Can you say with the Apostle Paul, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances…”?
Life holds seasons of change for everyone. There will always be ups and downs – fluctuations and changes in feelings, experiences, and responses.
When things are favorable, it is easy to be happy and content.
But when circumstances are adverse and our plans go awry, we feel discouraged, depressed, or dismayed.
How can we live with a sense of stability, inner quietness, and peace in the light of such unpredictableness?
Perhaps no one in the Bible faced as many changing circumstances as the Apostle Paul.
He was praised and hated. He was welcomed in some towns and stoned in others. He was buffeted by Satan, beaten, whipped, and shipwrecked. He had a thorn in the flesh that God would not remove.
It was in prison – a place that many despair – that he wrote his letter to the Philippians. As he concluded what often is referred to as “the epistle of joy,” Paul revealed the cornerstone of his ability to endure unstable, hard times without being conquered by them:
“… I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (Phil. 4:11-12).
Overcoming ups and downs is a learning process. When Paul was saved on the Damascus road, he did not automatically know how to deal with change. He learned these things.
We cannot foresee what we will face in the future. Many situations that affect us are out of our control.
Many people have the false idea that when they give their lives to Christ everything will improve.
But God has something better for us. Once we are saved, He has only begun His goal to conform us into the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ.
He does not want us to reach some plateau where we feel complacent or satisfied, where all is comfort and ease. In a fallen world, that will not happen because of sin’s corruption. And God knows that change brings confrontation that often is needed to grow us in our relationship with Christ.
It is guaranteed we will face a life that is constantly changing. Our bodies age. Cars and houses deteriorate. The economy fluctuates. Our feelings and relationships shift.
One week everything is fine in your business. Then suddenly a crisis in another part of the world places your company in a fight for survival.
A marriage may appear sound on the surface, but one day the apparent harmony quickly vanishes.
Your children seem well behaved at twelve years old; but by the time they are thirteen years old, they act rebellious, indifferent, and ungrateful.
Similar fluctuations can occur in our spiritual lives.
One day you read your Bible, pray, God seems close, and everything is fine.
Then, without warning, you hit a dry spell. Your prayers seem futile. You still read the Bible and pray, but there is no sense of intimacy with God.
These vacillating periods do not mean we are backslidden. Like Paul, we can learn valuable lessons. The result of learning these lessons in seasons of change is a life of peace and contentment. Paul said, “I’ve learned to be content.”
Are you content when you have unmet needs, things are down, and everything seems to be getting worse? Or do you get depressed, anxious, and hard to live with?
Most of us respond to the circumstances of life emotionally rather than spiritually.
But if our daily decisions and actions are based on emotions, we will never be able to experience true spiritual contentment.
You may have a situation at home that is very difficult. You may face unfair pressure at work. Your debts may mount each week. Someone may be unfairly persecuting you.
The natural response is restlessness, anxiety, and uncertainty. But God wants you to be content and respond in His way.
Paul sometimes enjoyed abundance – more than enough to meet his needs and desires. At other times he lacked even the basics.
But whether a little or a lot, he learned to be content in every situation.
Genuine contentment is realized when we are able to live with a sense of inner quietness and peace while in the midst of turbulent situations – when our desires and needs are not being fulfilled.
Are we content when we face a financial need and do not see any solution?
Do we worry even when we have a tremendous amount of abundance, prosperity, and wealth?
Whether we have much or little, discontent, strife, stress, and frustration affect everyone.
Many people are caught in the deception of “greener pastures”: “If only I could secure that job, things would change.” “If only I could find the right mate, my circumstances would improve.”
But greener pastures are never as lush as they appear. Our perspective is tainted by our ambition or covetousness.
Some people think positive confessions will solve their predicaments. They think: “I can do all things.”
But our sufficiency is in Christ, not ourselves or even our words.
Hardships, trials, heartaches, burdens, suffering, loss, and death are real; and all the positive confessions we can muster will not diminish their seriousness. Our trust is in God, not our confession. He alone is sovereign over time, man, and circumstances.
Paul says the secret to peace, contentment, and stability is not that “I” can do everything but that “I can do all things through Christ” (Phil. 4:13).
Nothing is so freeing, strengthening, and energizing as the freedom that comes when we learn the secret that Christ is in the midst of our circumstances and our power comes from Him.
Our circumstances may remain the same; but Christ sustains us, indwells us, and infuses us with His presence.
When we have His inner peace, quietness, and contentment, the storms may blow fiercely; but they cannot blow us off course.
Though in a prison cell, Paul was not conquered. He was convinced Christ would strengthen him for every need and use his problems as the springboard for His supernatural purpose.
The secret to facing the ups and downs is learning to bring God’s power into our weakness.
Depending on God’s power in our weakness enables us to be content with weakness, persecution, insult, trials, rejection, or any unsettling irritation.
Leaning on God’s power in our lives enables us to function through the power of God, not through our weakness.
When His supernatural power is released in our circumstance, we can endure and triumph. Even if our problem doesn’t change, we have the peace that Christ is in control. Our times are in His hands.
His presence in us equals His power through us.
Because of our personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we respond to life’s circumstances on the basis of truth, not feelings.
If there was a single situation that could defeat us, then God could not be trusted and He would not be faithful.
Paul knew God’s faithfulness. Even though he had been stoned, beaten, shipwrecked, jailed, rejected, and hungry, he had never been abandoned by God. The Lord had never failed him, never disappointed him.
This is why Paul wrote: “…I am well content with weaknesses, …insults, …distresses, …persecutions, …difficulties …” (2 Cor. 12:10).
Can you say with Paul, “I am content with being weak, insulted, rejected, being falsely accused, persecuted, misunderstood, and not having my desires fulfilled”?
When you received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, He came to live in your life, to express Himself through you, to exhibit His power, to freely extend His grace.
Now we must learn to respond on the basis of our position in Him, our resources in Him, our privilege in Him.
The question you must ask is: “Do I really want to face these ever-changing circumstances with contentment?”
If you want to be content, you must start by submitting your will to His will.
This does not mean you give up to your circumstances, but you give in to Christ!
Submission to Him is the first step because it is the plan and purpose of God to conform us to the likeness of His Son. In time we may learn that some of our circumstances were arranged by God!
When we submit to Him, we say, “Lord, I yield my life to You. Whatever You choose to send is all right.”
Your alternative is to fight, resist, worry or be angry, bitter, resentful and try to manipulate people or situations.
But none of these reactions bring true contentment. The only path to contentment is to surrender to Him.
Once we yield to Him, we must trust in God to use every circumstance for His purpose.
Fully trusting Him – relinquishing all to His loving care and control – will cultivate genuine contentment. It is the eye of the storm. When you have put down the old attitudes of bitterness, resentment, hostility, and anger, you have turned everything over to God, resting in His power and wisdom.
There is a great liberty that comes from submitting to Him and trusting and resting in His sufficiency each day.
God can be trusted; and He can give you contentment in any circumstance, for He is able to provide every need.
He is the stable Rock Who will not be moved or defeated by changing circumstances. His unchanging and unfailing love will undergird and empower you, stabilizing your walk in any situation. You “can do all things through Him who strengthens” you (Phil. 4:13).
Dr. Charles F. Stanley