One of the great challenges in life is finding contentment without lapsing into complacency. It is one thing to recognize and accept adversity as God's plan for us. It is quite another to resign ourselves to it, and refuse to make the best of the situation. Contentment is living with an appreciation of God's sovereignty, but it becomes complacency when we ignore our responsibility to live each day in a manner worthy of the Lord.
In Philippians 4:10-13 Paul thanks the Philippian church family for responding to his needs while in a Roman prison. Apparently, they had sent a large care package via Ephaphroditus, one of their own church leaders. But Paul wants them to know, even before the supplies arrived, he was not discouraged. In fact, he uses the situation to teach an important lesson: "Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content."
Paul helps us understand the foundation of contentment: "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."
We often hear this last verse used in ways that don't do justice to Paul's context here. His point is, when it comes to facing either adversity or prosperity, he is strengthened to live a godly, disciplined life worthy of Christ through Christ himself. For Paul, contentment is living with a Christ-centered focus regardless of the circumstances.
It is worth noting that Paul considers good and bad circumstances equally challenging to this definition of contentment. He is careful to state that in both he is able to know contentment, because of his dependence on Christ. This may hit us strangely since we usually believe we could be much more content when things are good rather than bad. Yet, good times may actually be a greater obstacle to Christ-focused living than bad. Good times tend to leave us less dependent upon God, less apt to cry out to him in prayer, and far less aware that he alone is our security.
In our world, with all of its distractions and fast paced living, it is hard not to become complacent, and just drift along on the waves of daily life. The danger here is our lack of focus on how to be content in every situation may lead us into trouble. Remember, contentment is living with a Christ-centered focus regardless of all circumstances. It means seeing every decision, every circumstance, every relationship, indeed, every part of every day as under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. In other words, every day must have the same agenda, regardless of what it may hold. And that agenda is simply this: to demonstrate before a watching world a confidence in the promises and provisions of our God so much that we live unashamed of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Turns out contentment is not so much relaxin in good times, but living a Christ-focused life at all times.
And here's the good news: Contentment has the added value of banishing to the sidelines the anxiety that waits around every corner in our fast paced world. Such a peace of mind, even in the midst of adversity, will not give place either to anger or complacency, but will increasingly see each day as a gift from God to used for his glory. This will mean an intentional pursuit of God's glory rather than a complacent sense of resignation. It will also mean refusing to feel anxious over circumstances beyond our control. Our Lord will see to our best interests, and we can rest in him.
May our Lord grant us to know this grace of contentment, to passionately pursue this heaven-based peace of mind, in every circumstance of every day.