Phil. 4:11 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Paul had not always enjoyed the comforts of life. There were times and places in his ministry where he was loved, accepted, and well cared for, but there were other times when this was not the case. In some instances, even when he had experienced incredible days in the ministry and led many to Christ, there were those who would turn their backs on him. The ups and downs of ministry were difficult on him and he could have easily backed away and tried to protect his heart from being hurt. It’s obvious that there were those whom he had loved and trusted that eventually caused him great pain.
The joy of Paul’s life was to know Christ and everything else paled in comparison. The result was that he had learned not to allow the circumstances of life to become the barometer of his faith. He learned how to live in a state of contentedness. He learned to make do with whatever he had. The things of life were those what brought him joy; Jesus brought him joy! The spirit of contentedness led him to a all-encompassing dependence on Christ. No person could get credit for Paul’s ministry for he learned that everything that he was able to accomplish came from Christ who gave him strength. Learning to be content resulted in a Spirit-filled strength.
It’s easy to fall into bondage to the many things of this world. I’ll confess that I’m enjoying our lovely home this morning. It’s a cold day in Kansas City and I’m cuddled up in my recliner with the fireplace going and music playing in the background — and it’s nice! It’s really more than I need or deserve.
About twenty years ago I had an interesting moment in my life. I still remember where I was in our apartment in Moscow and listening to the news as our world was in turmoil. In 1993 we lived through several days of war in Russia as we suddenly had two presidents. In those days we would listen to the short-wave radio to get the news from the outside world! The United States government would use different channels to get news and information to citizens living outside the US. I was listening in on an incident in Africa and they were telling all US citizens to evacuate a particular country. The instructions were given to make way to a particular hotel and each person was only allowed one suitcase — nothing more! With all that was happening around us I began to realize that reality could become ours very soon. I remember that day looking around our apartment and wondering what it was that we would take with us if that call suddenly came to us. I looked at my little girls’ artwork from school. I fingered their clothing in the closet. I looked at the china cups from my mother…and the Lord and I had a conversation. I realized that I had to be ready to leave it all at a moments notice and I had to let it go. I can honestly tell you that God seemed to disconnect me from my stuff — and maybe I remain a bit too disconnected from it because I never really collected things from my girls’ growing up years. I think I was afraid of becoming emotionally attached and needing to let it be. At the same time, I believe that God began to work in my life to fill my life with other things…not nice earthly stuff, but the lives and stories of people who came to know the Lord.
I don’t think that I’m at the same place as Paul but I see him as a role model. I want to know Christ — not stuff. I want to be content with whatever circumstance I find myself in life. Whether I’m enjoying fellowship with dear friends who have enjoyed financial success in life, or whether I’m sitting on the old metal frame bed in a two-hundred year-old cottage in a Russian village, my prayer is that I will be content.
I also think that Paul wasn’t just talking about the stuff of life, but even in the emotional ups and downs that we have to learn to be content. Not everyone is always going to like us or be happy with us. There will be times when people will tell us “what they really think.” If our emotional well-being is attached to the ways in which others think about us, there will be times when we will be overflowing with nice and kind words, and then there will be times when we get — well, nothing! If we expect our lives to be powered or boosted by the feedback we receive from others, we will be disappointed.
Learning to live in the sweet-spot of contentedness is not easy and yet it has its rewards. Paul knew this and when he let go of the material and emotional things of this world, he discovered the strength that he had in Christ. That’s where I want to go, following Paul, who is following Christ and learn to live in sweet content.
Lord, thank you for Paul who provides such an example for us. Amen.
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