Have you ever had a year when you thought Thanksgiving holiday didn’t fit it very well? Tragedies. Job loss. Recession. Natural disasters. Politics. Add to this the times people have sinned against you through reckless gossip, broken promises, neglected relationships, or dishonest business. Oh yeah, plus family with health problems, maybe even your personal health difficulties. As we gather around friends and family this year, in all honesty, many of us will find it hard to say the time-honored Thanksgiving family prayer from a grateful heart.
Maybe you find yourself asking the question, “How can Paul say that he had learned regardless of the circumstance to be content?” (Philippians 4:11). Think about Paul’s circumstances from which he wrote that contentment is always possible. He is writing from a prison. Others (actually preachers) are choosing to sin against him. He is not sure if he is going to live or die. Some in the church are preaching a false gospel. Good friends were not getting along. Yet, in spite of all this, Paul still could say…regardless of where I am and what is going on, I find a way to be content.
Foundation of Paul’s Contentment
Christ was at the center of Paul’s life. His relationship with Christ was based upon Christ’s humble obedience to the Father and not on his (Paul’s) efforts (Philippians 2:5-11; 3:3-7). Paul kept a clear view of the cross and its implications for salvation. He thought of Christ as his example – and the example for all believers. Christ demonstrated how to suffer. He selflessly lived life not for His own glory, comfort or plans; but instead, Christ accepted God’s will for His life in total submission as He perfectly loved God and served others.
Paul also determined to gain Christ, to be found in Christ, and to know Christ, specifically the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering (Philippians 3:8-11). Paul understood that God did not accept him based upon his own righteousness. Those things that looked like righteousness from Paul’s perspective were as refuse. Instead, Paul enjoyed the righteousness of Christ and lived in the power of the resurrection. Likewise, Paul considered it only natural and right to suffer for Christ. Since Christ suffered more than any other in order to provide righteousness, Paul wanted to share in that same suffering as a means of worship and gratitude.
He wanted to live up to Christ’s purpose for his life (Philippians 3:12-14). Paul accepted Christ’s goal for his life. He understood when he was saved that Christ had certain expectations. He recognized when he became a follower of Christ that Christ had an agenda. He was saved with specific purposes in mind. Therefore, he made it his ambition to be like Christ.
Paul as well eagerly waited for the joy of the return of Christ. In other words, he lived life on earth with life in eternity in view (Philippians 3:17-4:1). Others, whom Paul called enemies of the cross, lived for this earth, today, present comfort and glory; whereas Paul allowed the guaranteed hope of ultimately being with God and having a glorified body to motivate him. With eternity as the lens to view life, he called on fellow believers to stand fast in the Lord.
So how could Paul be content while a prisoner, being sinned against by others who proclaimed Christ, and not knowing if he was going to live or die? He could because he viewed life through the prism of the Gospel: what Christ did in the past, what Christ is doing in the present, and what Christ will ultimately do in the future. This is why he concludes, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
How to Grow Your Contentment – A Starting Point
- First, keep an ongoing list of things for which you are thankful. Add ten new items each day on Monday through Friday. Then on Saturday and Sunday review your list. You could also begin a prayer to God by specifically reading back your list to God.
- Rehearse the Gospel each day. Take time daily to consider the love of God, the humble obedience of Christ which led to His death, the ever-present ministry of the Spirit, the joy of life in the body of Christ, the privilege to have free access into the throne of God through prayer.
- Memorize at least one verse each week. Take time to consider its meaning and how it applies to your life situation.
- Develop a prayer list with a specific focus on your church, your church family, and others.
- Find at least one person or family each week to serve without any expectations in return.
Each of these five first-responses will keep your attention on Christ and others and not your own circumstances.
When our circumstances become greater in our eyes than the reality of life in Christ, in just a matter of time we will be discontented.
Paul demonstrates amid incredibly tough circumstances that contentment flows from a life totally surrendered to God. So as we live life, we can also grow in contentment as we focus, relish, and enjoy life as the redeemed. When our circumstances become greater in our eyes than the reality of life in Christ, in just a matter of time we will be discontented. However, when we keep our mind (inner man) engaged on what is right and our actions consistent with it (Philippians 4:8-9), contentment will grow. May God richly bless you in Christ and Happy Thanksgiving!
A modified version of this post first appeared in the November 2010 issue of the Baptist Bible Tribune. Used with permission.