Finding Contentment with Your Circumstances

Discontentment is a universal struggle for human beings. We don’t seem to be very good at being very satisfied with the particular circumstances that the flow of life has brought our way.

As a human being, I am not exempt from the struggle. I have often been in situations that weren’t really too awful, but my mind had a creative way of thinking of reasons to be discontent. When I should have been content with where I was and what I was doing, I instead desired to be elsewhere, doing something else.

To be sure, discontentment isn’t wholly bad. Some discontentment has led to inventions and ideas that transformed the world for the better. But I have experienced–and you have too–a type of discontentment that I know isn’t healthy for my growth as a Christian. This form of discontentment is a failure to recognize the sovereignty of God–that God is in control of all things–and to realize that God has good purposes for me to fulfill in my current state.

The Apostle Paul was well-acquainted with this human struggle. In his letter to the church in Philippi, he wrote that he had “learned” to be content in whatever circumstances he found himself (4:11). Notice how Paul makes it abundantly clear that his ability to be content did not come naturally. He was not born with this capacity, nor did he receive it when he was born again. Rather, over the course of his following of Jesus, he had “learned” to be content. It took time, as all permanent learning takes. It required trial and error. But he did eventually arrive at this high level of spiritual maturity.

Paul continues in this short letter to describe some of these circumstances: “I know both how to be abased [live with humble means], and I know how to abound [live with prosperity]: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (4:12).

Now, when Paul wrote this letter, he was currently in a position of “humble means,” of going hungry and suffering needs. He was in prison in Rome for Christ’s sake (1:7). He experienced loneliness as he was isolated from the churches he had planted on his missionary journeys. Nevertheless, Paul had learned to be content. He knew the secret of contentment: He could endure “all things” through Christ who gave him the necessary strength (4:13).

Earlier in Philippians, Paul provides an additional hint as to how he could find contentment in his circumstances. How? He knew that his circumstances–his being in prison–hadn’t hindered the spread of the gospel. On the contrary, his circumstances had occurred for “the furtherance of the gospel” (1:12). God’s mission to save the world through Paul’s ministry wasn’t going to be thwarted.

How exactly had his imprisonment led to the message of Christ being spread? Paul mentions two ways. First, through his imprisonment in Rome, Paul was able to tell the good news of Christ to Roman authorities. The gospel had spread to the Roman officials (1:13), and some of these powerful political figures had accepted the message of Christ (4:22).

The second way that Paul’s imprisonment had resulted in the furtherance of the gospel was that many of the brethren in the Lord, seeing the confidence of Paul to stand for Christ in the face of a death-or-life scenario, had “much more bold to speak the word without fear” (1:14). Their thinking was simply, “If Paul is willing to endure such great persecution, why should we fear when ungodly men threaten to kill us?”

Relating this to finding contentment, Paul understood that it’s much easier to find contentment with our circumstances if, by being in those circumstances, the gospel has been furthered. Similarly, in our own lives, our circumstances, though they might be unpleasant, have resulted in God’s mission increasing in this world, not decreasing. This might not always be immediately obvious. But if we look carefully enough, we will probably discover ways in which God’s purposes have been served, or will be served, through our circumstances.

So, how can we find contentment in our circumstances? Become convinced that contentment is a learned virtue, not an innate ability (4:11). Realize that contentment can only be achieved through Christ (4:13). Look for ways that the gospel has been spread through your circumstances (1:12-14). By doing this, we will discover true and lasting contentment with where God has placed us at the present time.

- Grant Ralston

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