Do you want to be content?
Take a moment to ponder. . . really, do you want to be content?
Do you want to be in the rat race of more, more, more, or on the quiet road of contentment?
Do you want to be always affected by circumstance, or content whatever the circumstance?
Do you want to control it all, or find contentment in relinquishing control?
Do you want to fix everything, or find contentment in not doing it all?
Do you really want to be content? I ask, because it will cost. It will cost always going after more, seeking to control, being the fixer. . . It will cost. So, do you really want it?
It’s a few consistent choices away from you. You can have it. It is within your grasp.
I suggest that if we truly trust God, we can be content at all times, regardless of what we face.
Paul writes about contentment in Philippians 4, stating that Christ strengthens him to. . . be content. In this context, Christ’s strength is just for contentment, and perhaps we’d agree that it’s one of the hardest things to have!
I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for 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 all this through him who gives me strength (Phil 4:10-13, NIV).
The Greek word for content here is a combination of the word for self and of a word that means to be possessed of unfailing strength; to be strong, to suffice, to be enough. The combined word is defined sufficient for one’s self, strong enough to be independent of external circumstances. Contentment is strength, stability, unwavering solidness.
Allow me to make a few clarifications:
Contentment is not opposed to working hard. (Paul worked hard!)
Contentment is opposed to trusting in my work.
Contentment is not opposed to fighting for justice. (Paul fought for justice!)
Contentment is opposed to making winning the only thing.
Contentment is not opposed to disappointment. (Paul was disappointed—read Galatians!)
Contentment is opposed to stewing in disappointment.
Contentment is not opposed to desires. (Paul had many, many desires)
Contentment is opposed to making our desires demands.
How do we get it?
It’s a process. There are two different words translated “learn” in this passage. In verse 11, Paul writes, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” This learn is what students do; they take in information, they increase in their knowledge, and they learn by use and practice.
So, let’s be students of Paul. His secrets to contentment are in the preceding verses.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you (Phil 4:8-9)
Paul’s advocating we train our minds. You see, our minds have habitual pathways, like ruts in a dirt road. Some of my thought-ruts have been like downward spirals, taking me to the lowest, most negative thoughts possible. It’s hard to go anywhere other than where that old path leads. To make a new path takes hard work.
But that’s what training our mind is about. It’s about changing the destructive pathways, and making new, good ruts for our thoughts. Ones that don’t destroy us.
Paul has a list of what to think about, yet I think it’s also helpful to contrast that list with what it means we won’t think about.
He says to think about what’s true—not the enemy’s lies. A great resource for what’s true is Neil Anderson’s Who I am in Christ.
What is true is reality—not my imagined negative future, not the negative “what if’s” my mind can tend to.
What’s noble, admirable and praiseworthy is what’s worthy of respect or honor. That means we don’t dwell on our sin.
And then, we train our minds to think about what’s pure, right, lovely, and excellent.
Part of Paul’s secret to contentment is training his mind to think on such things. It takes practice! Paul calls us to make new ruts!
And there’s more to Paul’s secret to contentment, in the preceding verses:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:6-7, NIV).
Paul tells us to be anxious for nothing. Nothing.
What about the terrible things in life, Paul? Be anxious for nothing.
What about my fears for my family, Paul? Be anxious for nothing.
Nothing. Be anxious for nothing.
And then he tells us to pray, petition, and be grateful. Gratefulness is a recipe for joy, happiness, and contentment. I wrote about it earlier this year.
Paul starts this entire passage with:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near (Phil 4:4-5, NIV).
Although this part is at the beginning of the passage, I think it’s only after we train our minds and are grateful that we can learn to rejoice always. We don’t start off that way. It takes time.
Let’s return to the portion with which we started.
Remember there are two words translated “learn” in this passage. The one that students do—taking in information, learning by use and practice, is the one we’ve been doing, and what we likely need to keep doing for life.
In verse 12, Paul states that he’s “learned the secret of being content.” This “learn” is what God does for us—the first translations is “I have been initiated into the mysteries” “I have been instructed.”
The hope this second “learn” give us, is that it’s not all up to you. Yes, train your mind, yes, be grateful, but also realize that God is faithful and will show and reward you. God initiates you into the mysteries. Nothing is accomplished outside of Holy Spirit power!
So, I ask again, do you want to be content? Maybe we can start on the path there together.