We are talking about the process of embracing our trials. In part one we discussed the “poem challenge”. In part two we sought to understand the “Why” question and why it is the unproductive question. In part three and part four, we considered God’s character—“what God is like” and “what God knows is best.” In part five we sought to understand the struggle of the ongoing trial. Here in part 6 we come to the topic of contentment in the trial.
Understanding Contentment – “Embracing God’s Sufficiency”
Recently, I was in the process of preparing a Sunday morning message when I found myself struggling with being content.
In the midst of my current trial, as I battle with a number of health concerns, my three-year old accidently poked me in the eye and scratched my cornea. I found this painful and discouraging, but I also found myself on the wrong end of discontentment. This incident coincided with a busy week with a tight schedule and no room for distractions, let alone poor eyesight and additional visits to doctors and waiting rooms.
Looking back on the timing of things I see the wisdom of God. In my eyes this was absolutely the worst timing possible, but in God’s infinite and perfect wisdom He knew I would gain the most from having this personal object lesson to pave the way for change. I also see God’s humor as it made me the object lesson for the message I was preparing. A few weeks prior to this, the Lord had laid on my heart His will for our church to study Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. In the fourth chapter of he writes,
“I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”—Philippians 4:11b
I contemplated on the setting where these words were written and my heart was struck with rebuke. I know that the trial the Apostle Paul endured was far greater than my own, yet saw how he surrendered to God’s way and submitted to God’s wisdom and understanding. How did he do this? How could he write these words with such honesty without even a hint of underlying sarcasm or bitterness? Instead there is obvious peace and joy.
As I meditated upon this passage, a simple outline rose to the surface which explains the Paul’s contentment. It begins with the premise that I can be content in any circumstance no matter what (v. 11). It is then followed by two simple yet profound promises which speak of God’s sufficiency regarding His strength (v. 13) and His supply (v. 19). The reality of profoundly obvious truths in Scripture is that unfortunately they are often practically obscure in our lives. Often what appears so simple and clear on the pages of God’s Word and even in our minds remains hidden in our lives.
This was clearly the case, as I meditated upon this passage and was struck by how practically obscure these truths were, right at that moment in my life. With this realization I bowed my head in repentance. Then knowing God’s forgiveness, I smiled seeing God’s perfect timing, bringing me into a head-on collision with the details of my life and these truths that were so absolutely necessary to confront them and bring my heart to rest. The encouragement came as these truths began the twelve-inch journey from my head to my heart where they found a resting place and where my heart found the much-needed contentment even though the circumstances had yet to change.
Paul begins with a premise that on the outset is bold and daring. He says, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” It is a statement that, at first, comes across as “too good to be true” or may be only something that is for the “elite Christians” like Paul. But after further consideration and drawing in the promises that follow I see that this premise statement is meant for me—it is meant to be one of the statements of my life. It is meant for each of us “ordinary Christians.” God desires that my heart would rest content “in whatsoever state I am.”
Before we consider the promise, keep in mind that Paul’s statement isn’t a lesson that just came naturally to him but was one that he “learned” by experience. It was through trial after trial as he “learned” to rest in the stabilizing truths of God that he was able to, with a clear conscience and genuineness of heart, speak these words that, most often, seem to defy reality.
Now consider the promises, as pillars of truth, upon which the house of contentment is built. The foundation of these pillars is the sufficiency of God. Paul writes, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God” (2 Corinthians 3:5). The key to contentment begins first with a proper understanding of our inadequacy. Until we find ourselves to be lacking in our own ability to sufficiently deal with every detail of life we will never look outside ourselves and look to God. It is through the trials of life that God brings us to the end of ourselves—to the end of the façade of our own sufficiency and sovereignty as we turn to Him in dependent trust finding Him to be sovereign over all things and sufficient for our every need.
The first promise of God’s sufficiency from Paul deals with God’s power—learning to rest in the strength of God.
“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”—v. 13
This verse gives us both the strength and the source of contentment, which is the Power that comes from within—the indwelling Holy Spirit Who enables the believer to do all that the Lord calls upon him to do and go through. “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). It is God working in us giving us the desire to do His “good pleasure” but also empowering us as well. “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). This is the grace of God at work in our lives as we humble ourselves before Him, for “God giveth grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).
Learning to rest in this truth of the sufficiency of God’s strength for every situation of life is vital to our contentment in life. When the temptation to give in to sin is seemingly greater than your strength to fight, run to Christ and remember that He has promised that His strength will be sufficient. Remember the promise that “I can do ALL things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Whatever state you find yourself in, trust Him to be sufficient to carry you through. “Faithful is He that calleth you who will also do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
The truth is that I can be content in every circumstance because God’s strength is more than enough. His strength is sufficient for me to stand fast against the temptation of discontentment and trust His providence to be right and best.
The second promise of God’s sufficiency from Paul deals with God’s provision—learning to rest in the supply of God.
“But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”—v. 19
In this verse we see the supply of contentment. I find it interesting to consider our American definition of the word, “need” as defined by how we use it. Quite often we use the word “need” where we should be using the word “want” instead. God has not promised to supply our wants but our genuine needs or those things that He defines as necessary. Once He stops providing it, it is no longer necessary.
It is important to keep in mind that our needs come in positive and negative qualities. The positive side of our needs are those things that God provides that we are lacking such as financial or health needs. On the negative side we see those things that are painful which God uses to teach us wonderful truths and help us deal with specific sin.
The truth is that I can be content in every circumstance because God’s supply is more than enough. His supply is sufficient to help me rest in His providence and stand fast against the temptation to doubt that I have what I need or that God will fail to provide it in His perfect time.
In summary: Biblical contentment becomes a reality in the believer’s life when we become humbly dependent upon the Lord for both His strength, to endure our trials, and His supply for our every need. Biblical contentment is learning to thank God for our troubles while we are still in them.
“So, embrace the trial, My dear child, My best is what you’ll see,
Beyond the suffering you feel, My Son they soon shall see.”