There is something about children that understands what it means to be content in all circumstances. I remember moving into our house in Colorado when I was thirteen (before I became a believer) and my sister was only eight. My parents had spent a year having their dream-house built, only to have the builder abscond with funds and run off, leaving the house a beautiful, unfinished shell. I believe we had walls, but no flooring, lighting, running water, or electricity at the point my parents cut their losses and moved into the abode.
At the mature age of thirteen, it was simply an inconvenience of the greatest kind for me! I remember getting up at 4:00 am on my first day of 8th grade, because I insisted that I had to have a shower and curl my hair and look perfect for my first day. My parents humoured me and turned on the solar generator as I bathed in a camping drip shower in the back yard (we lived in the mountains, not in a neighbourhood), before coming inside and hooking up my blow dryer and curling iron to the generated power. They figured it must be hard to be a teenager living in a house with no electricity or running water. And while it seemed, at the time, like months before we got water and electricity, I think it was only a matter of a few short days. Needless to say, I was not content in my circumstances.
But my little sister, at eight, had a different perspective. Kids have an uncanny ability to create fun regardless of circumstances. So, my eight-year-old sister took it as a learning opportunity, and helped my mom tile the bathroom, and got the drill and drilled down her own subfloor in her bedroom, and helped paint, and finish all sorts of things. I cannot imagine, looking back, giving an eight-year-old power tools! But my parents did, and my sister loved it. She nested into her new room.
I particularly remember that her room had an abnormal level of static in it, which would have annoyed me. But she would put on her fuzziest socks and shuffle around in circles and then beckon someone upstairs to look at her hair standing on end, or simply reach out her hand and shock them and laugh. For my sister, it was like an endless camping trip in a giant tent. For me, it was an embarrassing place I couldn’t have friends over to. We were in the same exact circumstances, yet our perspectives were entirely different.
Since then, I am learning what it means to be content in all circumstances, and am not nearly the sissy I was at thirteen. For those who know me now, it might even be hard to imagine this other person, as I now haven’t curled my hair in about five months, since the last wedding I performed. And I haven’t had a haircut in about nine months. I was a fussy teenager. But many things came through my life later in childhood and into adulthood that changed my perspective of what is really necessary in life.
One of the things, was becoming a believer. I had gone to church before and even been baptized at nine, but my heart was not captured by Jesus until I was fourteen. Picking up the Bible and delving into it for the first time changed my perspective on a slough of things!
Philippians 4:10-13 says this: “I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
This often-repeated verse has become a cliché in some church circles because of its overuse and disconnection with the context. I actually heard a Christian once who had the last part of this verse inscribed on her $250 shoes: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” While this may be true, and a helpful reminder, it divorces the verse from the context of being content regardless of circumstances or possessions.
This passage comes from a letter that the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi. Paul was encouraging and upbuilding his brothers and sisters at his far-off church plant, while simultaneously thanking them for their gracious support of his ministry. And we are not talking that they were giving him money to live in a lovely manse and have all of his needs met; we are talking he had enough food most of the time.
Paul wrote this letter from prison, where he was in chains because of his belief in Jesus Christ and his proclamation of the Gospel. This is not a context most of us are familiar with today in North America or Europe. Religious persecution and physical needs being met are not two of our biggest concerns.
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28, “Are they ministers of Christ?…I am a better one: with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.” He did not have a lot going for him from a first world perspective.
And yet, Paul writes from that context that he has learned to be content in all circumstances because of Christ. This is something I think most of us could learn a thing or two from. Living richly (inwardly) means living as though you are constantly satisfied by, and grateful for, God’s provision. Paul only ever gloats about his suffering because he is considered worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake. What an attitude to adopt!
While I sit in my comfortable office chair (courtesy of a neighbour who threw it out) at my desk looking out over our backyard, I realize just how fortunate I am. But I am still working on being content in all circumstances.
There are a lot of different opinions on taking short mission trips just to help people in third world countries, but one thing I think that everyone should experience at some point in life is being immersed in a true third world experience, at least seeing how much of the world lives.
My husband and I went to Bolivia to meet our sponsor child a few months after we got married. She is a beautiful six-year-old as I write this, living with a loving family, and connected to a Compassion International program run out of a local Bolivian church. Witnessing her lifestyle, opposed to how we live, was particularly lifechanging for my husband who had not spent much time in the third world.
While we were there, we visited several Compassion sites, simply to meet people and hear their stories. There was no great gift that we came with, and no great work we were sent to do, we were there to be and to witness the power of God.
One woman we met was sweeping her dirt floor when we entered her hut. She took pride in how her home looked and wanted it to be “just so” when the visitors arrived. She welcomed us in with open arms, showing incredible hospitality and offering whatever she could. She showed me what it meant to be content in all circumstances. Though she did not have a real door on her hut, or clean water, she proclaimed the greatness of God like nobody I have seen. She had been given the gift of a relationship with Jesus because her neighbour shared the good news and prayed over her in her serious illness, and she had been healed. This woman had tears pouring down her face as she relayed this story of God’s sufficiency in her life as several of us crouched into her home.
She taught me what it was like to be content with any and all circumstances.
I think being in Canada in a privileged area, there are many ways to be content, first of all, never complaining. A complaining spirit is the antithesis of living contentedly. And we have so much to be grateful for here!
Second, having a heart that does not covet more stuff shows a content spirit. Richard Foster writes in Celebration of Discipline, “Contemporary culture lacks both the inward reality and the outward life-style of simplicity…Because we lack a divine Center our need for security has led us into an insane attachment to things. We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic. It is psychotic because it has completely lost touch with reality. We crave things we neither need nor enjoy. ‘We buy things we do not want to impress people we do not like.’…Covetousness we call ambition. Hoarding we call prudence. Greed we call industry.” This quote from the 1980s seems just as on track today as it did then. The contemporary culture model that Foster describes stands in sharp contrast to a spirit of contentedness.
Third, consciously note your blessings. If you are like me in any way, it is hard for me to naturally adopt an attitude of positivity. I am a “realist” I say, but my husband seems to think I am a pessimist. So, I actually write down the things I am grateful for so that I remember how very blessed I am.
I was out for a walk the other day, and in our neighbourhood, it seems that everyone has a dog. So lots of people were out walking their dogs. It was drippy out, not full-on rain, but definitely not dry; and there were puddles everywhere. I saw a little girl walking with her parents. All of the adults I saw looked generally gloomy and out of sorts. But the little girl was running from puddle to puddle jumping to make the biggest splash she could, soaking everyone around her, much to the dismay of her parents. I was reminded just how much kids can set the example in being content in all circumstances. This was a beautiful image for me of living with an attitude of contentedness.
Consider what of these applies to you. Are you content right now with your circumstances? What would it take for you to adopt a lifestyle of contentedness?
Activity: Living richly (inwardly) means living as though you are constantly satisfied by, and grateful for, God’s provision. Spend a couple of hours meditating on God’s provision in your life. Try painting, writing a song, composing a song on the piano or guitar, drawing, etc during this time while you meditate on God’s provision. If you create a piece of physical art during this meditation time, place it somewhere in your house as a reminder of God’s provision for you in your life. *Also, if you are comfortable, post an image of what you have created in the comments on the blog.
Challenge: Have you ever been on a mission trip? Have you even spent time with people in a third world country and actually gotten to know them? If you have, spend some time writing about that experience. Write down any reminders of contentedness. What do you have to be grateful for here that you sometimes take for granted?