Can we discover how to trade our irritability for peace, our anxiety for trust, and our frustration at being constrained to release and freedom? I should imagine that most people would cautiously and maybe somewhat sceptically say, yes to those questions.
Do you want to know a secret?
Can we find a way to remain steadfast? A word that is not used so often now, maybe we equate it with steady, and think ‘boring.’ It is, however, a place of strength, of having an inner peace, security and contentment, regardless of what is happening in circumstances around us. There is a verse of scripture, which I have always loved, that talks about having ‘learned the secret of being content’.
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty, I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”Philippians 4:12-13
The secret of contentment.
First the writer, the apostle Paul, acknowledges that he has experienced times of plenty and times of need. Then he makes a startling statement, that he has learned the secret of being content regardless of his external circumstances.
Now a secret is something that is shared through intimacy. You whisper a secret, you need to get close to the person that you are sharing it with, to speak quietly in their ear. They need to be paying attention and listening carefully. A secret is not shouted out for all to hear, it is a shared confidence. And the person receiving that confidence feels privileged, that they have been trusted with that information.
The secret that Paul has learnt is that he is not controlled by external circumstances. They are, after all, beyond our control. He has learnt that God will provide him with all that he needs, with the strength for that day.
Contentment free of circumstances
It is interesting that he states, firstly, that he has learnt the secret of contentment in times of plenty, of abundance. Are you thinking, surely that would be easy? I know from my own experience, however, how easy it is when things are going well to start to assume that we have control of the situation. Pride can creep in, and we can start to think we are doing fine in our own strength. Then, start to neglect our relationship with God.
But how quickly things can change, sometimes almost overnight, this year, more than any, is an example of how fragile life is apart from God.
Then Paul goes on to say that he has learnt the secret of contentment in times of hardship. Those times of need when we are struggling to cope with life’s problems and difficulties. For some that is hard to understand, but often the trials of life draw us to God, we cling to him and depend on his every word. And that is part of the answer….
In depending on God
To learn the secret of contentment, we need to make space and take time for our relationship with God. Sometimes we are gifted that space and time. But often we have to stretch ourselves, we have to be creative to make that space and give up that time. If we are seeking change, we need to make room for God to move!
Contentment is developed through intimacy with God. It is there that he teaches us what is in our hearts, gently revealing to us what he is refining, and what needs bringing to the surface to be dealt with. It is in that intimacy that God whispers to our spirit, reminding us of his promises, of his love and faithfulness.
We can treasure those words and hold them close, receiving strength for the day. It is as we learn to trust in him, to release and let go of our control, to give all our life into God’s hands that he begins to release us from those negative emotions that control us! Give to God and he always multiplies back a blessing!
In this season, I am learning the secret of contentment. I am making space, and taking time to hear God’s whisper to my spirit – do you want to learn to?