“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.”
(Philippians 4: 12-13 ESV)
We can learn to be content with our present circumstances even when times are less than ideal. We can adjust to a harsh season and learn to dig in for the winter. I wouldn’t say that’s what Paul intended for us to learn when he penned the verses above, and I don’t believe God wants us to simply adjust to circumstances as they come. Rather, God wants us to rely on him for strength, to trust him to provide for our needs.
Of course, Paul is talking about more than being content with God’s provision of food and clothing. The contentment Paul is talking about is being content with God being our sole provider through the changing seasons that God chooses to place us in. Paul says he can do “all things through him who strengthens [him]”. He is referring to his ministry, the living out of the Great Commission that each of us is also charged to uphold. Regardless of his circumstances, Paul knew he could rely on God to supply him with physical strength as well as spiritual strength.
We can take a look at 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10 to better understand how Paul understood contentment:
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
(2 Corinthians 12:7-10 ESV)
Paul was granted a glimpse into heaven, something none of us or the people of Paul’s time could say. God allowed an agent of Satan to enter the church to cause discord to keep Paul from growing proud. Just reading through the Pauline epistles will clearly convey Paul’s abounding love for the church. Imagine how it must have affected him knowing he had a wolf lurking amongst his flock in order to steal them away from the apostle. For Paul to plead to have the wolf removed but to have his request denied was for God to demonstrate his power through Paul. God would empower his apostle with his grace so that Paul could endure the thorn placed in his side.
When God chooses to place us in a trying season it’s for his purposes. When Christ bought us with his blood we became his, and God has chosen to use us for his glory. He has freed us from the bondage of sin and has given us freedom to serve him. As our creator he has the right to place us where he wants. He chooses to use us to demonstrate his power. In the passage above, we can see God used Paul’s circumstances to simultaneously humble Paul but also to show that God gives us what we need to remain steadfast in times of trouble.
No matter what season we find ourselves in God will provide us with the strength we need to glorify him. Perhaps it’ll be a time of plenty and God wants you to use your resources to bless those he’s placed in your life to demonstrate a love for the saints. Perhaps you will be in a season of betrayal where former friends have turned their backs on you, where you grieve the loss of former friends—seeking the Lord’s comfort as you wait on him to change their hearts. Perhaps you’re in a dry season and your growth is being stunted by a deeply rooted sin the Lord wants you to root out before he rains blessings upon you once again.
Contentment with circumstances is good, but to be content with knowing God provides us with strength for the seasons he places us in is a present and future oriented attitude that conveys trust in God. More than just taking what life throws at us and rendering it for God’s glory, we should strive to have a faith in a faithful God to provide for our every need and every good work he’s prepared for us to do.