Seeing the goodness of God.

Series: Contentment. Part

In the last three devotions, we’ve been looking at the value of cultivating contentment in our lives. In the first devotion, “Godliness with contentment is great gain”, I wrote:

As hard as it is to see, we are often frustrated and dissatisfied with life because fundamentally we don’t trust how God is taking care of us. We depend too much on outward things for our joy and peace.

 But at the core of a discontented heart is unbelief and rebellion against God’s rule in my life, which includes what I have, who I am, and the high and low points of my life. We will only be contented people if we recognize and confess the sin of discontentment, replacing it with a deep trust in God’s goodness and sufficiency.”

In this final devotion on contentment, I will be focusing on how to replace discontentment with a deep trust in God’s goodness and sufficiency.

Training our eyes.

I’ve often noticed that my heart grows discontented when I become too accustomed to the goodness of God and start taking it for granted:

I no longer notice the bright moon above the front door greeting me when I arrive home at night.

I ignore the little birds chirping on my window sill in the morning.

I don’t see God’s provision in the delicious food in front of me or his kindness in the smile on our Golden Retriever’s face.

I’m distracted when I hear another story of God’s redemptive work in someone’s life.

Discontent creeps in quietly when our spiritual eyes are dull to the goodness of God all around us. It’s as though we are wearing blinders. Sometimes our eyes are unable to see and appreciate the goodness of God, because we are too distracted to see the powerful evidence of Him right in front of us.

Today we will use Psalm 145 to train our eyes to see five demonstrations of God’s goodness. It is a wonderful Psalm of praise that David sung to remind himself of a time when all people will join together in recognizing and worshipping the Lord of Lords.

Psalm 145

I will exalt you, my God the King;
I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you
and extol your name for ever and ever.

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
They tell of the power of your awesome works—
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.

The Lord is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made.
10 All your works praise you, Lord;
your faithful people extol you.
11 They tell of the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your might,
12 so that all people may know of your mighty acts
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures through all generations.

The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
and faithful in all he does.
14 The Lord upholds all who fall
and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
he hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.

21 My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.
Let every creature praise his holy name
for ever and ever.

  1. Seeing the creativity of God.

This Psalm is an acrostic poem, the verses of which begin with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This in itself is a wonderful testimony to the creativity and order of God, who has created human beings in his own image to create beautiful art, music and poetry. As God speaks to us through language, so too David creates a God-honouring poem with words, ink and papyrus. Three thousand years later, we are still praising God through David’s poem.

  1. Seeing the majesty of the King! (Ps 145:1-2; 13)

A foolproof way to cure spiritual myopia is to lift our eyes to the exalted King in heaven. David piled praises on God, declaring His greatness and worthiness. It is ungrateful and dishonouring to withhold our praise from the legitimate King of the universe.

Jesus Christ is God’s installed King! The nations are his inheritance and the very ends of the earth are his possession (Ps 2:68). It is only the Lord Jesus who is worthy to be praised and worshipped in this way, not ourselves or any other power on this earth. Yet paradoxically, Jesus is also the King who is near to his people, the gentle and lowly King who rode through Jerusalem on a donkey (Matt 21:5).

Do we see Christ as the Warrior King who must reign in heaven until he has put all his enemies under his feet?(1 Cor 15:25) Do we see Him as the righteous King who will soon ride out of heaven with his army of angels? His return to earth will signal the end of all false powers and He will be recognized by all as “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS! (Rev 19:16)

Lest we get blinded by the power plays of politicians and the Prince of this world, we’d better train our eyes on the everlasting King that Daniel foretold:

“And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom,

That all the peoples, nations and men of every language

Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion

Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one

Which will not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:14)

  1. Seeing God’s generational acts of redemption! (Ps 145:4)

David looked to God’s great redemption acts which spanned generations: “One generation shall praise your works to another.”

To see God’s wonderful saving works more clearly, why not ask an older person to inspire you with memories of how Christ redeemed them and to recall the victories that Christ has given them over sin, Satan and the world?

Let’s ask our children and grandchildren, or the teens and children in our church to tell us of the fresh and new acts of grace that God is doing in their lives. Let’s never become insular, bored or stale about declaring God’s redemptive works to one another!

