The ‘Learning’ In Contentment

My favorite weekly meeting is Wednesday at 6 a.m. at Perkins Restaurant.

There I recently had one of those jump-off-the-page-of-your-Bible experiences. Call me dumb, but I had never processed the fact that three times in Paul’s famous “contentment passage” in Philippians 4 – which I have quoted anecdotally dozens of times – the Apostle specifically uses the word “learned” (in Philippians 4:9 and 11, 12 ).

contentThe men’s prayer breakfast is not a big one, as prayer breakfasts go. But it is a faithful one, an intimate one. Men from our church gather like clockwork each week for the sole purpose of lifting our hearts together before the Throne of Grace. We make 3-4 specific prayer requests for the week, and then lift one another’s burdens to the Lord in prayer before a hearty breakfast. Our prayers are far ranging, kingdom focused prayers for the advance of God’s reign in this world. It is not a place where we sit on our hands, but where we take the Kingdom by storm.

But recently  God has landed the prayer breakfast guys in the school of contentment. He has simply overwhelmed us with his presence and blessings and pressed us to “come back” to a place of joy and satisfaction — of thanksgiving! In my analysis, the Lord has been teaching us a contentment that can be described as intense pleasure in who Jesus is, and what he has done/is doing/will do for his people. We have been discovering something of the end that Paul has in mind when he calls to learn contentment. Three observations about how God leads us into biblical contentment.

First, he has called each one of us to action. Contentment is not passivity. Each of the men at prayer breakfast wear various hats: in the church, as the head their families, and in their professional labors. Men must sometimes leave early because of pressing matters on their plate. We aspire to be like the Apostle Paul, who was engaged in the work to which he was called. What he believed was visible in his lifestyle and he called those to whom he ministered to “learn by practice” what they had seen Paul practice.

Second, God has called each of us to flexibility. In a variety of ways each of us has had unexpected developments in our lives recently. It has really pushed us to understand better what Paul meant in Phil. 4:11 that “whatever situation” is a place where God will minister his grace by prompting me to trust in his wisdom and rest in his provision. The guys have discussed in recent weeks the places of apparent chaos and of disappointment. The wonder of Paul’s Calvinistic convictions is that he could never step outside of God’s personal and transformative gaze. Whether in Tarsus, Jerusalem, or the far flung wilderness of Asia Minor Paul knew that because God was God, therefore Paul could never step off his grid. His heavenly Father was intent on teaching him the positive aspects of the Tenth Commandment every day and in every — at a very personal level!

Finally, God has called us to be fixated on Christ. Paul no doubt had specific episodes from his ministry in mind when he said “I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Phil. 4:12). As he pushed forward in his itinerant ministry year after year things didn’t always go as planned. Colleagues abandoned him. Logistics did not work out. Travel plans were stymied. And yet through it all the Apostle’s faith shone through: “all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

It has been such an intense pleasure to explore this theme of contentment with the guys over our waffles and eggs recently. Through different circumstances and at different times he has brought each of us to that place of peaceful contentment. We are simply overwhelmed at the blessings the Lord has poured out into our lives. It doesn’t usually mean we stay there. But we are learning, learning, learning that instead of grasping and fighting for what we desire, we can rest contentedly in God’s absolute sovereignty. Instead of fixating on something material, or urgent, or created, we can reorient our fixation upon Jesus Christ. Then we can quietly do what we can in God’s kingdom, and leave the results up to him.

Soli Deo gloria.

One Comment

  1. Karen Wallace January 18, 2014 at 5:44 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this modern day encouragement to persevere in this particular learning in the school of Christ. In my perpetual, revolving daily study of The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by a brother-in-Christ from the early 17th Century, Jeremiah Burroughs, preceded by my perpetual, revolving daily study of both Old and New Testaments to deepen and strengthen the root of the whole counsel of God in my heart, the Lord is progressively loosening the gripping, ripping talons of narcissism, social awkwardness, anxiety, anger, greed, and BPD tendencies, and liberating me to “quietly do what [I] can in God’s kingdom, and leave the results up to him.” Over time, God strengthens His people to face the realities of their trials and afflictions with acceptance, to joyfully deny ungodly emotions, to resolutely prepare their minds for action, to destroy arguments raised against the knowledge of God, to enable them to take their thoughts captive to obey Christ with a future focus putting their faith and hope in Him alone. Glory to the Unmatched Triune God alone, indeed, who has planted the roots of His people, who confess that they are pilgrims and strangers on the earth, deeply in the world to come.

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