“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)
Like many of you, I have found myself struggling with numerous things during this current trial, but one struggle that has started to surface for me the longer this trial goes on is the struggle to be content. This is often the case with any extended tribulation. Often when difficulties begin, we comfort ourselves with the hope that this trouble will be brief, and we will resume our regularly scheduled lives momentarily. This allows us to simply buckle down and get through it, but when a trial lingers, we are forced to engage with questions surrounding our contentment as we come to terms with the fact that “normal” (whatever that looked like) may be further removed from our current circumstances than we originally thought.
As I strive to pursue contentment during this time, I have found myself revisiting Philippians chapter 4, and the wonderful little book by Thomas Watson called, The Art of Divine Contentment. Watson was an English pastor in the seventeenth century, and his work is a treasure trove of wisdom when it comes to the topic of contentment. I have been reminded of 2 things contentment requires as I have spent time with Philippians 4:11-13 and Thomas Watson’s book.
1. Contentment requires learning
Paul’s first statement in verse 11 makes it clear that contentment is something he had to learn; it did not come naturally. As Christians we often hear about contentment, we read about contentment, and, maybe, we even study the theme of contentment, but learning contentment involves not just hearing, but being taught. As Watson said, “It is not enough for Christians to hear their duty, but they must learn their duty.” We do not want to be Christians who hear a lot, but learn little. While hearing about contentment is a crucial part of learning, the Lord also teaches us through circumstances. Paul learned contentment by having little and having plenty.
Learning to be content also means learning the difference between crying out to the Lord and being discontent. Contentment does not mean that we cease crying out to God or praying for our situation to improve. As Watson said, “Here is the difference between a holy complaint and a discontented complaint; in the one we complain to God, in the other we complain of God.” A content Christian does not ignore or romanticize the very real pains in his/her life; rather, a content Christian cries out to the Lord while maintaining contentment in the Lord’s nature and works.
We are experiencing a season right now when the Lord has brought us low. We are lacking in many things that we once enjoyed and even counted on. The Lord is teaching us contentment in this season, and we need to learn this because it does not come naturally to us. Our Heavenly Father is committed to teaching us to find contentment in him because he loves us and is faithful in teaching his people.
2. Contentment requires the Lord’s strength
The secret to Paul’s contentment was the Lord’s strength. It is the Lord who strengthened Paul to be content. Paul was not strengthened for contentment by his own wisdom, grit, self-help guru, or circumstances. Paul was strengthened by nothing less than the sovereign power of Almighty God, Creator and sustainer of the universe. Only the Lord’s strength can sustain is in the midst of seasons of plenty, and seasons of paucity. As Watson said, “The ship that lies at anchor may sometimes be a little shaken, but never sinks; flesh and blood may have its fears and disquiets, but grace doth check them: a Christian, having cast anchor in heaven, his heart never sinks.” We have a great High Priest in heaven, Jesus Christ, who is the anchor of the soul (Heb. 6:19). Our only hope for contentment in this season lies in in the primacy and persistent love and mercy of our great God, and His Son, Jesus Christ. May we learn contentment in this season from our great Teacher, and may we be strengthened with the Lord’s great power for these trying days.