Spurgeon directs our eyes to see each generation as an essential chapter in God’s book of redemptive history:

The generations shall herein unite: together they shall make up an extraordinary history. Each generation shall contribute its chapter, and all the generations together shall compose a volume of matchless character.”

  1. Seeing His wonderful provision! (Ps 145:6-7; 15-16)

If we don’t want to become blind to the goodness of God, we must talk to one another often about His mighty works of redemption!

Do we see God as the Creator who opens his hand to satisfy the desires of every living thing? (Ps 145:16) Do we see Him as the source of all our daily needs? (Ps 145:15-16) Do we see God’s abundant goodness on earth?

David had eyes to see the beautiful care and tender mercies that God pours into all that He does and makes. All of creation is in David’s view, not just his own life. As Jesus would later say, “God also cares for the birds and the grass of the field” (Matt 6:26-30). He cares for all His creation.

If our Creator’s generous provision no longer thrills us, is it possible that we’ve been spending too much time distracted by screens and devices? Spending more time in nature will open our eyes to see how awesomely God has created all things out of nothing and how He upholds all things by his power.

This BBC video of a little puffer fish reminded me this week of God’s wonderful works of creation, most of which we will never see with our own eyes.

  1. Seeing God’s kindness and justice (Ps 145:8-9; 13; 17-21)

David looked to YHWH’s own description of Himself in Exodus to describe God’s character:

“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Ex 34:6).

David saw God’s kindness and justice (or righteousness) as the basis for his assurance that “the Lord is near to all those who call on Him in truth” (Ps 145:18). Because of God’s kindness and justice, David could be confident that His God always watches over those who love him and that He will judge the wicked (Ps 145:20). God’s kindness and his justice are two facets of his goodness.

There is no greater demonstration of God’s kindness and justice than Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for sinners like you and me (Rom 3:26). “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).

But do we always see that the Lord is good to “all that He has made?” David saw that God is not partial or stingy in handing out his compassion and kindness. He is a gracious, promise-keeping God (Ps 145:13). He is the same God whom Peter describes a thousand years later: The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

David saw that God’s kindness is especially evident to those who fall and fail, yet keep looking up and putting their trust in Him (Ps 145:14).

Prayer

Father, give us eyes to see your goodness. Take off the blinders of our sinful desires, discontent and grumbling. Show us your creativity. Show us your majesty as King and the beauty of your everlasting Kingdom. Show us your mighty acts of redemption that span across generations. Give us eyes to see your wonderful provision, compassion and kindness to all that you have made. Train our eyes not to doubt or be distracted from your goodness. Give us eyes to see our struggles, sins and sorrows in the light of your goodness, grace and glory. Give us an enduring vision of your goodness so that we will rest in contentment in any and every situation. Amen.

My youngest daughter sent me this song about the goodness of God in all of creation.

I know that my Redeemer lives!

Series: Contentment, part 3. by Rosie moore.

“The wisdom of God moves us from demanding from God what we think we deserve to thanking God for all that we’ve received that we do not deserve” (Nancy Guthrie, on Job). I think this is the believer’s key to contentment, especially in the eye of the storm.

How easy it must have been for Job to curse God and blame Him for all his calamities! Yet, through all his pain and confusion, Job continued to struggle with his God for thirty-seven chapters until the Lord revealed himself to Job in the final five. The more Job understood about who God is in his basic character, the more he could accept what God gave or took away—even though he didn’t understand it.

In the eye of the storm.

Job is the story about a real man who probably lived between the time of Abraham and Moses. But Job is much more than the story of an individual who suffered unjustly and triumphed over adversity. Job gives believers in every century a blueprint for trust and contentment in the eye of the worst storm imaginable. His testimony of hope in his Redeemer lives on forever.

The book of Job encapsulates all our deepest dreads. Are you at all familiar with those negative thoughts that grow into a worst-case scenario in your imagination? Psychologists call it ‘catastrophizing’. For instance, your child’s nosebleed must mean leukemia. Or news of a pandemic turns into the death of you and your whole family. Or a blue tick on Whatsapp means lifelong rejection! The difference is that Job actually experienced several worst-case-catastrophes all at once.

But in the middle of Job’s desperate anguish, as he struggled to find the Lord in his pain, and while responding to his ignorant friends’ simplistic accusations, Job was able to speak assuredly of restoration and resurrection life. Come hell or high water, Job knew what he knew about God’s redemption.

