“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 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.” – Philippians 4:11-12
We are called to contentment. Not just in our possessions, but in our circumstances as well. It’s so easy to drain our emotional energy in wistful nostalgia and spend more time than we should looking back at “the good old days.”
Problem: discontentment. This is usually an insidious form of discontentment. It hampers us from doing our best work where God has put us at this moment. It shows a lack of faith, and it hobbles the joy we’re made for.
Purpose. If I truly believe my Lord is omniscient and omnipotent, then I have to conclude that the specific set of circumstances I’m in right now – like the family I live with, the job I have, the city I’m in – are orchestrated by Him for a purpose. And Romans 8:28 would indicate that purpose is ultimately for my good. That’s a comforting thought.
Motivation. It’s a motivating thought as well. How much more I can do, and how enhanced is my power to enjoy life when I spend less thought grumbling about yesterday or yearning for tomorrow! How much more will I achieve for God’s kingdom and for those I love by focusing my efforts on doing the most good here and now? And to do this instead of being upset about how things used to be or longing for them to be different?
Problem: grumbling. This, of course, is not to say we shouldn’t try to make our circumstances better. But we must guard against the sinful tendency to grumble at our wise Heavenly Father for His Providence. We should spend more effort cheerfully working and living where we are at this point in time. Scripture makes it plain that God is not at all pleased with the lack of faith shown by those who grumble at Him. “Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer” (1 Corinthians 10:10).
Courage. Contentment in every circumstance is a powerful force of present-mindedness, and it leads to a Christian joy that is very much like a forced sort of optimism. This may not sound very appealing to natural pessimists. But realize that part of what the 5th commandment of chivalry calls you to is this relentlessly practical contentment in God’s calling. Optimism takes courage. Contentment takes courage.
Work. Situational discontentment is easier for me to recognize in the “big things” (like my job situation) in a more abstract way, than in the more practical, day-to-day stresses (like feeling frustrated when a kid interrupts my quiet writing time). But isn’t that the case with most moral truths? It’s so easy to keep them comfortably in the abstract, where they won’t change my life, instead of going through the work of implementing them right now. All this takes work: real work, with decisions you make right now. The easy thing to do is stay in reflection on the past – or even in thinking about the now. But the hard thing to do is what we need to do: put real work into our attitude and actions. In very few of us do these attitudes spring from a naturally cheery disposition.
Lasting optimism (and contentment) usually comes from a stubborn, purposeful, and relentless hope. Repent of grumbling, and ask God for more optimism, for a strength to go beyond enduring our circumstances to enjoying God’s blessings in them. In every situation let us be content! Lord, may it be so!