Living Above the Circumstances

Albert Barnes, in his commentary on Philippians 4:11-12 (contentment) says this: "A contented mind is an invaluable blessing, and is one of the fruits of religion in the soul. It arises from the belief that God is right in all his ways. Why should we be impatient, restless, discontented? What evil will be remedied by it? What want supplied? What calamity removed? “The cheerful heart has a continual feast.” Prov. 15:15; One of the secrets of happiness is to have a mind satisfied with all the allotments of Providence."

Paul learned contentment through trials. He learned the secret of being filled and having abundance despite going hungry and suffering need. How did he do this, and what message is there for us in the text?
First, learn to give thanks in all things. Paul learned one aspect of contentment is thankfulness. This is perhaps the most important thing in life and also the most neglected I think. "…in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thess. 5:18

How do you give thanks for problems and trials? A couple of years ago on the day before Thanksgiving, and 4 weeks before our son’s wedding my husband came home from work in the middle of the day. He had been let go from his job. This was the third employment disaster to hit us that year. None of the employment issues were his fault they were all results of other things. When I came downstairs and found him in the kitchen and he told me what had happened that day I had two choices- I could be angry or I could be thankful. I was thankful. The job had been very difficult for him ethically. He is a counselor and the place he had been working was more interested in financial gain than integrity. While it was really bad it was also a relief to know that God had taken care of this decision. Being thankful did not mean I left my fears at the curb. 

This left us with a whole set of very difficult problems- like how we were going to pay the mortgage and eat -not even counting our son’s upcoming wedding which was to be the week before Christmas in another State! 

I had to practice the second principle- I had to learn how to trust God. I am still learning how to trust Him, but the difficult events of my life particularly over the past decade have made it easier. I have learned that in spite of how impossible and terrible things may look God is always in control of the events of my life.

For those who know Christ we know that God is all knowing, and He is directing the universe and the events of our lives with wise and gracious care. We know that nothing takes place outside of the scope of His sovereignty. We know that God is aware, God has a plan and God is in charge.

God has determined before the foundations of the world were set in place that we would be conformed to the image and likeness of Christ. We be confident and trust that He uses our trials to accomplish our transformation. If we truly know God, we can rest and trust in Him. We can be content even as we struggle or suffer because we believe that what we are in the midst of has a purpose and reason beyond what we can see today. Our hearts can be satisfied in knowing and believing God is at work in them. That despite how grim our present circumstances are or appear to be that God is sovereign.

Phil 4:6 touches on both giving thanks to God and trusting Him. We are to be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. This does not mean that God will provide everything you want. He is not the genie in the bottle, nor is He a cosmic Santa Clause. God promises to provide what you need and because He is all knowing He knows what we genuinely need better than we do. Oh this can be very hard to accept. It takes us to our next principle of contentment- Lean to be satisfied with little.

In our world of excessive, super sized American culture the idea of having “less” is so looked down on. We shake our heads at families who have only 1 car, or live cheaply when they may not have to. The prevailing attitude seems to be well sure you could live with less, but why would you want to? Again, revealing the desires of the heart. Do you know that greed is considered idolatry in the Bible and how little it takes to be considered greedy?

Paul understood that covetousness and contentment are mutually exclusive.

“Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.”    1 Timothy 6:6

Paul had learned to make the choice to be satisfied with little, and he knew it was important for others to learn to make that same choice. Satisfaction is a heart issue.

Contentment is a heart issue. It is something we must truly choose for ourselves. We must come to the place where we believe that He is enough. That even if all of life should fall away we would still be content with Him, with who we are in Him.

Our God is completely aware of what we have and don’t have. We have to make a choice if we are going to slap at His provisions with a thankless heart or graciously accept what He provides with gratitude. So often I have to remind women that what is in the closet to wear is not important! The kind of car is not important! To be thankful there is anything to eat in the pantry when they want something that is not there!

Too often I meet women who are so unhappy with their lives. They have placed the focus on things and people not performing to their expectations or desires. Husbands that don’t pay them enough attention, or children that are difficult to raise. Perhaps they have a physical problem that causes them to live in pain or a relationship problem that brings heartache. To be content in such circumstances is difficult but not impossible.

We will experience contentment as we learn to live above life’s circumstances. More on that next time!