When I was chronically ill a few years ago, Job gave me the words of hope I needed to persevere and remain steadfast in my struggle, even though I didn’t know I would ever recover. Job’s words were,

“I know that my Redeemer lives!”

When his anguish was greatest, Job declared, almost defiantly,

“I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth
26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
27 I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27)

Job continued to put his hope in God’s redemption even if he died in the process: “Though he slay me, yet I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15).

We know that Satan had a destructive purpose in Job’s suffering, namely to destroy Job’s trust in the Lord he loved so much. But God also had a purpose in allowing Satan to harm Job—to grow Job’s trust in the Lord he loved so much. It was God’s good purpose that triumphed in Job’s life.

But if anyone had cause to complain against God; to abandon his faith and call himself an atheist; to grumble and be discontent with his lot, it was Job.

Cause for complaint.

Job was afflicted with terrible sores from head to foot and his skin had blackened with decay (Job 7:530:30). Stripped bare of his family, possessions, honour and health, Job had almost given up hope of God answering his cries for vindication (Job 19:1-24). He even felt that God had turned on him and was punishing him.

Don’t we often think that we are to blame and that God is angry with us when we are in great pain?

Job wasn’t stoical about his suffering. In fact, it’s difficult to be unmoved by the chapters in which he expresses his pain to God. He feels truly God-forsaken:

“And now my life ebbs away;
days of suffering grip me.
17 Night pierces my bones;
my gnawing pains never rest.
18 In his great power God becomes like clothing to me;
he binds me like the neck of my garment.
19 He throws me into the mud,
and I am reduced to dust and ashes.

20 “I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer;
I stand up, but you merely look at me.
(Job 30:16-23).

Moreover, Job’s misery was amplified by windbag friends, who falsely condemned him, offering simplistic and callous explanations of how Job had brought calamity upon himself. These “miserable comforters” built their arguments on false assumptions and half truths about why people experience troubles. Their bad theology led to dangerous conclusions which hurt more than helped Job.

Miserable comforters.

Eliphaz asks Job: “What innocent person ever perished? (Job 4:7). Is not your wickedness great and are not your sins endless?” (Job 22:5)

Bildad asks him: “Does God pervert justice?” (Job 8:3) “The lamp of the wicked is snuffed out… disaster is ready for him when he falls (Job 18:512).

Zophar asks: “Surely God recognizes deceitful men, and when he sees evil, does he not take note? (Job 11:11) The mirth of the wicked is brief, the joy of the godless lasts but a moment” (Job 20:5).

The accusations came thick and fast. By the time they’d finished gaslighting Job, they’d almost snuffed out whatever glimmer of hope was left in him.

A righteous man.

But although Job never claimed to be sinless, he knew in his heart of hearts that his sin hadn’t caused his present trouble (Job 27:5-6). It’s gratifying when God Himself vindicates Job and rebukes his friends, “You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:8). Job was not being punished by God for his sin.

In fact, Job had been a righteous judge, helping widows, the blind, the lame and the needy. All his life he’d protected the vulnerable and been compassionate (Job 29:25). Not only did the community respect Job, but the Lord himself judged him as “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1Job 2:3).

Despite groundless speculation about Job’s pride or unconscious sin, I have scoured the book and found no hint of hidden sin in his life. Scripture consistently portrays Job as a faithful and righteous man in the same category as Noah and Daniel (Ezek 14:14). Moreover, his integrity held up even when he suffered without cause.

In the New Testament, James praises Job as a steadfast man who persevered throughout his ordeal: As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about” (James 5:11).

And so, without any apparent reason, Job lost everything. To make matters worse, he was totally oblivious to what was happening in the spiritual realm (Job 1:12). Even as he sat in the ashes with a bitter wife pouring salt on his wounds and goading him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” Job responded with trust, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:9-10). Even under pressure, Job refused to “sin with his lips.”

Through the entire book, Job didn’t understand the cause of his suffering. He longed to stand up in court and prove his innocence to God (Job 31:35-37). He wanted answers, just as we want answers and reassurances when we are in the eye of the storm.

Questions, questions, questions.

Like Job, we often operate on the assumption that what we need most from God is relief from suffering and answers to our questions… NOW! We feel that we can’t be content until all the loose ends are resolved and we have been restored. Our contentment is conditional.

