Whenever I’m away from my family for work, church matters, or because of emergencies, I remember the blessings and curses of singleness. As a “temporary” single, I usually have the blessing of more time in the day to do what I want to do. I’m able to get more reading done than I usually can with a preschooler and toddler jumping up on my lap. I don’t have any fire truck sirens to distract me, or Rescue Bots to trip on at night. I usually get some extra time to exercise as well.
I’m not single, though, so when I’m away from my family it doesn’t feel right. I’ve been married with children long enough that I don’t even know how to spend a full day without all the interruptions! Often when I’m alone, I just want our family routine back: dinner, a family walk, kids’ bath time, and putting kids to bed. Then my wife and I get some time together for a few peaceful hours before falling to sleep. Occasionally, while traveling without my family, I’ll turn on some children’s show just for some “background noise” to get rid of the silence.
Everyone and everything we have are gifts from God. Maybe this is my mind running wild, but in these moments I can’t help but think about those who have lost or those who are losing someone close to them—a spouse, a friend, a parent, a child. I think back to a man I knew who lost his wife after seventy-five years of marriage, and I remember making him dinner and noticing how purposeless life was to him with the love of his life gone. I also let my mind wander and think of how I would live my life if something were to happen to my family. It’s a frightening thing to dwell on, and I give thanks to God that my family is okay right now—but I think there is a godly reason for us to ponder these things. There is a right time to reflect on them because our days on this earth are numbered.
Whenever I dwell on these things, I’m reminded of Paul’s words to the church of Philippi where he says,
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 everything through him who gives me strength. (Phil. 4:11–13 NIV)
To prepare for life’s challenges ahead, we should seek to learn contentment as Paul learned it, so that in whatever circumstance we find ourselves, we can be content. Our goal is to be content with where God has placed us, with whom God has placed us, and with what God has put before us at this time in our lives. We are to seek contentment in our vocations and callings (or temporary jobs) and are to be grateful for the spouse God gave us or, if we are unmarried, to be content with singleness.
How can we learn to be content? We should first think of Paul before we can answer this question. The apostle Paul was a man who was imprisoned multiple times and suffered repeatedly for the sake of the gospel. Yet he wrote, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” He had real needs. He was not writing this as a person who had no needs or who had always gotten everything he ever wanted in life. Paul was sharing how he was content to live in plenty and content to live in poverty. He experienced his highs, and he had his lows. His circumstances didn’t control him—they did not master him. His joy and contentment were found in Christ. He located the source of his contentment in Christ.
The secret to contentment is found right where—or rather in whom—the apostle Paul placed his confidence. He wrote these words in verse 13: I can do everything through him who gives me strength. It’s not that Paul thought he could fly, leap tall buildings, or win the lottery if he just believed in Jesus Christ. There’s no health, wealth, or prosperity message to be found here. Rather, Paul wanted believers to know that it is through the person and work of Jesus—his example, his life, his death, and our union with him in heaven by faith—that we find the way, the door, and the key to our own contentment in this life. This may not sound like such a secret, but this is the same note that Paul ends on in the book of Philippians. This is the secret that Paul reveals to us. Contentment is found through Jesus.
If this message sounds too cheap for you—like it won’t solve any real-world problems—then you’re looking for too easy an answer! Why? Because what Paul says here is anything but easy. You’re going to continually wrestle with envy over what others have. You’re always going to want more out of life. You’re going to be discontent. Trust me, I’m a master at it! But the secret Paul reveals to us and for us is that Jesus promises to give us strength to power through our sinful desires. Jesus promises to satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts in himself.
Finding our contentment in Christ helps us to loosen our tight grip on the things we love most, and to tighten our grip on the things that are everlasting and eternal. Do you trust Jesus in all areas of your life, or does your motto contain a bunch of ifs? “I can do all things if God just gives me a raise, God just gives me a spouse, or God just gives me a new car.” Or is he the desire of your heart? “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Is Jesus your strength, your hope, your source, your confidence?
Find your contentment in Christ. If you are struggling with discontentment; if you often find yourself complaining about your house or your job or your spouse; if you’ve been in the nasty habit of bickering or saying to yourself, “If only I had that, her, him, this”; if this mindset defines you right now, I urge you to turn your eyes back to Jesus and fix them on him. Rest content in him!
Knowing that I am his and he is mine, knowing that he has secured for me an eternal life, knowing that he has procured for me righteousness—all of this is the basis for our contentment in this life. So that whether in poverty or prosperity, life or death, we are not our own—but our contentment rests in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is Paul’s secret to contentment. He is not his own, but he belongs to Jesus. Trust in the Lord, and he will give you strength.