Please note: this website is moving! To check out the NEW site with extra content, please give this site a visit 🙂
How many times have you felt discontent in your life? I can’t speak for anyone else, but if you’re anything like me, it’s a lot!
When I entered college as a freshman, I was away from home for the first time. All I’d ever known – my friends, my family, my surroundings – were hundreds of miles away. Even though I was making new friends and joining new clubs, I began to grow discontent.
Why did I have to come here? Why can’t I just be back at home with my friends and my family, where everything makes sense?
My pain was made all the more real when I would scroll through Facebook or Instagram and see all the fun that my loved ones were having. There were church events happening that I could not go to. There were hangouts happening that I couldn’t go to.
In those moments, I would hang my head and silently ask myself, “Why do I have it so bad here?”
Now, I’ve always been the type to reach for achievement. For me, getting a college degree wasn’t an option; it was a necessity. I had to have it. For the sake of my own peace in life, I felt like I had to get that degree.
But to get it meant moving away, traveling to a completely different environment and then learning the ropes there. And doing all that for four years, with only occasional breaks to go home (except during summers, that is).
You see, I wanted to enjoy college. I wanted to love what I was doing. I wanted to love going to events, joining campus ministries, and making new friends. I wanted, coveted, desired, and yearned.
But who was I kidding?
I was miserable at college.
At the end of my freshman year, I seriously considered dropping out. I’d gotten into a relationship and it had ended badly. Very badly. That, in conjunction with the feeling that I had just never truly found my footing, focused the pressure upon me to just quit.
Just drop out, go home, and live life there.
But I kept going. I prayed, pleaded, and begged God to give me some form of contentedness.
Yet I heard and felt very little.
‘If I only just had a wife!’ I thought.
‘If I only just had a house here, instead of having to live in this dorm!’
‘If only I was just able to go to college from home.’
My yearnings and pleadings took me well into sophomore year. Despite my prayers, sophomore year was perhaps my toughest year of college. Every day, I pointed my eyes heavenward and pleaded with God to give me the greatest desire of my heart: a wife.
I wanted to be connected. I wanted to feel loved. Yet I felt like I had no friends and no purpose for being at my university. I wanted to be content. I really did.
But guess what?
I wasn’t looking for contentment in the right place. You see, I thought that contentment came from my circumstances and my possessions. As humans, we tend to think that way. There’s even a phrase in our pop culture, “The other man’s grass is always greener.”
We peer over the proverbial fence to see what our neighbors have. They have a spouse, kids, a nice car, a big garden, a beautiful dog, a good job, an easy life. And we want that for ourselves.
If I was to ask you personally what your number one desire was, what would you tell me?
If you’re young, you might desire a significant other. You might desire also to graduate college or to get your first professional job.
If you’re older, maybe you desire more time. Maybe you wish you could go back in time to fix things in your past.
In any regard, there are things throughout our lives that we yearn after and wish we had.
The lonely single man – that was me for a long time – wishes to get married. He wants a wife with everything he is.
The lonely single woman feels as though nothing short of having a husband can make her feel content.
The low-income man yearns for a higher-paying job. If only he were making ten, twenty thousand dollars a year more. Then he could start saving for the future and stop worrying about paying his bills.
But look at the flip side: there are plenty of people in unhappy marriages that wish they weren’t. They look at the young single and think, “What I wouldn’t give for that kind of freedom.” There are lots of rich people who get up every morning and face the monumental task of retaining, growing, and stewarding their wealth. Usually – though certainly not always – being more wealthy comes with more responsibility.
They might look at a person with a lower-paying job and think, “It must be so simple for them.”
Truly, the other man’s grass is always greener. When we place our happiness and joy in our circumstances – our money, our possessions, our location, our job, our health, or even our relationships – we are seeking for contentment in all the wrong places.
The Apostle Paul shows us the right place to look for contentment.
In Philippians 4, we read:
…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.Philippians 4:11-13 [ESV]
Now, if anyone had a reason to be discontent, it was Paul. Paul had once lived a life of power and honor. He’d been a member of the Sanhedrin, a body of Jewish elites that inhabited a place of reverence in Jewish society.
But once he became a follower of Christ, he embarked on a life of dangerous missionary work. He was imprisoned many times, beaten many times, and left lonely many times. He had experienced shipwreck, homelessness, stoning, and hunger. Yet look at what he emphasizes here:
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content…
Can you feel the gravity of what he’s writing? Whatever situation he may find himself in, he knows how to be content.
What might constitute a list of situations Paul had been in? Well, he’d been in far worse circumstances than what most of us have ever – or ever will – find ourselves in. It’s one thing to say, “I am content, even though my boyfriend broke up with me.” Or, “Even though I make $25,000 a year less than what I want, I will still content myself in the Lord.”
It’s quite another to say, “I am in prison. My stomach hurts from hunger. My skin itches from lice. Any day now, the jailer might come and kill me. Yet despite all this, I am content. I want for nothing.”
Wow! What a statement! Saying that one has found the way to be content in any circumstance is, on the face of it, a bold statement to make. But it’s all the more bold when we consider who it was coming from.
