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 everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13 NIV)
I don’t know if you make New Year’s resolutions or not, but if you do, perhaps this is the year to bypass that and offer up a prayer for the year instead. I can’t think of a better thing to pray for than what Paul shares in Philippians 4:11-13. Paul was in jail, a depressing situation if there ever was one … and he had been there for some time and wasn’t expecting release any time soon. He had faced beatings, attempts to kill him, imprisonment. Still, he was contented. What a great example for us to follow.
You see, contentment doesn’t just happen. It would be great if everything in life went well, if fairness and justice abounded, if all we wished for occurred. But we live in a broken world. Things do not always go as we plan and certainly not always as we’d like. Bad things happen; disappointments come frequently. One of my favorite bumper stickers reads, “Man plans; God laughs.” I don’t think God laughs at our misfortunes; I think he weeps with us. But the futility of so much of what we plan and work for is there all too often. We plan, we work, and things still go wrong. So how does one get contentment in those circumstances?
Paul says he “learned” to be content. How can one learn that? Well, like any kind of education, it takes some work on your part.
First, pray—but not selfishly; pray for God’s guidance, and believe in your heart that He wants the best for you. Trust Him. Without that, contentment is lost. Use your Bible. Look for examples within it that you can lean on. When you find something, pray it, make it your own. When my eldest son was a rebellious teenager and we were constantly locking horns, I claimed Isaiah 54:13 as my own—“All your sons will be taught by the LORD, and great will be your children’s peace.” I would tell God that I was failing to reach him, so I was trusting God to take care of things. And he grew to be a man in whom I take great pride. I’ve often said of both my sons that they are men I’d want to know, even if we weren’t related.
And remember—when times are frustrating, dismaying, chaotic, remember the good times and trust in your heart their return. Take whatever life hands you and learn from it, so you can use what you’ve learned when you face your next trial. One thing I learned through my separation and divorce from my husband is that, even when I think something is too great for me to get through, I can get through it. My coping skills are much, much better now than they were before that all happened. I learned first-hand that, when you hit the bottom in life, there’s nowhere else to go but up. So when you’re spinning your wheels, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember what’s come before and how you got through it. And trust God to get you through this time, too.
Finally, claim verse 13. You really can do amazing things through God. He empowers you with strength not your own. You need only claim it from him. Isaiah 40:29-31 is a favorite of mine. “He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might, He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary; They shall walk and not faint.”
God has blessed me with contentment. It has been a long road getting there, but we travelled it together and now I can claim, along with Paul, that I have learned to be content in all things. I pray that you will get there, too. —Emily Montfort
Abba, Father, thank you for being there in all we go through. Help us to see your hand in whatever we’re going through and help us to learn, like Paul, to be content in that knowledge. In your holy and blessed name we pray, Amen.