“Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. “ v. 12 (NASB)
One of my favorite songs that our church’s choir sings, by Richard Smallwood, is entitled “The Center of My Joy”. In its chorus, the composer was divinely inspired to sum up Paul’s feelings as he wrote the fourth chapter of his epistle to the Philippians:
Jesus, You’re the center of my joy.
All that’s good and perfect comes from You.
You’re the heart of my contentment.
Hope for all I do.
Jesus, You’re the center of my joy.
We live in a very spoiled society. As such, much of our “happiness” comes from what we do or don’t have. Likewise, most people in the world base their peace on whether the sea around them is peaceful or stormy. Many live in an “entitlement” state of mind and expect things to happen on their schedule and according to their plan. When they don’t get their way, they kick and pout or, worse yet, get depressed. Ask the psychiatrists and pharmacists around – much of the world’s “peace” these days come from a tiny and expensive bottle, which needs to be re-filled every 30 days. Please note that I don’t intend, by any means, to dismiss the fact that anti-depressants are necessary in certain circumstances. I know the effects of an unbalanced chemistry on one’s brain caused by disease or elevated stress. However, my purpose in this study is to challenge you to think of peace and joy as Paul did. According to this man in shackles, neither our peace nor our joy should ever be based on our circumstances, but on the unchangeable truths that we know as Christians.
Historians agree that Paul wrote this and three other epistles (Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon) as a prisoner in
. He had been beaten, scourged, hungry, and cold. Not to mention that, according to chronological studies of his life, he was over 60 years old when he wrote the epistles. What then makes this man write such encouraging words to his flock, while living in such difficult circumstances? As a beacon of hope, his epistles have been guiding God’s people for almost 2,000 years. His strong and assertive writings certainly do not resemble what you and I would normally say in the midst of a crisis: “For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” – This is so much easier said than done, or parading on a bumper sticker rather than in one’s heart. Yet – that is the secret of true contentment – to anchor our hope, joy and faith on the Rock that never changes. But because this type of contentment is not natural to us, we must research a bit deeper into how Paul was able to find it. As we do so, we find out that there are some very particular characteristics of the type of contentment that Paul is talking about: Rome
1. His Contentment was independent of external circumstances:
The Joy that Paul found in knowing Jesus built an armor that protected his heart against life’s trials. He knew that his sufferings were temporary and that they would bring him a crown in glory which would greatly surpass the troubles and victories in this life:
“I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:8 – NASB – emphasis added)
Paul learned that one of the keys of being content regardless of the circumstances was to become Christ-sufficient, rather than self-sufficient. He knew that on his own strength, he would never be able to make it. However, because He knew the source of His strength and the unlimited power that this Source provides, he could be sure of the victory in store for him. Furthermore, Paul knew that God promises that His children will not be totally destroyed by their trials and so he took great joy in this: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.” 2Co 4:9.
2. There is a Divine Spring of help available to all who know the Son:
In the original Greek, the infamous verse 13 of this chapter reveals that God gives supernatural strength to all His children as they reach out to Him: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” can also be read as “I can do all things in Him that infuses strength in me”. This interpretation shows a God who continually and deliberately pours upon our hearts and minds the strength that we need to bear our loads. Christ infuses His strength into us in the midst of our valleys by His teachings in the Holy Bible, by His examples of patience and long suffering and by the presence in our lives of the Holy Spirit. That is why so many times while God’s children are in the midst of the hardest trials, when they don’t even have strength to pray, they feel a peace and strength when lost people would despair.
If you feel discontent today, rather than focusing on what you don’t have, drink from the Divine Spring that is yours for the taking.
3. Contentment does not come naturally. It’s a deliberate pursuit.
Never since I started writing these devotionals have I been more tested and tried on the subject matter on which I was writing than this week’s. I have been under attack and really struggled to be content in my circumstances. Yesterday I was truly convinced that I would be hypocritical to even try to teach anyone about finding contentment in the midst of life’s troubles. Then this morning, after having a “come to Jesus” meeting with the Lord, he showed me a new revelation on a familiar passage in the same chapter. Something that was hidden from my eyes. Something simple – but decisive. Here is the passage that bid me good morning today:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (vs. 4-7 – NASB)
On verse 4, Paul urges the
to rejoice in the Lord. And the verse that follows shows a deliberate pursuit for contentment, one that does not start with the Lord, but with you and me! On verse 6, Paul urges us to “BE anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving LET your requests be made known to God.” The fact that Paul uses action verbs in this verse shows me that the pursuit and conquer of contentment does not come naturally – we must diligently seek it until we find it! Contentment is not a magical feeling bestowed on the believer upon Salvation. You don’t become content because you are saved. You become content when you choose to bring each of your problems to God (in prayer and supplication); instead of letting your circumstances flood your thinking and emotions. Next, you deliberately recognize Who you are talking to, as you meditate on the attributes of God and His adequacy. Then you start thanking God as you recognize that, although your circumstances may be hindering your view, God has not changed and never will. He has not moved, His power has not decreased. He is still on the throne and always will be. And only after you do these things, “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” V.7 (NASB) church of Philippi
You see, Paul did not “magically” become content as he, all of a sudden one day, felt content regardless of how little he had or how much he was suffering. No! Actually, Paul was just a good student in Christ’s academy. He said “I have learned to be content” (v. 11). You and I can also learn how to be content in every circumstance. But in order to reach that state of mind and heart, when the troubles of this world crush us down, we must plug into the Source of eternal joy and peace. We must intentionally pursue Him, whether we “feel like it” or not.
Are there days that you don’t want to pray?
Are there days when your troubles so overwhelm you that you can’t “feel” God’s presence?
Stop “feeling” and start remembering what you KNOW. Unless you are living in deliberate sin, you are still connected to our amazing God who is:
And the great news is: He is on our side! We will not and cannot lose!
I don’t know about you, but I am smiling right now! I feel pretty content. Wait – let me look again: NOPE! My circumstances have not changed. I’m still smiling anyway. J
Dear Father – first of all, thank you for being so patient with me! Thank you that you have allowed the issues that I am facing make me discontent enough so I could see that apart from you, I will never have contentment and that I must pursuit You in order to find true contentment. Thank you for how you inspired your servant Paul to write in the midst of the hardest circumstances to teach us that apart from you, we have nothing, but in You, we have everything because of who You are. I love you Father and thank you for the contentment you give me as I reach out to you, the endless Source of Joy. Help me remember to do that again tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, as my circumstances may not change, but as I remember that you also never will. You are the same always and that is enough reason to be filled with joy. In Jesus’ name, Amen!