I’ve heard Tony Evans say that instead of looking at our circumstances, we should look to the Lord who is over all our circumstances. That’s sometimes difficult when it is the circumstances that seem to be loudly vying for our attention. But if we keep our eyes on the Lord, then we are looking toward our reward in heaven instead of our circumstances here on earth. “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14)
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 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 all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:4-13)
In today’s reading, the apostle Paul says he has learned the secret of experiencing contentment in all circumstances, good or bad. Does it surprise you that he wrote this when he was in prison, unsure of his future?
We’re often discontent even when all is going well. Consequently, we wonder how it’s possible to be truly content during our most difficult trials, especially when there’s no end in sight. So what is genuine contentment? Paul is speaking of a freedom from worry and frustration about everything in life–even unfulfilled desires.
It’s usually when we cannot control or change our situation that we feel discontentment. As long as our satisfaction depends on whether certain things actually work out, we’ll allow circumstances to cheat us out of peace. I’m not saying there’s some spiritual stage where you will never again experience anxiety or frustration. But what matters is how we respond when those feelings grip us.
This is something that the apostle had to learn. Paul endured amazing suffering, from shipwrecks and hunger to unjust imprisonment and beatings (2 Cor. 11:24-30). He had gone through countless situations that were uncertain, extraordinarily painful, and seemingly hopeless. But he finally discovered that contentment could not be dependent upon his circumstances.
How do you respond when circumstances are out of your control? Do you get angry? Do you try to escape? Does despair make you want to give up? Paul chose to give his anxieties to Jesus in exchange for peace that “transcends all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). That same peace is available to you!