Outside of the Lord Jesus, my favorite character in the text of Scripture is the Apostle Paul. I love reading his writings and teaching them to my students. He conveys so many incredible, life-changing applications that allow the concepts of Jesus to unfold like a flower. The one application that gets to me almost every time I read or study it is his teaching on joy in the midst of suffering coupled with contentment.
Paul writes the letter to the Philippian Church and constantly reminds them to rejoice in the midst of their suffering like Jesus, Timothy, and Epaphroditus (Phil. 2). He reaches his dramatic conclusion in Chapter 4 when he reveals, what he calls, the “secret” to having joy in the midst of any and every circumstance. Contentment.
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
The secret for Paul is contentment and he says that because he has understood this secret, he can face any circumstance as long as God gives him the strength. The strength to what? To be content.
This always sparks thousands of questions in my mind, but the primary one being, “Is this something I can say about myself?” Could I be content in any and every situation? Whether I have a lot or don’t? When I’m full and when I’m hungry? Could I be content in those circumstances?
It seems to me that the end of spring and the beginning of summer is a restless time. Maybe it’s because I work in a high school and everyone is just buzzing about getting out of these four walls for a few months. All of that paired with the celebration of the Senior Class as we send them away to college… there’s a sort of finality to it. And I’m sure every high school has the unwritten “countdown tradition.” 15 more days. 14 more days. 13 more days. Wishing them all away and wanting more than anything to be somewhere we aren’t. If you are long past those schooling days, maybe it’s not the beginning of the summer that causes you to wish your days away, but it’s the longing we each have to know what’s in the next chapter of our lives. What job will we have next? Where will we live next?
It seems this is a lesson we quickly forget. “[F]or I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” The Apostle Paul’s contentedness lesson arises again. He even told the Athenian philosophers that God has “determined allotted periods and the boundaries of [our] dwelling place,” (Acts 17:26). As Paul points out so masterfully in Philippians, Christ is our example. Often times we fail to be content in the here and now and we only embrace the next chapter with a content spirit when it’s good or positive or a promotion or a better salary or more of what we want, but even then, our contentment is fleeting. But could we who claim to follow Christ like Him (Heb. 12:2) embrace the next chapter with a content spirit even when it’s laced with sorrow and heartache and pain and monotony and sickness and death? Would our contentment lead to joy in that circumstance? Could I be content with the book of my life that God is writing if the next chapter is written in such a way that I die of cancer before I’m 30? If the next chapter means that members of my family are taken from me? If the next chapter means that I don’t get to escape the metaphorical or, in Paul’s case, quite literal prison I’m in?
May your prayer and mine echo the words of the Apostle Paul.
I can face all things because Christ gives me the strength to be content.