“I have learned the secret to being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or living in want. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Phil. 4:12-13
Are you content? Are you in a place of peace….a condition of satisfaction?
Paul said that he had learned to become content whatever the circumstances. He most certainly had mastered this through a series of experiences in life. He says, “I know what it is like to be in need and to have plenty; to be fed or hungry; to be in plenty or to be in want.”
These varying circumstances are a common theme in God’s people throughout Scripture. It may not be that you are in a place of physical hunger, but you have an empty place in your soul, a place you desire to be filled. Maybe you are in a financial drought, maybe not. Maybe your need is relational – someone has been in your life and now they are no longer there. Maybe you have had a long enjoyable career and now it is gone. Where is your area of discontent?
Unfavorable circumstances in life will bid us to question our faith and often our purpose. We might question if God is with us or does what we are doing even matter?
Sometimes, we are in a place of pondering and grumbling, wondering why our circumstance in serving Jesus don’t look like what we want them to. We may ask questions that begin like this: Shouldn’t I be…. Why am I not……
These valleys seem out of place and are most certainly unwanted. Do we ever think that this ground is a ripe place of training for us? What can we learn from our ancestors in the past?
The apostle Paul most certainly had some spiritual highs and lows. Think of him for a moment. A man who had watched God heal through his words (Acts 14:10). A man who had witnessed God shake the immovable and break the iron gates of captivity (Acts 16:26). The apostle had experienced God breathe energy back into his body when others thought he was as good as dead (Acts 14:19). Some pretty amazing times with our Savior.
But now…here he is in jail writing to the church of Philippi. Paul is in a place where he felt no control and couldn’t do anything about his situation. He most certainly was uncertain about the future. He writes the church, challenging them to learn to be content. Pretty amazing? Um, I would say so.
During difficult seasons, the deception of doubt can come rolling in with waves of speculation.
I guess God must be angry with me? Maybe I have committed some grave sin?
Now, let me be clear, I always believe in some strong self examination, however, sometimes we are simply being trained in contentment and trust.
What about Elijah? A man who stood before great leaders and prophetically declared a time of drought for the land and people. He would then go into a relatively long season of learned contentment, as God would command him to live by a creek alone for quite a long period of time. Here, he would be utterly dependent on God to bring the next means of provision, as well as, learn to rely on Him alone to be his companion. This would be like us rubbing shoulders with great men or women of leadership and authority and then being moved into a season where we felt obscure and isolated. Or maybe a time when relationships were thriving and life was full and then….*crickets.*
How would we process such a change in life?
Just like Paul, this would be Elijah’s season, though years does not feel like such. Unbeknownst to Elijah, God would soon move him out and guide him to a place where he would receive a wonderful friendship with a widow. He, too, would be a part of God healing a young boy. Elijah would witness the mighty movement of Yahweh through prayer. For he would see a profound parting of the skies with a downpour of blessings, as he remained vigilant on his knees.
Both of these men in their spiritual highs and lows were in the hub of God’s will. They were in a season of learned contentment.
In the Old Testament, we find a learned contentment, not in suffering, but in a job that, to the outside, may have seemed trivial. There were some that were responsible for counting silverware, for crying out loud! Yet, God saw it as a noble position. Would they focus on the task they may have identified as frivolous or adopt an attitude in faith and find contentment?
What about Elizabeth? She waited for years to get pregnant – would she develop learned contentment in the wait or would each day be bitter and marred with resentment, affecting her ability to hear from God and love others?
God was using each one of these. We, too, should be able to find ourselves somewhere wedged in these glorious stories of hope.
What about an affliction in our lives that isn’t for a season but there to stay? Contentment? Really? Let’s look at the apostle Paul, once again.
2 Cor. 12:7-9 “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of satan to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.. Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ power may rest on me.”
So, there was contentment even in Paul’s affliction. A well known pastor once said, it was “through this thorn that God gave a greater anointing.”
Wonder what your thorn is? When we adopt contentment in Christ, we stop looking at thorns as curses and see them as portals for His power!
Paul doesn’t become content only through the perspective of faith and hope that comes through God and His Word, but the apostle reveals the driving force behind it all. He tells the secret (as he describes it). “ I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
I dare say, in difficult seasons we aren’t saying I CAN…because HE IS. We are often musing over how we can’t! Paul unleashes the secret that comes through trusting in His sovereignty and resting in His strength to see us through. ” I CAN” without “THROUGH HIM” will ware us down, put us in a bad place mentally and cause our endurance to turn into a mushy mess! “I CAN” must be infused and embraced by the incredible power that is unleashed “THROUGH HIM.”He WILL give us wisdom, revelation, hope, endurance, and clarity to see where He is and what He is doing in the midst of it all.
Paul continues as he addresses more challenges to our contentment…
“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Cor. 12:10
When we are insulted, offended or persecuted in the form of rejection, we become content because we know this is under His Sovereignty. He is establishing us in our faith and trust in Him instead of people.
I read a quote from a theologian of the 18th century regarding contentment in regards to people. He said, “My happiness is out of the reach of my enemies,” Jonathan Edwards.
How did he learn this?
“To inoculate me from the praise of man, He baptized me in the criticism of man until I died to control of man.” Francis Frangipane
When our contentment and confidence comes from God, people no longer have such power to influence our state of happiness. And let me tell you, that puts us in a position to be used by God in profound ways!!!! Because I dare say, what limits us the most in our walk is our concern and desire for man’s approval over God’s….
Just as we see unfavorable circumstances testing our contentment, we also see favorable circumstances testing it:
Solomon, David’s son, had a great measure of wisdom, but even with a whole lot of wisdom that doesn’t mean we won’t wander. We can be incredibly wise and make some foolish choices. He used his wisdom to build a life of “stuff” and this is what he concluded:
Eccl 2:3b, 4, 8,10, 17, 20: “I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives. I undertook great projects; I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers and a harem as well….the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this, my wisdom stayed with me. I desired myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. V17- So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievious to me. V20- So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun.”
***A bit of a rabbit trail for a moment, but notice that even in Solomons poor choices, God’s love was never taken from him nor was God’s gifting on him revoked . God’s giftings and call are irrevocable- Romans 11:29***
It’s so tempting for us to think that money, fame or success would make all our problems go away and solve our deepest needs, but it’s just not true. So, what we can now conclude based on Scripture is that circumstances alone are not the answer to contentment. It’s what led the writer in Proverbs to say:
“Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die; Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, “Who is the Lord.” Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” Prov. 30: 7-9
So, the question is… Have we been basing our contentment in life on our circumstances, be unfavorable or favorable, or through the acceptance of people?
Dave Harvey said, “ There is no peace in life until we are convinced that our place is His choice.”
Returning to Philippians, Paul has most certainly discovered the secret of being content. He found that it couldn’t come from our circumstances being what we thought they should be or people giving us or loving us in a way we so desperately want them to. He found that contentment rested in the power and strength of Jesus Christ. In trusting Him and relying on His perspective and His direction, learning to lean in on His love and drawing from His power. Hold tight to Christ and hold everything else loosely.
May you find rest in breathing in contentment in whatever season of life you are in…
In His Love and Grace,