Job is restored in his lifetime, but through most of the book, Job is waiting for God’s answers and explanations which never come. However, we know that his confusion, struggles and longings were ultimately answered thousands of years later in the Lord Jesus:

  1. Job asks, “How can I bring my case before God and ask Him why?” (Job 9:32-3)

Today, we know the answer: For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5). Because we trust in Jesus, we can approach God confidently and are invited to cast all our cares on Him, because He loves us.

  1. As Job’s life is ebbing away, he asks about the worst-case scenario, “What happens when I die?” (Job 14:14)

Today, we have the words of Christ to stand on, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

  1. After Job’s friends accuse him of sin and wickedness, Job asks, “Who can defend me? Who will argue my case with God?” (Job 16:19-21)

Today, we have the perfect Advocate to save us completely, not only from human accusations, or from Satan’s fiery darts, or the accusations of our emotions, but also from God’s final judgment against our real rebellion and sin. If we are in Christ, we know that God is not punishing us when we suffer, because Christ has taken all the punishment that we deserve.

“For Christ entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence… Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.(Heb 9:247:24-25).

  1. Job asks, “Why even try to be good if the wicked seem to prosper?” (Job 21:7-15).

Today, we have Christ’s eternal perspective: What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? (Matt 16:26).

Ultimately, the reason why a Christian can be content today is not because we are always protected from harm. It’s because we know that we will live beyond dust and ashes and God’s love will never leave us.

Because of Christ, we will never be God-forsaken, no matter how loudly our emotions are screaming that we are (Matt 2:46). Jesus says that our greatest reason to rejoice today is because our names are written in heaven, for all eternity (Luke 10:20). Our souls are safe with him.

Clarity in the eye of the storm.

When we are forced to face our worst fears head-on, and we struggle with God like Job did, we come to see the glory and character of the Lord in the eye of the storm. It’s at this point that our own ideas of what He should be doing in the world and in our lives seem oddly out of place.

Job’s moment of clarity comes when God answers him out of the storm, and Job responds in awe, trust and repentance. It took 42 chapters to get there!

“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:26)

Of course, Job isn’t an easy book to read. Who doesn’t prefer the calm days to the raging storms of life? But I’m glad that God chose to record Job’s life story before any other book in His Word, because Job reminds us that the same God who has lovingly ordered Creation, has also ordered our seasons and circumstances. He is the same Lord that provides for our contentment in any and every situation.

If our contentment always depends on desperately fleeing storms in search of sanctuary, we will never be content in either place, because we have no control over the beginning or ending of the seasons that God has appointed for us.

Contentment comes when we stop fighting to escape the storm, stop yearning for the good old days or a future of ease. Contentment is learned by those who struggle with God and know that their Redeemer lives, now and always.

Christ assures us of his glorious return to earth, which Job had the eyes of faith to foresee. Job imagined his Redeemer-God in glorious flesh standing in victory on a renewed earth! (Job 19:25-27)

Praise God that Christ our Redeemer will stand upon this earth one day, when “the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command” (1 Thess 4:16). Ultimately, it is the Second Coming which gives us the perspective to be content now, even in the eye of the storm.

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power” (1 Cor 15:42-43).

Prayer

Lord, thank you for opening Job’s eyes to see a day when his Saviour would resurrect his dead body into a new body fit for the new heaven and new earth. He longed to gaze upon his Redeemer standing on this earth and making his home with his redeemed people. Just as you did with Job, reveal your character and love to us. Turn our eyes to this same reality so that we will keep trusting and wrestling with you, even in the eye of the storm. Amen.

Sing along to this beautiful song about Job.

Sources on Contentment and Job.

Nancy Guthrie, The Wisdom of God: Seeing Jesus in the Psalms and Wisdom books. Crossway, 2012.

Ash, Christopher, Out of the Storm: Grappling with God in the book of Job. IVP, 2004.

Lydia Brownback, Contentment—A Godly Woman’s Adornment. Crossway, 2008.

Jones, Robert, Contentment—Joy that Lasts. P&R Publishing, 2019.

Hill, Megan, Contentment—Seeing God’s Goodness. P&R Publishing, 2018.

Burroughs, Jeremiah, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (1648). Banner of Truth Trust, reprinted, 2000 .

