Thursday, May 27, 2010


"...For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." - (Philippians 4:11-13)

I think for most of my life I have confused contentment with complacency. The differences are obvious, of course, but somehow I've missed the point of what Paul speaks of in Phillipians 4 when he says that he has "learned the secret of being content in any and every situation."

A quick summary of complacency is - "Stop caring and you'll feel a whole lot better."

Most of my life I've found myself falling back on this mantra whenever things don't go my way or life offers up one of those unwanted surprises. My reaction has often been to pull back from whatever is causing me pain and to retreat emotionally, if not physically. Someone hurts me, I ignore them. Someone insults me, I make up my mind never to talk to them again. Someone injures my pride, I begin to cut them off from the part of myself that once cared about them.

Of course, this reaction is in direct conflict with the instructions that we've received from Jesus. He tells those of us who intend to follow Him that whenever someone insults us we should bless them. When someone hurts us, we're to pray for them. When someone injures our pride, we're meant to humble ourselves and forgive them anyway.

This is where following Jesus becomes more than difficult, it begins to be seem flat out impossible. I just don't have that in me. At least not right away. I may be able to forgive someone who insults me after a few weeks, or months, but not instantly. My ability to forgive is hindered by my need to justify myself. Sometimes, as strange as it sounds, I feel the need to hang on to the pain longer than necessary. I suppose to justify my own sense of injustice or to make sure that the other person can see just how deeply they've hurt me - and perhaps increase their sense of guilt over what they've done to someone as innocent and kind as me - I allow my wounds to fester and I withold forgiveness.

What would it look like for me to really respond in love to someone when they insult me or injure me? I wonder if I can actually learn to follow Jesus in this way and turn the other cheek instead of harboring anger and resentment as long as possible before I allow myself to forgive.

When Paul talks about contentment, he's speaking of trusting God so completely that nothing can shake him. His peace is not dependent upon his circumstance. His confidence in God is not changed by the environment he's in. He is fully resting on God and his joy is not influenced by what people say about him or how much money is in his pocket.

Many of us are fond of quoting the very end of this passage in Phillipians. I know that when I was a teenager this was my life verse: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Phillipians 4:13)

I used to believe that verse meant that, whatever I wanted to happen for my life, God would make it happen if I just had enough faith. Instead, the verse is saying the exact polar opposite. It's saying that God will give me the faith and the strength I need to be happy and content with whatever circumstance I find myself in.

A better paraphrase might me: "I can endure anything life throws at me, even if I never get my way or live out my dreams, because the power of Jesus lives in me and all of my hope is in Him alone."

Lately I've been wrestling against my own complacent attitudes. I've wanted to pull away from everyone and everything that causes me pain. I've witheld forgiveness from people who've hurt my feelings instead of letting go and asking Jesus to give me the grace to love and forgive.

Paul's words here are compelling because they suggest to me that there is a secret I need to learn; How to be content in every situation. But, to learn that secret I first have to abandon my own philosophy of complacency and emotional retreat.



Traeshawn said...

Man. This one just...hurts. That paraphrase...."even if I never get my way or live out my dreams". It's just painful

This Mom's Heart said...

I am working on a blog post about the dangers of complacency, and I came across your blog while researching a verse. This really blessed me and convicted me- so thank you for your words. It definitely hit me where it hurts.

AskThePhatMan said...

I am attaching a link to this particular blog in my most recent blog. Feel free to critique mine. Yours seems quite good.