The Secret Step to Contentment (Philippians 4:11-12)
On Contentment – “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” Philippians 4:11-12
Once upon a time (circa mid-2002), former NBA All-Star Allen Iverson produced a legendary press conference rant about the apparent need to show up for practice. After a first round playoff loss, his coach reprimanded him for missing one practice, maybe two, maybe three…we don’t really know how many.
Iverson argued to the reporters that a discussion about practice was irrelevant compared to his performance in the actual games – in what really mattered. He concluded his practice rant by exclaiming “How can I make my teammates better by practicing?”
There were days in high school when I hated basketball practice. It wasn’t very fun when you were tired or sore. Furthermore, I definitely wondered at times if I was helping my teammates get better. Isn’t that up to them?
But I pushed through all that because I came to realize one thing about practice – it produces greatness.
We aren’t born instantaneously great. Greatness comes slowly over time, as our mind, body and soul learns and adapts to whatever we are pursuing.
In the verse above, the missionary Paul shares with us in the Bible his secret step to contentment. He learned it. This makes me think it didn’t come naturally for him, just like it doesn’t come naturally for me. In other words, he had to practice it.
Contentment Doesn’t Come Easy
For Paul, contentment had to be achieved, through daily submission and practice. His statement is even more compelling considering the up and down circumstances he faced.
We know at times he possessed adequate clothing and ate relatively well. Additionally, he didn’t have to worry about having money in his pockets because he received financial support from churches and his side hustle as a tentmaker. These must have been the best of times for him.
However, in the book of II Corinthians, chapter 11 we see a far more sobering picture. There, Paul opens a window into his life and shares with us his lowest of lows. I would find these circumstances unbearable to live through, let alone demonstrate contentment in the middle of. The details are extraordinary:
- Five times he received 39 lashes from the Jewish leaders who were trying to discourage him from preaching.
- He was beaten with rods and stoned (scholars believe once to the point of unconsciousness and left for dead).
- Three times he was shipwrecked. Also, on one occasion, he spent a night and a day floating in a body of water somewhere.
- His travels brought him into constant danger from thieves, his fellow countrymen, foreigners and even other preachers who wanted to see him fail.
- He was often weary, tired, hungry, thirsty, cold and naked.
These chilling descriptions of hardship leave me wondering, “How in the world could Paul be content in those circumstances?” I know he was tight with God but c’mon – those are awful situations.
Happiness vs. Contentment
I have to continually remind myself there is a clear difference between happiness and contentment. Situations define happiness. Circumstances dictate our moods and feelings. The roller coaster ride of life can have us feeling elated and happy one moment and completely broken and devastated the next. Such is the fickle nature of our happiness.
I can’t imagine Paul expressed pleasure at some of the events he endured during his ministry. How could you find happiness at the end of the whipping cord? The only thing there is pain and sorrow.
Contentment is different from happiness. When content, we find satisfaction in our present situation. We demonstrate a peace about our circumstances, often not really understanding why we feel so peaceful. Our journey may still lead us to better jobs, a higher income or more possessions but these things are not sought after as a means to satisfy a void in our life.
A contented mind does not complain. There are likewise no regrets.
There is no envying of other people’s possessions or positions. Additionally, with contentment, there are no fears in the present or about the future.
Being content is a battle I face every day. But I’m encouraged by the words of Paul that it can be learned. If he can do it, then so can I.
How to Practice Contentment
Any discussion of contentment for me has to start in the spiritual realm and my recognition that I must rely on God each and every day to supply my needs. All my money and possessions flow from his goodness. He has blessed me with more than I could have imagined and I have to be a faithful steward of those resources.
From that starting point, there are practical steps that can help me learn to be content in all situations. Here are a few that I focus on:
1. Help others, especially those less fortunate. Nothing reveals how blessed I am than a close up look at people who literally have nothing.
2. Avoid comparisons. Sure the neighbor just bought a Big Green Egg grilling system but that doesn’t mean I need one. Do I want one? Maybe. But my $50 charcoal grill cooks food just fine. I don’t need to play the “Can you top this?” game.
3. The “I’ll be happy when…” syndrome does not have a cure. This is a trap that keeps us projecting our happiness into a never-ending future of purchases, careers and relationships. The next best thing won’t ever bring ultimate fulfillment.
4. Our lives have imperfections – accept them. This doesn’t mean we can’t seek to improve ourselves. We cannot however, get down on ourselves because we aren’t perfect. I’ve got a newsflash for you – no one is. Build on your strengths and be awesome at something while at the same time accepting your limitations.
5. Have some fun. It’s fine to be driven and find new challenges. However, we have to schedule in time to relax and play. Life’s not all about the next business merger or pay raise. So for example, play video games with your kids. Get outdoors. Take your spouse on a date. Host a guy’s poker night or schedule coffee with the girlfriends. Read a book. Our minds need to rest from the cultural pressure to have it all and playing can help with that.
In conclusion, I know my contentment will grow as my relationship with God matures and I implement some of the practical suggestions above. Perhaps one day, contentment will come more naturally for me. If I practice hard and long enough, I have to assume it will.
Questions: Where are you in the contentment battle? What helps you practice contentment? What’s the biggest thing you desire right now?
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