“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. “ Philippians 4:12 (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.
Historians agree that Paul wrote Philippians and three other epistles (Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon) as a prisoner in Rome. 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.
Think about it. Even though there was no peace nor joy to be found in his circumstances, this man wrote the most encouraging letters to his flock. As a beacon of hope, his epistles have been guiding God’s people for 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”
That statement is so much easier to parade on a bumper sticker than in one’s heart. Yet – Paul insists that it is the secret of true contentment – to anchor our hope, joy and faith on the Rock that never changes.
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:
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 mine)
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.
2. There is a Divine Spring of help available to all who know the Son:
In the original Greek, the famous 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 in the midst of our valleys by His teachings in the Holy Scriptures, by His examples of patience and long suffering and by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives . That is why, when God’s faithful servants are in the midst of the hardest trials, there is still a peace and strength where 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.
“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 – emphasis mine)
On verse 4, Paul urges the church of Philippi to rejoice in the Lord. These verses show 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 conquest of contentment does not come naturally – we must diligently seek it until we find it!
Indeed, contentment is not a magical feeling bestowed upon 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)
You see – Paul did not “magically” become content. It wasn’t that, all of a sudden one day, contentment filled his soul 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.Need peace and joy? Then intentionally pursue Him, whether you feel like it or not. Click To Tweet
Are there days when 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:
…That unless you are living in deliberate sin, you are still connected to our amazing God, who is: