The year is coming to an end! What has happened to 2014? At the end of each year, we have the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, which stirs many things within us. Thanksgiving is a beautiful invitation to slow down and reflect on life around us. So often, I find myself running through life and not taking the time to turn aside and count the many blessings around me. When I finally slow down and consider… so often I am able to build a list of the many good things in my life.
Christmas, on the other hand, too often is a time of rushing and trying to meet a hectic schedule of coming and going. I see in my own life that the true meaning of Christmas can be stolen away and replaced with a great pressure to focus on the material things of this world. I have seen Christmas season come and go only to ask myself, “What just happened?” The beauty and reason for the season had been stolen.
For some time, I have been aware of the overwhelming call to a life of contentment. For too much of my life, I had no appreciation for such a thing. The enemy had convinced me that contentment was a fancy name for laziness. I bought into the seduction of goal achievement. Don’t hear what I’m not saying! Setting and achieving goals in itself is not bad. The issue is motive. For me, the motive was based in pride. What I could accomplish… and how I compared myself to others. There is no end to this pursuit.
As I have surrendered myself more and more to the Lord, he has changed many things about my desires. Today, a life of contentment is much more desirable. I have given much thought, meditation and prayer to what Paul shared as his “secret” concerning contentment in his letter to the Philippians (chapter 4, verses 10-20). As I have studied this “secret," I have come away with a few nuggets I would like to pass along.
Paul shares five keys to contentment: faith, humility, submission, dependence and unselfishness.
FAITH: Hebrews 11:6 tells us, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God…” In Philippians 4:10, Paul says, “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly now that at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity.” Paul had faith that God was his provision and at just the right time, everything he needed would be provided. It is our needs that have the eye of God. He supplies our needs, not our wants. Taming our wants happens as we give our heart over to the Father.
HUMILITY: In verse 11, Paul says, “I have learned in whatever state I am in, to be content." It is a great sign of humility to be at a place where you celebrate that God knows and understands your circumstances better than you do. What a tremendous sign of a deep relationship this shows between Paul and his Father! Paul knew… God works ALL things for good; so he didn’t have any compulsion to fight against his present circumstances.
SUBMISSION: In verse 12, Paul says, “… both to abound and to suffer need.” Paul had a deep abiding understanding that “things” would never be able to add anything of substance to his life. There is something in most of us, certainly in me, that leans toward happiness. And we all have intimate knowledge that “things” can certainly make us happy for the moment! When is the last time you finally got that “thing” your heart has been beating for… only to find several days, weeks, months later that it no longer is the “thing”? Now that “thing” has been replaced by another “thing." And on and on it goes!
DEPENDANCE: Verse 13 tells us famously, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Paul knew only through Christ was he at his best! The enemy is always trying to provoke me with the simple invitation to “try harder." Why not? We can all do that. But I have come to comparing it with standing on your tiptoes. All of us can stand on our tiptoes. But the question for all of us is… how long are you able and willing to stand on your tiptoes? When I find myself trying harder (standing on my tiptoes) in almost every situation, expectations rise up in me. If I am trying harder… especially where other people are involved, I find myself putting them in debt to me for my performance. They owe me a response. And not just any response will do. I have conjured up (probably with the help of the enemy) a very particular response that makes complete sense to me. Something that is completely unfair is that I rarely communicate that expectation that I have put on another. I assume they are thinking just like me. And guess what… they aren’t! Paul had learned not to place his dependence on anyone or anything. He knew by experience, he could accomplish everything he needed through Christ.
UNSELFISHNESS: In verse 17 we see, “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account.” Notice that Paul wasn’t seeking anything from the Philippians. What he was seeking is the fruit in their lives that comes from responding to God. Generosity always enjoys seeing blessings flowing into other people. Paul was at rest in his contentedness because he didn’t concentrate on where he would receive; and he didn’t compare his portion with others.
A new year is at hand. What will become of it? Will you spend this new year like the last one? I love what King David said, “I will hide myself in the Lord.” I know there… I will prosper. Hidden in the Lord has nothing to do with having no problems… but everything to do with being an overcomer!
I pray that you will join me in the journey toward the blessing of the contented life. Paul said it was a secret… but was gracious to reveal the secret so we can live in the fullness of the abundant life.