A season of discontentment

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for 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. – Phil 4:11-13

What are you thankful for this year? We are entering a season in which our whole country will gather around the idea of giving thanks, but thankful hearts quickly fade as thankful Thursday turns to Black Friday. Thankfulness is recognizing the good in your life and being rightfully grateful for it. Health, a delicious meal, a day of rest, a job that pays the bills. While keeping the tradition may seem strained for many of us after a grueling year, perhaps we should take a step past thankfulness and ask ourselves, what is going to make me content in this holiday season? 

Contentment is similar to thankfulness but says I need nothing added, I need nothing more, what I have and what I am is enough. I can be thankful for many things, but still find myself discontent; I want more. More date nights, more vacation, more clothing, more cookies. And this hunger for more is insatiable. We will even feel it as we sit around the dinner table discussing thankfulness while wondering if we might have one more piece of pie and filling out a Black Friday shopping list. Our natural disposition is to want more; our natural disposition is discontentment. We are never satisfied. Thankfulness and contentment share a corner, but they are very different things. 

While thankfulness is a popular concept, our culture doesn’t celebrate contentment. Contentment can sound boring, unambitious even. Beyond the consumeristic impulse towards more, there is a whole movement around the idea that we deserve more or better in our lives. Don’t settle, always pursue more for yourself and your life. More is not only a consumeristic tool, it is a spiritual practice for the religion of self. Pursue more of everything that will make me better, whole, complete. Don’t you want more in your life? More is the foundation of our culture. And in this coming holiday season that can easily be about acquiring things, what could possibly make us content? There is so much we desire. From wanting to be with family that we cannot see due to Covid, to wishing we had nicer things or someone to share a New Years’ kiss with. How can believers pursue contentment in a season that more often produces discontentment?

Paul says he has learned in whatever situation, in every and any circumstance how to be content: I can do all things through him who strengthens me (13). While Paul doesn’t give us a nicely packaged guide to become contented people, it is Jesus who is the source. To understand what this means, we must walk with Paul and learn his heart. Now more than ever, we need to learn what Paul calls the secret to contentment. 

Finding joy in people and relationships, not things

Throughout Philippians, Paul celebrates people. They are his pride and treasure. He rejoices in the Philippian church for their partnership with him in the gospel saying that he yearns for them all with the affection of Jesus (1:7-8). He boasts in Timothy and Epaphroditus because they are just as interested in others as they are in themselves (2:19-29). Though Epaphroditus had grown ill and almost died, he was most distressed to hear that the Philippian church was worried about him. He was equally interested in their welfare as his own. Paul loves these people and rejoices in seeing them thrive in their love for the gospel. Paul prizes people, not things, and it is the first key to his secret of contentment.

Holiday application: Make this season about other people. Imitate Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus by being just as interested in the lives of your family and friends as you are in yourself. 

Placing our hope in the Gospel

When we are in a consumer mindset always pursuing more, our hope is in what we have. We begin to believe the subtle lie that if I have the right things, then I will be happy. Though this may seem insignificant, anytime we place our hope in something other than the gospel, we are crossing into idolatry— a discontented, hungry heart. But Paul shows us another way. 

Paul is arrested and thrown in prison for preaching the gospel but says it is good to be there because he can preach the gospel and win more to Christ (1:12-14). He says that it does not matter if he lives or dies because to live means preaching Christ more and dying means he gets to be with Jesus (1:19-26). He says that though he was once regarded as an important thinker and teacher, he considers it to be worthless in comparison to knowing Jesus (3:4-11). Paul’s hope is not in his freedom or social status, it is exclusively in Jesus and his promises. In Colossians, another book Paul wrote, he says when Christ who is your life appears (3:14). Christ is Paul’s life. All of it. What an incredible thing.  

Holiday application: Daily ask yourself where your hope is today. What are you trusting or hoping in that is not Jesus? Imitate Paul and actively choose to put your hope in Jesus today, not in things or circumstances. 

The possessions we need

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content… I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Paul’s contentment is found in Jesus who strengthens him. Here are three possessions that every Christian needs. 

