Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. Philippians 4:11
Here’s my question today, “How long does it take to learn to be content?” Funny question? But it really is my question. When do I really learn that lesson? How long did it take Paul? Well, I’m not really sure but I looked into his life timeline. He was converted by the Lord on the road to Damascus and placed his trust in the Lord around 34 A.D. And this letter to the Philippian believers was written somewhere around 61-63 A.D. That’s about 27 years. Not only is that 27 years but it’s 27 hard years from the start.
Before his conversion, Paul probably had everything people of his day wanted. He had a political and religious standing of importance in the community, respect, money, power. What did he have after his conversion, after he placed his trust in You, Lord? I think he started out with some solitude with You in Arabia for maybe 3 years. And at the beginning of his conversion, he was already an outcast. People were afraid of him so it wasn’t like there were welcome arms all around. On his return, his preaching and teaching get him drummed out of cities, persecuted, beaten, chased. He was shipwrecked and imprisoned. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
To get the picture, I want to listen to Paul’s own words. As a minister of Christ, Paul speaks of superabundant labours, stripes beyond measure, superabundant prison visits, and even death many times. To be in danger of death is one thing, but to be left for dead or even believe God revived You from the dead is a whole deeper story, and I think that’s also what Paul has experienced. He goes on, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” Yeah. Paul didn’t learn contentment all at once. And to learn it, You, Lord, had to take him through some pretty rough stuff. I suppose if I want to know supernatural contentment, I need to learn to go through supernatural circumstances.
See, You God, are Supernatural. If I want to experience You, I have to learn how to live in the Supernatural. If I can do it on my own, then that’s exactly what I’m doing, doing it on my own. But I can’t do supernatural on my own. Only You can. And I can only do that if You do it in me.
If I want to come to the point in my life of living life supernaturally in and through You, then I have to let You bring supernatural situations into my life. And I have to respond rightly to them. I have to begin seeing every circumstance as Your circumstance designed for my benefit and Your glory.
I have to learn to live a life in need, not so I can call on others, but so I can learn to be dependent on You. And so that in that dependence, I can learn to be confident and content in You. This word for content in Greek is “autarkes.” It means “self complacent, contented.” Get this, it implies self-sufficient. What?! How can I be dependent and self-sufficient at the same time? Isn’t something wrong here?
Well, let’s understand this idea of self-sufficiency here. Skip Moen relates it as “the positive sense of being satisfied in mind and disposition.” And get this, it’s not passive. I have to make it happen. The two words that best express this idea in Hebrew are “avah” and “Ya’al.” Here is more of what Skip has to share about their meaning. “Both words convey the idea of choosing. ‘Avah is about being positively inclined to respond. Ya’al is about making a decision to act. Neither one conveys the idea of simply waiting around for something. To be content is to choose a certain frame of mind, a certain kind of external activity, a certain way of being in the world. That’s why contentment has to be learned.”
Paul had learned to choose Your sufficiency. His frame of mind in all these circumstances, good or bad, was centered on You. His activity in the midst of the trials was centered on You. His way of being in the midst of much or little was centered on You. You were his Sufficiency so he was sufficient and all his needs were sufficient because You were what He needed most and he learned to keep his focus on You. Lord, You warned us it was going to be rough. You said that in this life there would be troubles, but You also promised us Your peace if we learned to remain in Your focus, in You. Why did You tell me about the rough times I should expect in this world as Your follower? “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Tribulation, “thlipsis,” is ‘back-breaking” pressure. As Your follower, You are preparing me for the supernatural pressure that comes with living in You in a foreign territory, under an enemy who is looking to destroy and plunder everything that belongs to You. In the world I’m guaranteed tribulation and pressure. But in You I’m guaranteed peace. Now the Greek word for peace is “eirene.” And the Greek meaning has the connotation of the absence of war, of prosperity, good health, and well-being. But That’s not what Jesus is talking about here. It’s not what Paul has learned and is teaching us about. See, the Hebrew notion in this Greek expression comes out of “shalom.” “Shalom begins with right relationships because right relationships determine all the other factors in life. Fixing my retirement plan will not improve my relationship with my wife, but improving my relationship with my wife will certainly have an effect on my retirement plan.” (Skip Moen) So, having a right relationship with Jesus will determine all the other factors in my life.
I can be courageous in the middle of the deepest pressure because I am under the goodness and power of my Everlasting God. You already overcame it all! You already conquered! All of Your promises are true. You will continue this glorious, supernatural work You have begun in me! Whether I have food or no food, You remain good and You remain with me. Will I remain in You? Whether I am persecuted or at ease, You remain good and You remain with me. Will I remain in You? Whether I live or I die, will I still insist that You are good and You are with me? Will I remain in You? I was created to be an overcomer because my God is an overcomer. Who will my focus be in? How will I live? How will I act? How will I think? How will I respond?
Lord, I must learn the lesson that Paul learned. You must take me through hardship so that I will learn. I want to be able to know exactly where Paul is coming from and be able to say with him, “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.” Yes, it’s not because someone, or even You MADE Paul bring himself low, or abound. He learned through You to bring himself to be grateful and in You in those low circumstances. And in the abundance, he learned to bring himself under You and be grateful also. He learned the secret. The secret was that You, Lord, are the sufficience in every situation, whether bounty or dire need.
Yes, “such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant…” See, You love a cheerful giver, Lord, because You are a cheerful giver to the max. “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, ‘He has distributed freely, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.’ He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:8-12)
Well, Lord, Your Word took me exactly where I was hoping it would take me today. Straight to a heart of thankfulness. Because in the midst of all these hard things and all these pressures, I need to learn to ever be thankful. Because no matter what, You have given me and continually give me the greatest gift of all, a relationship with You, my God! So, when the money doesn’t come, thank You, Lord, I am Yours. And when the money comes, thank You, Lord, I am Yours. And when things fall apart around me, thank You, Lord, You hold me together in You. And when things are just honky-dory, thank You, Lord, because You are better than the best thing in my life. So, Lord, teach me this contentment that Paul learned to experience in You. And let my praise in and for You never cease to usher from my lips and heart no matter the circumstances.