How to Be Content in Any and Every Circumstance



For most of us, contentment is connected to circumstances. When things are going well, we’re on a high. Then life takes a bad turn and we’re cast into the depths of despair. We’re emotional roller-coasters, going up and down with the changing circumstances of life. Sound like you? Well, it doesn't have to be this way. There is another way (and I don’t mean frontal lobotomy). Enter the Apostle Paul:

Philippians 4:10-13 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for 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.

Paul wrote this letter from prison where he was incarcerated on account of Christ. His words in the above passage are an expression of gratitude to God over the generous financial gift the Philippian church had sent to Paul as a way of support.

The important point for us to ponder is Paul’s disclosure that his contentment is dislocated from his circumstances. He has learned in whatever situation, whether it be good or bad, to be content. On his roller-coaster of life he moves from being brought low to abounding, from facing plenty and hunger and need to abundance, yet throughout it all he remains content. Wouldn’t you like that kind of stability; constant joy in any and every circumstance?

This is not to deny the complexity of our emotions, or ignore the reality that this fallen world contains much to be grieved over. The Apostle Paul described himself as sorrowful yet always rejoicing (2 Corinthians 6:10). In this very letter, he expressed how he would have experienced sorrow upon sorrow at the death of Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:27). He was not some staunch, head in the sand stoic trying to ignore the pain of life. He was a man who grieved deeply over evil, yet he was not undone by evil. In the midst of the evil circumstances of life, he had learned to be content. Sorrowful yet always rejoicing.

I myself have tasted this reality. I can recall the time when Amber, my pet dog of 12 years and a beloved part of our family, died. I came home after bowling with a friend to find her stiff lifeless body. The grief that night was very real, and yet in the midst of my tears, I felt a strange sense of joy in Christ. Contentment in Christ didn’t take away the grief, but it carried me through. Sorrowful yet always rejoicing.

And then there was George Mueller, the 19th Century Baptist pastor famous for his orphanages. After 39 years of marriage, his wife Mary was diagnosed with rheumatic fever and died. To get a taste of George’s great love for Mary, listen to his words. ‘Thousands of times I told her—“My darling, I never saw you at any time, since you became my wife, without my being delighted to see you.”’ (Mueller, A Narrative of Some of the Lord's Dealing with George Muller, 2:392-393). And at the time of her diagnosis he said, “My heart was nigh to be broken on account of the depth of my affection” (Mueller, Narrative, 2:398). This was a man who loved his wife deeply; her death was to him a great loss indeed. Yet in the midst of his grief, 20 minutes after she had died, he got down on his knees and thanked God for her release, and for having taken her to himself. Here was a man like Paul. He had learned the secret of being content in any and every situation. The following words show how this happened for him.

'The last portion of scripture which I read to my precious wife was this: “The Lord God is a sun and shield, the Lord will give grace and glory, no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” Now, if we have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, we have received grace, we are partakers of grace, and to all such he will give glory also. I said to myself, with regard to the latter part, “no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly”—I am in myself a poor worthless sinner, but I have been saved by the blood of Christ; and I do not live in sin, I walk uprightly before God. Therefore, if it is really good for me, my darling wife will be raised up again; sick as she is. God will restore her again. But if she is not restored again, then it would not be a good thing for me. And so my heart was at rest. I was satisfied with God. And all this springs, as I have often said before, from taking God at his word, believing what he says.' (Mueller, Narrative, 2:745)

George wasn’t a passive raft being pushed about at the whim of the swells and currents of life circumstances, as we all too often are. Oh no, he was active. In the midst of the storm threatening to drive him to despair, he put up the sails, took hold of the tiller and directed himself to safety. He engaged his mind by meditating on the truths of God’s word and believingly applying God’s promises to himself in the midst of his bad circumstances. In so doing he found his satisfaction in God. Sorrowful yet always rejoicing.

This is not natural to us. Paul himself said it was something he had learned. He had ‘learned the secret…’ And so we must learn this too. The secret he spelled out with these words, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” ‘All things’ doesn’t mean jumping over a skyscraper or turning inside out; no in context it means being content in any and every situation.

Maybe you are thinking, well that’s all well and good for Paul. He was an apostle; a mighty man of God. But I’m just a weak, run of the mill, pleb Christian, not a superstar of the faith. The good news is that it doesn’t matter who you are. All of us can do this because the strength that it takes is not ours, but Christ’s. It is through Jesus and His strength by which He strengthens you that you can be content. So will you trust Him? Will you draw near to Him through His word like George Mueller did and be strengthened? Don’t be passively driven by your circumstances. Get active and set your hope on Christ and find satisfaction in Him.

‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice’ (Philippians 4:4). You don’t have to be in despair. You can rejoice through Him who strengthens you.

I selected this post to be featured on my blog’s page at Prayer Blogs.

2 comments:

  1. Hey Ben, nice post. This is a good one - especially for us over here at the moment. Bless you, Nick.

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  2. This reminded me of your sermon on Psalm 43 a year ago, its a great thought to have contentment dislocated from circumstances. Psalm 43: Why are you so downcast, O my Soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my saviour and my God.

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