Can you be content here? Contentment is not a feeling, it is a focus. You may feel restless. You may feel dissatisfied. You may feel anxious. But what is your focus here? Contentment is an intentional pivot of your heart and mind towards a peaceful happiness. Maybe your circumstances won’t be changing today, but with a little practice of the pivot, you can find contentment.
Paul was the follower of Jesus who spent a whole lot of time in prison. He knew hardship. He knew unfair treatment. He knew having everything stripped from you. He knew being beat. He knew disappointment. He knew discouragement. And he knew contentment. He learned the secret of choosing to be content in all circumstances.
Don’t you want to know the secret? Don’t you want to know how you can be peacefully happy right here in the middle of this? Don’t you want to know how you can go through times where the whole world is flipped upside down, without getting flipped upside down yourself?
Oh here it is, Paul says in Philippians 4: 11-13 “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 things through him who gives me strength.”
Paul LEARNED to be content. He had to practice this. It didn’t come natural in the beginning. And maybe that’s where you are … naturally you’re all stirred up when things go wrong. Naturally you’re reactive to the interruption of your plans. Naturally you’re dissatisfied when things aren’t right. It would be totally unnatural for you to stay calm in the storm. It would be unnatural for you to not worry. It would be unnatural for you to be happy in today’s reality. But with practice what is unnatural to you now can become natural to you in the future.
It was once unnatural for you to walk. Then you began learning to walk. It took a few months, you would fall down and have to crawl, but eventually you learned because you practiced. As you continued, walking went from unnatural to natural. Now walking is so natural to you, you don’t even think about it. You stand up and balance and your feet just move. You learned this new ability and it became natural to you.
That’s what Paul is saying. He LEARNED to be content. It wasn’t natural. In the beginning he too got all upset and flipped the heck out. He too allowed his thoughts to run through his mind like wild banshees creating havoc. He too threw the occasional pity party and licked his wounds for days. But with practice, he learned to be content whatever the circumstances.
Whatever … that’s a key word in this scripture. Whatever happens here, I will be content. Whatever doesn’t happen here, I will be content. Whatever may come, I will be content. Whatever never comes, I will be content. Contentment is not tied to circumstantial conditions. It’s a ‘whatever’ commitment.
Now that’s tough. That’s why practice is required. And today, we just practice with whatever. Whatever you woke up to this morning, this is your practice field. Whatever comes your way today, this is your practice play. We’re practicing contentment, a focus on peaceful happiness. Not a feeling, a focus.
There are some things you just can’t be happy with. Some things are not good no matter how hard you twist them. You are not expected to be happy WITH all things, you are learning to tap into your peaceful happiness IN all things. There is a difference. You’re not happy with divorce, but can you find happiness IN divorce. You’re not happy with financial hardship, but can you find contentment IN financial hardship? You’re not happy with middle school drama, teenage attitude and ridiculously sassy mouths, but can you find peace IN it all? Right here in the middle of what you didn’t ask for, what you didn’t want, what you are hurt over, even what you’re angry about, can you find contentment, peaceful happiness, here?
YES YOU CAN. It’s not a feeling. It’s a focus. It’s not natural, it’s learned.
Paul learned contentment in whatever his circumstances were, including prison, by practicing the pivot. He practiced the pivot of his thoughts in the hardship. He didn’t wait until things changed to be at peace, he didn’t restrain his happiness for the day he was free again. He waved his flag of contentment right in that prison cell and declared his circumstances would not invade his mind.
What was he practicing? Exactly what he taught us in this same chapter, Philippians 4, the previous paragraph, versus 6-8. (Now, this scripture will sound familiar because we just studied it a few days ago.) “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 hears and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, 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.”
This is what Paul learned to do, and remember it wasn’t natural at first, but with practice it became natural. He learned to pray about everything. You know what’s much more natural? Worrying. Worrying about everything is more natural. Complaining about everything is more natural. Playing out worst case scenarios in our head is more natural. But practice praying about it first. This is the first step toward contentment.
Then after you’ve prayed, what do you do? You pivot your thoughts. Contentment is not a feeling, it is a focus. This is a focused thought pattern toward what is good and right, what is lovely and excellent, what is worthy of being praised. It’s an intentional pivot from the continual stream of negativity and overwhelm, to what is positive and possible.
Oh, that feels really unnatural, and it is, until you’ve practiced it. It’s like walking, once you get it, it’s natural. You can practice this pivot of your thoughts until you too master the secret to contentment, and then whatever is happening you just naturally pivot mentally to a place of seeing what God may be doing despite the circumstances.
So today, we practice. We practice the pivot. We learn contentment IN whatever. My peaceful happiness does not have to be sacrificed here. My mind does not have to be overtaken by the attack of my wild thoughts and destructive tendencies. I’m learning to do better here.
Maybe you say you just can’t do this. You’ve tried before. You’ve tried to be more positive. You’ve tried to change your thoughts. Now, because of failed attempts you’re convinced you can’t. Oh sister, YOU CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH HIM WHO STRENGTHENS YOU. Have you asked God to give you strength in the pivot? Have you asked him to strengthen you in your focus over your feelings? Ask him to help you take your ‘whatever’ and find contentment in it.
If Paul can be content in prison with no food, can you be content where you are today? It doesn’t mean it will be this way forever. It doesn’t mean you’re settling here. It means you’ve found peace IN it and your FOCUS overpowers your feelings.