If Paul can endure all he endured and still be content, what’s stopping you and I from being content? Odds are, we’re not being threatened with execution or stoning or starvation. Odds are good that we probably have enough to meet at least the barebones material needs of our lives.
So if Paul can be content in a Roman prison, why can’t we be content in our lives?
The answer is simple: because we are not looking in the right place!
If Paul had looked to his situations for contentment, he would have ridden a never-ending cycle of boom and bust. When he was well-received by the Church, he would have been happy. But when he was persecuted and thrown in prison for preaching Christ, he would have been unhappy.
He would have yearned to just get out of prison; he would have spent every waking hour focusing on how – if he could just be on the other side of those bars, able to feel the sun and go wherever he wanted – he would be content.
So what is the secret to contentment in ALL circumstances? If it isn’t looking to our circumstances to make us happy, what is it?
Paul gives us that answer, too.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Boom. I know we’ve all seen that verse before. It’s plastered all over shirts and posters and bumper stickers. Usually, it’s overlaid on top of some image of a woman taking a basketball shot or a guy lifting weights.
But these things sell short the promise and weight of this verse. We’ve seen it so many times that our knee-jerk reaction is often, “Yeah, yeah. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Yada yada yada.”
Yet if we stop to really consider and analyze it, we’ll find – hidden in plain sight – nothing less than the secret to being content.
Think about it: I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
The very fact of this verse ought to rock us to our core.
Did you know that there is NOTHING you cannot bear with the help of Jesus Christ? Your debt, your sickness, your divorce, your failings, your bankruptcy, your (fill in the blank) – all of these things are bearable. And not only are they bearable, but you can find contentment in them.
If Paul could be content in Roman prison, you can be content in your situation. If Paul was content even when execution was the fate set before his eyes, then you can be content as well.
I say this not as a pep-talk nor as an admonition. The last – believe me, the last – thing I want to do is to sound like I’m talking down to you. I’m certainly not! Rather, I want you to know that this level of contentment, of freedom, of satisfaction, and of peace is available to you if you are a follower of Jesus.
Even if you’re not a follower of Christ, you can make your decision today – you can choose to turn to Him and follow Him – and He will make this available to you as well.
When we really stop to think about it, this is the true “Prosperity Gospel.” Here in the United States, we have a real problem on our hands as a Church. There are preachers – towering figures, some of whom are very nearly household names – that will claim up and down that God always wants to bless you with better circumstances. Many have called this the “Prosperity Gospel.”
‘He wants to bless you with a mansion, with a car, with a big paycheck, with glowing health,’ they say.
But this is wrong. The true “Prosperity Gospel” is laid out before our eyes right here: I can do all things through him who strengthens me. So, so often, God does not change our circumstances. So, so often, our troubles remain just as real after we’ve prayed, fasted, and sought God earnestly. But they do not need to get the best of us. They do not need to steal our joy.
Believer, we have within us the One who can grant contentment in all things. We have God, our Father, and He is more than capable of strengthening us into contentment.
All we need do is turn to Him in seriousness and trust Him in faith.
Guess what? If you pray to Him but have no intention of receiving His instruction or obeying what He says, then you’re probably going to come up empty. Will He still be with you? Yes. But you will not feel that overriding, all-consuming peace and contentment that comes with a life that is sold-out for the Lord.
Turn to Him.
Turn to Him in full, and trust that He holds you in the palm of His hand. Trust that the Lord of all creation can and will bless you with contentment. Seek after God’s transformation of your mind rather than transformation of your circumstances.
You’ll be surprised at what happens. All of this goes on in your heart, right down at the core of who you are.
Once you’ve fully trusted Him and sold out to Him, the sickness won’t seem quite as scary. Financial woes will seem temporary and earthly. Someday, you know in your heart of hearts, you will be rid of them. Singleness feels less weighty, less lonely. Dark days don’t seem so dark any longer.
Brethren, this is the message that is so often missing in our lives today: that you can be content no matter your circumstances. If you rest in Christ, if you put all you have in Him, you will receive the peace that only He can give. He waits for you to simply shoulder everything onto Him, to turn to Him and to submit fully to Him.
Admittedly, this is not easy. Sometimes, I think it would be easier if God had just handed us a checklist of stuff – a take and bake recipe, if you will – to contentment in all circumstances. But that isn’t how it works.
Instead, it requires effort. It requires doing things that go against what your fleshly instincts tell you to. It requires you to call upon the power of the Holy Spirit and then live in that power. It requires your willingness to obey. It requires long hours of pressing into Him in prayer and in seeking.
But in the end, it is all worth it.
In the end, you will find Christ’s satisfaction, no matter what season of life you might be in.
If you seek Him with all your heart, you will find Him. You will then truly be able to do all things through Him, because He strengthens you. Even if He does not change your circumstances, He promises rest and peace. He promises life.
He promises that He will grant you freedom from the fears of this life, if only you will press hard into Him.
If you do that, you will have found the secret to being content… no matter what.