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Learning the Secret of Contentment (Part 1)


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. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13 (NIV)

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve,
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things,
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy,
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men,
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life,
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men, most richly blessed.

By an unknown (U.S.A.) Confederate soldier.

I really like this old poem because it speaks volumes. It encapsulates the total perspective of man's wants versus his needs. What we want in life is the demon that haunts us from the cradle to the grave. Notice in the poem that the author got nothing of what he asked for, but all that he had hoped for. Had he gotten what he asked for, it would have destroyed him.

I rejoice in the knowledge that God has to turn us down sometimes lest we destroy ourselves in vain pursuits. We know our wants but only God knows our deepest needs. We are so driven by the world's pressure for success that we have almost forgotten the reason and purpose for which we were created. We drive ourselves to wits end trying to make things happen. And not only are we trying to make things happen but make them happen our way. This allows us to boast, "Look at what I have done, all by myself." We are deeply entrenched in self-projection rather than promoting God's program here on earth.

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.

Paul did not come to this awareness overnight. No, it came at the end of a long struggle. He is writing from his prison cell at Rome to a congregation at Philippi. He is pouring out his soul telling them how kind they had been. He is thanking them for their gifts and thoughtful expressions of love. But understand, Paul is not asking for pity. He reminds them that though he is in jail, all is well; that he found his strength within the framework of his faith, that he was content even in prison, that he was in charge and that nothing had jurisdiction over him, that the prison was his office and his pulpit.

Paul lived in a time when Christianity was more than respectable church membership. It was more than a handshake and more than shouting amen; it was more than holding an office or singing in the choir. Being a Christian in Paul's day was a life threatening experience. Following Jesus demanded blood and tears, suffering and sorrow. So Paul was in jail most of the time because the gospel he preached was not soft platitudes. It was not "politically correct." It was not soothing, don't want to offend anybody kinds of sermons. The gospel Paul preached insulted and infuriated people, especially the authorities.

But, Paul grew in jail. He became the great Apostle that he was in jail. Many people wither away when confined, but Paul grew. His best sermons were written in jail. One of the best lessons I have learned is that it does not matter where you put the true church, it does it redemptive work. In Paul's day and time, the world felt threatened by an aggressive and militant church. Of course, this is not the case today, is it? Today, it appears as though the church and the world are kinfolks, kissing cousins, bosom buddies. Almost all of our churches are doing excellent housekeeping but poor street cleaning. We have more churches today than we ever had in the history of the world and yet, there are more young men in prison than there are in college and increasingly women are filling our jails as well. Now don't get me wrong, the church is making some difference, but not nearly enough.

What I am trying to stress is that Paul had to contend with a much more hostile world that was threatened by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul had to suffer much for the Christian cause and yet he could assert, "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." This is a significant declaration in light of his profound suffering.

(continued in Part 2)

Rev. Saundra L. Washington, D.D., is an ordained clergywoman, veteran social worker, and Founder of AMEN Ministries. She is also the author of two coffee table books: Room Beneath the Snow: Poems that Preach and Negative Disturbances: Homilies that Teach which can be reviewed on her site. Her new book, Out of Deep Waters: My Grief Management Workbook, is expected to be available soon.

You are welcome to visit AMEN Ministries: Your Soul's Service Station for spiritual refreshing, soul edification, browse our newly expanded mini shopping mall or review our recommended books you may want to add to your personal library.

Blessings to all!


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