Ash, Christopher, Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience. Intervarsity Press, 2012.

Kruger, Melissa, The Envy of Eve: Finding Contentment in a Covetous World. Christian Focus Publications, 2012.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me

Series: Contentment.

By Rosie Moore.

How often have you given yourself a pep talk ending with Paul’s words, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength?” I know I have, especially when I’m running on a steep incline, with a rasping sound in my throat and my legs wobbling like jelly!

Surprisingly, Paul pens these words of victory as an old, battle-worn apostle languishing in a Roman prison cell. He is talking about a lasting kind of contentment that doesn’t disappear in the face of deprivation, loss, suffering, persecution and insecurity. Paul is not saying that he can do anything that he sets his mind to. He is saying that by Christ’s strength, he can be peaceful in adversity and humble in prosperity. Surely this is one of the greatest challenges of the Christian life!

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 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. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Phil 4:11-13 ESV).

I have learned the secret of contentment.

What I love about Scripture is its real life biographies. Paul, like all of us, wasn’t born contented. He had to learn to be content.

Many years ago, out of sheer desperation, I bought a cute sounding book called The Contented Little Baby. Written by a know-it-all expert on childrearing, its pages were stuffed with a host of feeding, sleeping, bathing and playing routines that I was supposed to be teaching my four babies, but quite obviously wasn’t.

Far from being contented, my brood spent a high percentage of their days yelling their heads off and grabbing each other’s toys, and to this day I still can’t be sure what restored the peace and what triggered World War 3. Mysteriously, they are now very contented little adults, but that’s only by the grace of God, not my parenting skills!

By the end of reading that book, the only secret I learned was that I was incapable of raising a single contented baby. The author’s advice felt more like boot camp than baby care! But in some respects the book was dead accurate— We are not born content! We learn contentment through training, which is sometimes painful and counter-intuitive. Likewise, I learned the secret of being a mother under pressure, through hands-on experience, not by following a formula.

Paul’s contentment was independent of his personality type and didn’t descend upon him like a dove on the Damascus road. He learned contentment by having a relationship with Christ through the pressures of life. This is good news for us, because it means that we too can learn the secret of true contentment if we stick close to Jesus in any and every situation.

Paul affirms confidently, “I can do all this through Christ who strengthens me.” It’s not as if God wants us to grope about in the winter of our discontent. He wants us to learn to be content by Christ’s strength. On our own, contentment will always remain elusive.

Can you think of any good reason why you and I should not also grasp the truth of contentment and live it out practically, in both abundance and adversity? (Phil 4:12)

The key to contentment.

Knowing Christ is the key to contentment, because it is Jesus who shed his blood to rescue us from the helpless condition of sin, which includes our habitual discontentment.

If we follow Christ, it is He who gives meaning to every step of our life journey. We can be content with what we have, because Christ will never leave us or forsake us (Heb 13:5-6). His grace is always sufficient. That is why Paul’s heart cry in Philippians 3:10 comes first: “I want to know Christ!”

Paul learned to be content in abundance and adversity, finding lasting joy in knowing Christ and pouring out his energy to serve and obey him (Phil 3:12-13). That’s where our true contentment will come from, regardless of our circumstances.

Learning contentment.

It’s interesting that Paul uses two words for ‘learn’ in this text:

The first ‘learn’ implies learning by practice, as opposed to intellectual knowledge. It’s the same word used in Hebrews to describe Christ’s experiential learning: “Jesus learned obedience from what he suffered” (Heb 5:8).

We too can learn to withstand Satan and trials, but only if we trust and obey our heavenly Father moment-by-moment, like Jesus did. Contentment requires deliberate commitment, especially when we find ourselves in the furnace of suffering.

The second ‘learn’ is a more unusual verb which refers to an initiation into a mystery society in first century Greco-Roman culture. There is something mysteriously contradictory about learning to be content when trouble opposes our happiness. Lasting contentment is only possible when we have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus and realize what He suffered on our behalf, when our minds are re-calibrated by gospel truths instead of our circumstances.

And so, we may know every verse and formula about contentment in our heads, but it’s only when we practice our knowledge of Christ and prioritize his kingdom that we learn the secret of contentment.

Well fed or hungry, in plenty or in want.

