thinking seriously about the issue of joy and happiness for at least ten years - since the day I read John Piper’s book, Desiring God. I have written two books on the topic and produced two video series related to joy. I have read countless books and have thought about the subject continuously over the past 10 years. Still, I don’t think I really understood joy until the last several months.
The 3.14 State
In Philippians 3.14, Paul said, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” The word that is used here pictures an athlete with his chest pushed against the tape. He is giving it all he has and is using every last bit of strength and energy to push to the final second. That is the 3.14 state. That is joy.
How different from the popular pictures of joy: lounging by the pool, a Barbados beach vacation, comfort, ease, security, relaxation, entertainment, shows, places to go, things to see, sumptuous food to eat, trinkets, toys, lush surroundings, ample money.
The 3.14 state says joy is very different. It is losing yourself in some great cause. It is pursuing, unrelentingly pursing, some great cause. In that moment time stands still. We enter a state that feels like eternity. It is a state of high concentration. It is the state when you are fully alive. You are intensely aware and focused. You are almost unaware of your surroundings of anything peripheral to the great cause.
The object of your focus has you captivated, yet you have never felt more free. You are totally dedicated, yet you feel it no sacrifice. You are totally awake, alive, alert and aware, yet strangely unaware of anything other than the object of your focus. You are giving 100% effort, but it feels like no effort at all. How could you do otherwise?
When we enter the 3.14 state, we are most alive. That is what we were born for. That is what we were destined for. That is what God calls us to. That is when we are happy.
Vince Lombardi described this state when he said, “I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour—this greatest fulfillment to all he holds dear—is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle— victorious.”
The 3.14 state is what (are you ready for this name?) Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls Flow. He describes a dancer (hang with me, my Baptist friends!) who says, “Your concentration is very complete. Your mind isn’t wandering, you are not thinking of something else; you are totally involved in what you are doing. . . Your energy is flowing very smoothly. You feel relaxed, comfortable, and energetic.” That is the 3.14 state.
A rock climber: “You are so involved in what you are doing [that] you aren’t thinking of yourself as separate from the immediate activity. . . You don’t see yourself as separate from what you are doing.” That is the 3.14 state.
A mother speaks of her daughter: “Her reading is the one thing that she’s really into, and we read together. She reads to me, and I read to her, and that’s a time when I sort of lose touch with the rest of the world, I’m totally absorbed in what I’m doing.” That is the 3.14 state.
A chess player: “. . . the concentration is like breathing, you are never aware of it. The roof could fall in, and, if it missed you, you would be unaware of it.” That is the 3.14 state.
Where does 3.14 come from anyway?
Let’s step back just a bit from Philippians 3.14 to see the context:
Notice there is a future orientation, a goal, if you will. Paul is pressing toward something in the future, something he clearly does not have (“I do not consider myself yet to have take hold of it.”) The 3.14 state is all about what you do not have. It is all about enjoying what you do not have. It is about striving toward what you do not have. If I have it, I am not in 3.14.
Success is all about goal setting, the rest is just commentary. Success is all about the relentless pursuit of a worthwhile goal. It is not so much about achieving a goal. It is not so much about arriving. It is about embracing the goal of seeking what we do not have.
In Christian living, we are always pursuing flying goals. We are pursuing perfection. The goal is always out there. That for which Christ laid hold of us is always just beyond our grasp.
I.N.C.R.E.D.I.B.L.E. teachers are pursuing at least two goals. One is to make D.I.S.C.I.P.L.E.S. (That is an acrostic from my book, Disciplemaking Teachers. If you want to know what it means, you have to buy the book. What do you think I give stuff away?)
Well there is my description of the kind of person I am trying to create as I teach each week. It is a 3.14 moment thinking about trying to pour into my group’s life.
The second goal is to reach people. Our goals can be summarized by saying we are trying to create more and better disciples. I like to frame this specifically around the goal of doubling a class every two years or less. You really do have to buy the book to get that five part outline. It spells the word T.I.G.E.R.
People who enjoy the 3.14 state embrace and enjoy longing for something they will never have. They embrace the goal of creating more and better disciples.
3.14 is very active. It is not something that happens to us. It is something that we do. We take responsibility for our lives and lay hold of that for which Christ laid hold of us.
The opposite of this attitude takes on several forms. It may take the form of making excuses. There are a hundred reasons why we can’t make a group function in a healthy way. If you want an excuse, we have them.
I.N.C.R.E.D.I.B.L.E. teachers don’t want excuses. They take responsibility for their lives and make things happen.
It make take the form of playing the victim. It can take the form of blaming. It may take the form of an attitude of entitlement. All of life gets better when we take responsibility for our lives. Look at the text again. Circle every time Paul says, “I.”
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philip. 3:12-14 (NIV)
Paul wasn’t waiting passively for God or anyone else to do this for him. He was pressing on. He was laying hold. He was forgetting. He was straining. Through Christ who strengthens us, we should try to do the same.
The third quality of the 3.14 state is total dedication. If you ever experience the 3.14 state, you are totally dedicated to what you are doing in that moment. You are not distracted or double-minded. You are totally focused. It is both a quality and a requirement of the 3.14 state.
Jesus models this for us. He was totally dedicated. The scripture says that he is the good shepherd that lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10.11)
The difference is well illustrated in a movie I enjoyed recently, John Q. In this movie, an otherwise normal American guy is driven to craziness when his son gets sick. His son needs a heart transplant and the hospital will not put him on the list because his insurance had been cancelled. He holds up the hospital emergency room at gunpoint. At one point, one of the hostages says to the guard in the hospital, “Why don't you do something? You are a guard. You are supposed to protect us so that this kind of thing doesn't happen. Why don't you do something?” “Not me,” he quips, “Not for $12 an hour.” He was willing to help out; he was not willing to lay down his life.
Denzel Washington, who plays this dad, is willing to lay down his life. His actions remind me of that of Christ. “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.” John 13:1 (NIV) Literally, this could be translated, “His love reached its destiny.”
Toward the end of the movie Denzel Washington volunteers to take his own life and asks the doctor to take out his heart and give it to his son. That is dedication. That is not just helping out; that is laying down your life. Of course, a donor was found in the final seconds and they lived happily ever after. But, he was willing to lay down his life.
Jesus didn’t lay down his life for an idea or a cause or a program. He laid down his life for sheep. Jesus wasn’t just willing to lay down his life. He actually did it. He laid down his life for sheep. Lynn Anderson wrote a book years ago with the title, They Smell Like Sheep. As someone in Oklahoma told me one time, “I understand what you are saying about loving people, but these people are hard to love.” They really are hard to love at times.
Jesus laid down his life for sheep and calls us to do the same. “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” 1 John 3:16 (NIV) Not just help out; lay down our lives. Not for a cause; for sheep. Sheep are smelly. People are sometimes obnoxious and rude and boring and inconsiderate and phony and late. Don’t just put up with them. Lay down your life for them. That is what I.N.C.R.E.D.I.B.L.E. teachers do.
Churchill said, “There comes a special moment in everyone’s life, a moment for which that person was born. That special opportunity, when he seizes it, will fulfill his mission—a mission for which he is uniquely qualified. In that moment, he finds greatness. It is his finest hour.”