The Apostle Paul was in shackles in what you would expect him to describe as a miserable prison and yet he wrote about the secret of being content. "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." (Philippians 4:12 - NIV)
It's interesting to me that he did not say that he learned the principle of being content or the standard of being content. He said he learned the secret of being content. It makes my common sense radar go a little haywire. How could Paul claim to be content in this situation? If it doesn’t make sense and it glorifies God, it might be a sign to pay close attention. Referring to learning how to be content in all circumstances as a secret was no accident. Paul knew this was a hidden truth, secret to many, and graciously shared this knowledge with us.
I don't believe the importance of what Paul has discovered here can be overstated. Winning the game of life is not about getting ahead, having the most toys, getting the most likes, or even about improving your surroundings and circumstances. I see nothing wrong with any of these things as long as they do not become the focus and the priority.
If you're anything like I used to be, the tiniest thing could ruin my day if I let it. The problem with this is that if we rely on our circumstances to determine whether we are happy or not, we will find ourselves unhappy much of the time. The reason is because we are not in control of our circumstances. We may like to think we are, but that's not how it works in the real world. Much of what happens to us is out of our control. I realize this can be an uncomfortable thought but stay with me.
The words "happenings and "happiness" are derived from the same root word "hap" which means luck or chance. By their very definitions, we can see that happiness based on happenings is situational and subject to fluctuate based on external forces which happen to us. Therefore, if we rely on outcomes to determine our outlook, we will only be happy as often as the dice roll in our favor. Paul doesn’t get in line for this roller coaster ride. He is telling us is that he has discovered that we can be happy regardless of our circumstances.
The secret to happiness is in where you look for it. The source of true happiness is internal and eternal not external and temporary. In 2 Corinthians 4:18, Paul explains how we can be content in any circumstance. "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." God is constant regardless of our circumstances. Once we begin to look to Him for joy we can experience His joy constantly regardless of the ups and downs in this temporary world.
I feel sad for those that do not walk with Jesus. He is the answer that so many are looking for but they just don’t realize that he is the solution. I know what this feels like. There is a hole in your soul that you know you need to fill. You try everything else but nothing seems to work. You tell yourself, I would be happy if only… Nope, you won't. This is a merry-go-round to nowhere. You can work as hard as you want to get on, but you always get off where you started. You can't solve an eternal problem with a temporary solution. I heard a story about a rich man who was asked "How much more could you possibly want?" to which he answered "Just a little more."
Let's learn from the Apostle Paul and be content regardless of our circumstances by fixing our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. If we look to God as the source of our joy, the circumstances will have to go to the back of the line. You can't attain contentment. You have to rely on God and be content in Him.
If the waves of life are rocking your boat, do what Noah did and look through the only windows God instructed him to build into the ark...the ones facing heaven.
"Death, failure, betrayal, sickness, disappointment—they cannot take our joy, because they cannot take our Jesus." -
Lucado, Max. Anxious for Nothing (p. 98). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Father, please allow us to be content with what we have. Allow us to focus our eyes on you and the path you have established for each of us. Please give us joy regardless of any circumstances we face, in Jesus Name, Amen.