“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
Yesterday, we took a look at how to turn a complaining attitude into a contented attitude. Today, let’s continue by taking a closer look at the life of Paul. Remember, 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: 11-13NIV). 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!”
Imagine yourself in prison for sharing the gospel. Would your tendency be to say, “God, this isn’t fair? Why are you allowing this?” I’m ashamed to say that would be mine.
Come to think about it, I don’t have to imagine it. I remember one weekend when I was flying to Houston for a speaking engagement. An hour into the trip, a woman on the plane passed out. The two doctors on board revived the embarrassed passenger and surmised that her blood sugar was probably low because she had not eaten breakfast. But protocol demanded that the plane had to land and disembark the damsel in distress. The closest airport was back from whence we came. My heart sank as I watched the clouds and realized the plane was turning around.
Two hours later, the same plane full of the same passengers minus one took off again. All of us with connecting flights in Dallas missed our connections and were rebooked on a later flight. The only problem was the flight, which was the last one out for the evening, had 32 passengers on standby. There was no way we were going to make the flight and I was going to miss the speaking engagement that had been booked and prayed over for one year.
“God,” I whined, “I am doing this for You! Why are you doing this? Why did you allow this to happen?”
In tears, I called my husband to explain the situation. “I don’t want to be doing this. It’s not worth it. I want to be home with you. I am hungry, I am tired, and I am mad. On and on I went as Steve listened to my complaining.”
Sitting at the gate with the crowd of disgruntled travelers who were also not going to make the flight, one man stood up and said, “I’m going to go rent a car and drive to Houston.” Then a woman jumped up and added, “Can I go with you?” “Me too,” a young businessman chimed in.
I joined this band of weary travelers and headed to the car rental booth. In the end, six strangers piled into a van with one common goal … get to Houston. During the two hour trip, we addressed the usual questions about family and jobs and interests. The woman who sat beside me was a cheerleading coach. I felt she was just a little bit too perky considering the circumstances. I learned that she was headed to a competition, her kids were her life and her husband … well, and he was somewhere down the priority list between grocery shopping and house cleaning. But for two hours we chatted. She asked about my books and when I mentioned one title, Becoming the Woman of His Dreams, she faltered.
“My husband would like for me to read that one,” she mumbled.
“Oh really, why?” I inquired.
I cracked the door and she flung it wide open. Why not? I was a stranger and she would most likely never see me again. But for now, I was “chained to a Roman guard.”
When we reached Houston, the driver didn’t pull up to the airport and let us out. No, they drove me to the front door of the hotel, just in time for me to walk up to the podium for the women’s conference. As I crawled out of the car and waved goodbye, I realized that the assignment from God wasn’t about to begin when I walked into that hotel. It had begun the moment I walked out my front door.
When we look at the difficulties, inconveniences and problems of life as potential assignments from God, it changes our perspective. We can decide to focus on what God can do through a difficult circumstance rather than the details of the circumstance itself.
During Paul’s time chained to a Roman guard, he was not only captive, but he had a captive audience. He was able to have one on one time with some of the most influential Roman citizens … the guards. Not only was he able to share the gospel with them, but they were privy to the conversations between Paul and his many visitors from the churches. His time in prison also gave Paul time to write letters to the churches which we hold in our hands today in the New Testament.
One of the first Bible verses I learned as a new Christian was written by Paul who said, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” I applied it to every hurdle imaginable. But the truth is that Paul wrote this verse in the context of contentment. How do we discover the secret to the contented life? How do we frame the words that come out of our mouths and influence those around us? “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
Can we be content if we never marry? Can we be content if our children don’t turn out the way we had hoped? Can we be content if our bosses fail to see our potential? Can we be content if our parents continue to have unrealistic expectations for their adult children?
Let’s take it down a notch. Can we be content if the waiter doesn’t give good service? Can we be content if the line at the post office moves too slowly? Can we be content if our neighbor’s dog keeps us up at night?
Words of contentment have great power because they make people sit up and take notice. They wonder – what makes her different? What are your words telling the world?
Dear LORD, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight today. I am determined to have a grateful heart today. Help me recognize opportunities to bless others today, and to see the inconveniences of life from Your perspective.
In Jesus’ Name,
Now It’s Your Turn
Open your Bible to the book of Philippians and note how many times Paul uses the words “rejoice” or “joy.” Remember, he wrote this letter while in prison. What can you learn from Paul’s words on joy considering the circumstance in which he wrote them?