“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4: 11-13 NIV).
Friend To Friend
Like six sardines packed into aluminum cans, we sat shoulder to shoulder in the rickety twin engine plane. The destination was Nevis, West Indies. The mission was to provide dental care for the poverty stricken natives of a tiny island with 90% unemployment.
With a newly acquired degree in Dental Hygiene, I was thrilled to join a dentist and his team for a week of ministering to the men, women, and children of this tropical island. We had so much to give to a people who had so little … or so I thought.
The plane that took us over to the island was so tiny. We could not take our equipment and our luggage in the same trip. We all decided (or the men did) that we didn’t really need our clothes. They loaded the equipment and our clothes were to follow later in the day. Our motto became, “Tell me what you need and I’ll tell you how you can do without it.”
Even without our luggage, the plane was slightly overloaded. I, being the lightest of the bunch, was relegated to the co-pilot’s seat. I just kept telling myself that if we crashed, I’d be the first to see Jesus, so that was OK with me.
What did we encounter on the island? Yes, there was poverty. Yes, there were many dental needs. I expected that. What I did not expect was the sense of contentment and joy I saw on the faces of the twelve children who lived in a one-room, thatched-roof shack with no running water and a packed dirt floor. Or the contentment of the women who had one dress to wear. Or the satisfaction of the men who filled their bellies with food from the ocean and tropical fruit that sprang from the surrounding flora.
I did not expect the incredible praises to God that rose through the church roofs, the laughter of children dressed in tattered rags, or the coos of mothers contentedly holding their babies to their breasts. I had arrogantly come to help these people, but they helped me. I experienced what Charles Surgeon penned: “He is richest who is content with the least.”
From my earliest years of adulthood, God allowed me to see contentment through the lives of the poor. I knew contentment would never be attained through achievement, accumulation of wealth, or accolades from others. And yet, all through my life, there has been the tension of complaining and contentment. Why? I believe it all started in the Garden of Eden and continues on today. Eve had it all, but wasn’t content. She believed God was holding out on her and ate the forbidden fruit.
Job was a man who lost everything, yet he did not complain. His wife, on the other hand, suggested he curse God and die (Job 1:21). But Job’s reply was, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised” (Job 1:21). His contentment did not rely on people, position or possessions but on the knowledge of the sovereignty of God.
In the New Testament, we see a mirrored example in the person of Paul. Paul had been a man of influence who graduated from the best schools with a degree of a Pharisee and born into the elite line of Benjamin. He referred to himself as a faultless Hebrew of Hebrews with legalistic righteousness. But after he came to Christ, not before, his life was riddled with persecution, problems and prison. Yet he wrote, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4: 11-13). And where was Paul when he penned these words? He was under house arrest, chained to a Roman soldier twenty-four hours a day. Paul knew that living in union with Christ was the true source of contentment. Amazingly, in this letter to the Philippians, his key message is “Rejoice!”
Join me tomorrow as we look more at how to turn complaining into contentment as we continue looking at the life of Paul.
Heavenly Father, I’ll admit that I complain too much. I shouldn’t be complaining at all! When I look at the many ways that You have blessed me and my family, I am ashamed at my ungrateful attitude. I confess my sin of an ungrateful heart. I repent of my complaining ways. And I commit to praise You in all things.
In Jesus’ Name,
Now It’s Your Turn
Have you ever been in a situation where you set out to help someone, but you were the one who was blessed? If so, ponder that experience today.
One of the best ways I know to put a lid on complaining is to help someone else who is in need. Today, look for someone who needs a helping hand and reach out with the love of Christ.