Paul’s expansive claim of contentment is extraordinary, given his life story.

Some people like to think of contentment as a Buddha, sitting smug and stoical, detached from life, his chubby face empty of ambition and drive. Or perhaps ‘contentment’ is the happy stare of a retiree or millionaire, absorbing an endless stream of little pleasures and treasures from the comfort of their deckchair!

But these images are far removed from Paul’s contented life. He was the proverbial “Man in the Arena” of Theodore Roosevelt’s poem.

Man in the Arena.

Paul’s contentment wasn’t theoretical because he didn’t sit on the sidelines of the Christian life. He knew that even God’s faithful children are not exempt from the common distresses of life and he learned to lean on the Lord Jesus in any and every situation:

Financially, Paul had been well off and needy in his life (Phil 4:11-12), experiencing real hunger, thirst, cold and nakedness (2 Tim 4:13212 Cor 11:27), as well as abundant wealth.

Yet he encouraged other believers with full assurance, “My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19).

Physically, Paul bore on his body the marks of Christ (Gal 6:17). Five times the Apostle was beaten with whips and three times with rods. He was shipwrecked, mobbed and stoned so badly that he was left for dead (Acts 14:192 Cor 11:23-29). Severe physical illness often thwarted his ministry plans and he described his body as a fragile clay jar, wasting away (Gal 4:13-142 Cor 4:7-8.). One can hardly imagine Paul’s physical state by the time he wrote this letter in 61AD.

But through all of this, Paul spurred on the Macedonian believers, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near” (Phil 4:4-5).

Emotionally, Paul was haunted by regrets of a past as a murderer and persecutor of Christians (1 Tim 1:12-17). Numerous times he was neglected, deserted and undermined by fellow believers (Phil 4:15Acts 15:382 Tim 1:154:10).

Yet, in his distress, Paul trained himself to press on towards the goal of Christ: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” In the midst of his anxieties, Paul learned to dwell on the good rather than his troubles: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil 3:13-144:5).

Spiritually, Paul was stripped of the benefits of being a respected Pharisee, expelled from his place of worship and treated as an outcast by his own people, who plotted to take his life (Acts 13:4550Acts 17:5-7Acts 18:6Acts 20:3).

But through all this rejection and humiliation, Paul didn’t avoid preaching the gospel to his fellow Jews. He continued to pray with a thankful heart, allowing the peace of God which transcends understanding, to guard his heart and mind in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:7). Although he lost much for the sake of Christ, he remained grateful and gracious to others (Phil 4:10-18).

None of these hardships robbed Paul of his contentment, as he rested in Christ as his refuge and provider. Even when he was severely flogged and thrown in prison, he spent the night “praying and singing hymns to God” (Acts 16:25).

I’m sure this wasn’t the Apostle’s instinctive response to pain and exhaustion, but he had developed a habit of praying with thanksgiving and rejoicing when he felt like complaining (Phil 4:46). Over years, Paul had learned the secret of contentment in any and every situation.

The paradox of contentment.

True contentment is learned in the arena of life, not in Bible college or in the pages of a book. Paul’s secret was that he found meaning in his adversity and considered it a privilege to share in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings (Phil 3:8-10). Paul’s response is a mysterious paradox if ever there was one!

In his own words, Paul describes the incongruous joy of knowing Christ in and through his suffering: “dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed;  sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:9-10).

Likewise, in the life of every Christian, the secret to lasting contentment lies in our deep union with the Lord Jesus who ultimately works all things for our good and turns every tragedy into triumph, every grief into growth and every offense into an opportunity for the gospel. True contentment is learned by trusting and obeying Christ in the arena of life.

And so, we can say confidently, with Paul: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Prayer.

Father, shift our perspective to see everything as a loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus as our Lord. Help us to trust you rather than avoiding hard things which we know you want us to do. Show us if we are hoarding our resources of time, money and love. Keep our lives free from the love of money and help us to be content with whatever you have given us, because you have said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6) Amen.

Listen prayerfully to Horatio Spafford’s hymn, “When peace like a river…”. It directs our hearts to the gospel and how God teaches us contentment in any and every circumstance. Spafford’s words are the authentic cries of his own heart, since he’d recently lost his entire fortune in a fire and his four daughters in a storm at sea. Only his wife survived.