  1. Knowing Jesus. I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him (3:8). Christians should pursue knowledge and intimacy with Christ before all else. Knowing Jesus is the source of all contentment and we must know his words, his character, and his voice. 
  2. Humility. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (2:3-4). When we are humble and consider others more significant than ourselves, we start to look like our servant King Jesus. Humility breeds contentment because we are no longer the most important person in the room. Chase after it.
  3. Peace. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (4:4-7). As we lay aside anxiety, seek the Lord in prayer and practice thankfulness, the peace of God fills our hearts and minds. A peaceful heart that has stopped hungering after other things is a heart that is content.

Holiday application: Address your contentment equation. Fill in the blanks _____+______+______= contentment. Then reframe it to Paul’s equation. Joy in people + Hope in the gospel + Pursuing the things of Christ = contentment.

Where Broken Spirits Meet The Promises of God

Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.” – Exodus 5:23

Moses spoke these words to God after he obeyed God and went to Pharaoh, asking him to let the Israelites go free. In response, Pharaoh made their work as slaves doubly difficult, demanding that in addition to building the bricks he required, they must also collect all their own materials and complete their work in the same time. Obeying God’s command led to harsher slavery conditions for Israel. 

Have you ever felt like following Jesus leads you into situations you did not choose and suffering that could have been avoided altogether? I have. It seems like some of the areas of obedience that the Lord calls us into make our circumstances worse for a time—relationships get flipped upside down with an unexpected truth, choosing integrity means persecution at work, denying sin leads to friendships lost. 

If walking with Jesus is anything, it is difficult and costly. And this shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus tells us as much in his parting words, and yet, when that truth becomes reality, we, like Moses, say, why have you done evil to me? Why did you ask me to do this? Ever since I obeyed your command, my life has become more difficult. You have not delivered me through what you called me into.

When Moses confronts God with this accusation that He has only brought evil into their lives and not delivered them at all, God responds with promise. He promises Moses that Pharaoh will drive the Israelites out of Egypt, he reminds Moses of the promises he made to his ancestors to make Israel his own people who will know him as their God, he tells Moses that he will bring Israel into the land he promised for them. 

God responds to Moses’ cries with promises. He will do what he said he will do. He is not finished with his work. He will keep his promises, bring glory to himself, deliver his people from slavery, and make himself known to them. 

I need to hear this. When following Jesus leads to seemingly unnecessary pain or suffering, I need to be reminded of God’s promises of deliverance, of his presence, and of his greater plan. But what’s interesting about this anecdote in Exodus is that Moses goes back to the people and proclaims God’s promises to them, but “they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery” (6:9).

Israel’s response paints a much more realistic picture of how we respond to God than we would like to admit. When we face trouble, we are more likely to ignore the promises of God because of our broken spirits and harsh circumstances. We allow our present emotions and situation to dictate what we believe more than a God who feels far off, whose promises have not yet come to pass, and who would allow our life to get more difficult rather than making a straight and easy path for us. They are broken in spirit and crushed by the demands of their lives and they do not hope in the promises of God. 

If I’m honest, I think that “broken in spirit and crushed by the demands of life” describes far more Christians than I would like. We, like Israel, live in difficult times. We may not be enslaved by another people, but we are enslaved to our sins, trapped in cycles of unhealth, unforgiving, selfish, bitter, unbelieving, and often disappointed in a God who doesn’t really seem to show up like he used to. 

We need deliverance. We need our God to act in our lives in powerful ways. We need his presence to lead and empower us when it feels like following him only makes life harder. And while Israel would be delivered from the hand of their enslaver Pharaoh, in Christ we are delivered from the ultimate enslavement of sin and death so that we might no longer be people who ignore the promises of God because of our broken spirits and challenging situations. 

Israel didn’t know it but God was about to completely transform their lives. He was going to free them from centuries-long slavery, perform signs and wonders that the world had never seen, dwell in their midst, and lead them into the fulfillment of all of his promises. 

Today, we read the story of Israel’s deliverance and we are not in the same vantage point as Israel. We have their story, the songs of David, the word of the prophets, the revelation of the Son of God, and indwelling of the very Spirit of God in our hearts. Today, we have every reason to believe that God keeps his promises. 

So when you find yourself broken in spirit and crushed by the weight of life, remember. Remember that God has been faithful to his word and he will be again. Remember that he still delivers us from pain and suffering and sin. Remember that His presence goes before us in the day and in the night. Remember that he dwells in your midst. 

Our God who redeems has proved his faithfulness, let’s rest in his promises.