This Advent season I’m looking for evidence of God because, frankly, I’m discontent – I need more of Him.
I suspect He needs more of me too. I can’t put my finger on whether I’ve been feeling lost or I’m hiding, but something isn’t right.
I’ve been about Philippians 4:11–13.
I am not saying this because I am in need,
for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.
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.
This is a very familiar passage, but it’s hard for me to grasp how in all my fleshiness, I can be content whatever my circumstances. Truth be told … I’m rarely content. (Ouch. That hurts to see that little confession in print.)
When I was writing When Your Husband is Addicted to Pornography: Healing Your Wounded Heart, I studied the Greek text of this passage. I discovered that the Greek word which we translate as content [autarkes (ow-tar’-kace)], really has nothing to do with our emotional state of satisfaction. Rather, autarkes means “self-sufficient, self-reliant, or self-complacent.”
Paul wasn’t promoting a DIY (do-it-yourself) mindset. He wasn’t suggesting, “For I have learned to be self-sufficient whatever the circumstances.” No, throughout Philippians, Paul clearly teaches the centrality of Christ for living according to God’s design. Let’s see if we can figure out what he’s saying.
Paul says he learned 2 things …
1. He had to learn to be content and
2. He learned the secret of being content, which implies that there was a time in his life when he didn’t know how to be content. (That makes me feel better.)
If you don’t know how much it cost Paul to learn this lesson, take a moment to read 2 Corinthians 11:24–28. Friend, I wouldn’t trade places with Paul for most of the things he experienced!
Yet he learned contentment.
Paul was an old, gray-haired man when he wrote these words. It took him a lifetime of lessons to learn to be content. (I only have 1-2 gray hairs, so I suspect I have more to learn, eh?)
Paul says in Philippians 4:12, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” FYI, Paul is not a very good secret keeper, because he spills the beans in the next verse.
Check out Philippians 4:13 –> I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Paul isn’t about self-sufficiency at all. He is about Christ-sufficiency. He is wholly relying on Christ as his source of strength. Happiness is temporary and based on our circumstances, but contentment is independent of our circumstances and based on the degree to which we rely on Christ. It’s as though Paul is saying, “I have learned the secret of being Christ-dependent in any and every situation.”
Don’t miss this. You, too, must be Christ-dependent in every situation, including your present circumstances. God has little concern for how happy you are, because he hasn’t promised you happiness. He is, on the other hand, most interested in how content, holy, and “his” you are. Your contentment is found in your relationship with Christ.
Oh, baby … it’s all about the relationship! Our family was reading Ann Voskamp’s new Advent Devotional, The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas last night. She reminded us that the first question asked in the Old Testament is “Where are you” (Genesis 3:9)? and the first question asked in the New Testament is “Where is He” (Matthew 2:2)?
Let that sink in … it’s significant.
We only find ourselves when we find Him. (For in Him we live and move and have our being. Act 17: 28) We’re created to desire relationship with each other.
NEWS FLASH: IF I’M NOT WITH HIM, I’M NOT CONTENT, BECAUSE I’M CHRIST-DEPENDENT!
I love the thought that He looks for me and sees me. Hagar named Him the “God who Sees” (Genesis 16:13).
We must never doubt that he is looking for us. A student at the Bible college where I teach recently shared that her family raised sheep. She explained that if a sheep is alone – without a flock – it will die of sadness. In fact, she explained that if a shepherd has only 2 sheep and 1 of them dies, he will need to sleep with and stay near that lone sheep or it will die.
I was struck by how this new information amplifies this passage: “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off. And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off (Matthew 18:12-13).
This sheep hears the voice of her Shepherd calling.
Here I am!