Yesterday (Thursday), during our (now) online Bible study, I knew this would be the topic of today’s post. Why?
- Because the truth of it is timeless.
- Because the truth of it hit like a dagger to me personally.
- Because many of us are stuggling with this very issue in a variety of ways right now.
- Because people with sick or elderly family members struggle with it in an ongoing way.
So for these reasons, I thought I would share just a brief portion of what Anna Kent, the Women’s Ministry Coordinator of our church, shared with us. Anything profound probably came from her.
It has been amazing to see how awesomely GOD guided our women’s leadership to choose Philippians for our study this Spring. It could not have been a more timely book for us to study during this season in our lives. It was written by Paul while he was on house arrest (not all that pleasant, but maybe a notch better than prison itself) waiting in Rome, possibly before what ended up being his death there. Needless to say, his conditions weren’t the best, especially when you consider what he had to be thinking about in terms of his future.
Our passage yesterday was this one:
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length
you have revived your concern for me.
You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.
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.
Philippians 4:10-13 ESV
We are all struggling with a variety of aspects of finding contentment right now in this present situation. And for most of us, this isn’t the first time. The greek word used here for contentment, was defined as content, self sufficient. But there is an interesting caveat. The common belief in that culture was more cynical and stoic. That ideal was a person who was sufficient in himself and needed no one. Emotional detachment was essential to being content. (according to Hansen.) (I’m quoting his idea, not the exact words.)
Paul showed a different model than the cynical or stoic model they were used to. This is the Biblical model. Paul showed emotional attachment to the believers. He also showed that although he was a naturally gifted man, He was unable to have joy and contentment as well as other gifts, apart from Christ. This is a good thing!
If you read the book of Philippians, you find that Paul was hardly detached emotionally. He expresses his love for the people of this church often! So Paul is talking about a different kind of contentment than was thought of in their culture…and in some places in ours! In fact, he adds in a concept here that includes being content in the Lord.
First, he talks about it at the beginning of the passage when he talks about rejoicing in the Lord. Then at the end, he talks about doing all things through him, who gives him strength. That includes learning contentment. The contentment Paul is talking about is not something we develop in a stoic way by shutting out people and gritting our teeth to become totally self-sufficient. The kind of contentment he is talking about is the kind that comes from caring for people and being very emotionally connected to them, having strong feelings for them as well as desires for other things too…and realizing we can’t be content apart from dependence on GOD to help us be content with the gifts He gives us. That doesn’t mean we get rid of all drive and goals. They can still be there. But many times, they are blocked by things out of our control.
Dealing with hard times comes down to a matter of trusting GOD and His providence. He is giving us the ability to learn contentment as we mature in our faith. Understanding who He is in His greatness helps immensely!
I don’t say this as someone who finds this easy. But I find it easier as I come to understand and believe how huge GOD really is! Only He can give us the strength to trust Him during hard times of whatever sort they are. Only He can hold onto us as we trust Him during hard times. Only He can help us when the emotional pain of saying good-bye to people we love and care for is too much.
Even when we say good-bye to status or things like homes or jobs or you-name-it. He knows the pain that those things can bring. Yes, we tell ourselves they aren’t important, but often they were very important. More than we wanted them to be. Maybe even more than we realized until they were gone.
I’ll just close with two wonderful quotes from Anna yesterday. I hope this will be helpful to you.
Discontent is a sin that is its own punishment and makes men torment themselves;
it makes the spirit sad, the body sick, and all the enjoyments sour;
it is the heaviness of the heart and the rottenness of the bones.
As we find Paul contented in a prison, so Ahab discontent in a palace.
Let nothing disturb me, nothing frighten me.
Let nothing take away my peace.
May I wait with trust, with patience,
Knowing you will provide for me.
I lack nothing in you, O GOD.
You are my strong foundation.
You are enough for me.
St. Teresa of Avila
**For further reading on Christian contentment, See The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs. This is a classic book on the topic. It is very short. Only 136 pages. Seven chapters. Might be a great study with friends.