Tuesday evening I was running and listening to a sermon on contentment by Josh Patterson of the Village Church (the sermon can be found here). I used to run, watch a muted tv show, and also listen to sermons – all at the same time. I’m constantly the multitasker, even in what I consider to be “me time,” or “alone time.” Recently I’ve realized that I need to focus more during that time, and so now I just run and listen to sermons… it’s really brought about a lot of breakthrough in my life. I love the changes that take place in my heart when I am constantly in prayer, listening to sermons, or reading the Word.
I must have put the sermon on my ipod with purpose, but I had forgotten about it until it jumped out at me as the one to listen to right then. Over the past few weeks, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be content (as I’m sure can be seen from previous posts). God keeps directing me to Philippians 4, and other epistles that Paul wrote… I’m learning so much about true contentment and what it means to find complete satisfaction in God alone. All of it has been amazing – I’m always constantly overwhelmed by how God speaks to me… how He uses His Word, His Church, and His world to imprint new things into my heart – things that I hope are engraved there forever. But Tuesday was really special. It was one of those defining moments that I think I’ll never forget. It was a moment when an important truth that completely changes the way I view life was illuminated…
Josh Patterson read Philippians 4:11-13 (NLT) “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”] As I heard it again, and he mentioned that Paul didn’t show a preference for either plenty or lack, I realized that BOTH are hard places to be content in. Contentment is a learned response, regardless of whether you have little or whether you have much.
I’m realizing that it’s probably far harder to be content when I have all that I want, because then, in my plenty, I lack the desperation and knowledge that He’s all I have and could ever need. I’m now praying that since God has taught me to trust and to be content in the desert or hard seasons, that He’ll give me the opportunity to learn to be content (and to practice contentment) when I have enough, or even plenty. I think I’ve always read Paul’s words in Philippians 4 to mean that we have to learn to be content when we are in lack, but I think I’ve realized that what we truly have to learn is how to be satisfied in Him when we don’t lack any good thing. That’s the hard part. I’ve spent more time in prayer in the last month than I have in years… Now I just need to make it a lifestyle and stay there.
I think I understand now, more than ever, why the rich young man in Luke 18 didn’t understand what Jesus was trying to tell him – he thought he had all that he needed. Even when presented with the prospect of eternal life, he didn’t understand the necessity of discontentment WITHOUT Christ. And he couldn’t imagine that Christ could fulfill him and be the place he found contentment if he didn’t have physical security, his possessions, and his stature in the community.
Even WITH/IN Christ, it takes His strength for us to rely on Him and crave Him, even when we’re in a season of blessing. The proper context for Philippians 4:13 is that it is Christ who empowers us to face any situation and be content in both the experience and the outcome, whether it be pain or pleasure. I think it might be possible that the truest test of faith isn’t where you run when you’re hurting, but where you abide when everything seems to be going your way, the path seems clear, and the future is bright.