When I first saw this picture, it made me laugh out loud—but just for a moment. Then I took a closer look and realized that it was a picture of me. Of course my dog is black but otherwise, it depicts me with remarkable accuracy. Maybe it reflects you too. Take a closer look but don’t focus so much on the person or the dog. Instead focus on the thought bubbles above each of them in comparison to what they are doing. Notice they are simply sitting together on a bench. While the thought bubble above the dog is a reflection of what they are doing at that moment, the thought bubbles above the man reflects everything but what they are doing. Instead, the thought bubbles above the man shows that he is thinking about money, travel, a car, and a house. What he isn’t thinking about is his companion who is simply content to sit with the man. I’m sort of ashamed to admit that this very often describes me. I can be with my wife or children or good friends or in deep prayer to the Creator of the universe and my mind will drift to my possessions—those I have and those I don’t have, vacations—those I’ve taken and those I would like to take, money—how much I have and how much I want, health—whether I will get better or worse, and so many other things that agitate my thoughts.
I stopped laughing when I saw this picture because God used it to show me something that is desperately missing in my life—it isn’t more possessions, more vacations, more money, or better health. Instead, God used that picture to tell me that what is missing in my life is Contentment. Does that describe you or is it just me? Do you scramble through your days always trying to do more or acquire more or are you content with were you are and what you have? Let me ask you a question, would you be content if you were in perfect health? Of course you would be! Now, would you be just as content if your health declined sharply? Probably not! Who would be content with being ill? How about this, would you be content if you had lots of money? I know it’s a silly question. Who wouldn’t be content to have lots of money? But would you be just as content if you had very little money? Read that again carefully. I know that many, maybe even most, of you have very little money and you likely consider yourself as being content. However, I didn’t ask if you would be content, I asked if you would be “just as content” as if you had lots of money. That makes the question more difficult doesn’t it? The answer to these questions will determine the degree to which you live your life in a state of always striving for something more or different than what you already have or whether you live your life in a state of Contentment.
10I 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. 11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I 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. 13I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Paul started the church in Philippi during his second missionary journey through the region. Paul wrote this letter around 61 A. D. to thank the Philippians for the gift they sent to him with one of their members, Epaphroditus. The letter was obviously written to the Philippians but it has profound relevance for believers today. This is a very short letter, only four chapters, with a dominant theme of joy throughout the letter with such instructions from Paul as “Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again: Rejoice! (4:4)” However, the most important thing to remember about this letter in the context of our lesson on Contentment: Paul wrote the letter while sitting in prison in Rome.
10I 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.
Paul continues with the theme of joy when he begins v. 10 with: “I rejoice.” The Philippians were obviously concerned about Paul’s well being while he was in prison. Paul didn’t accept gifts from the Corinthian church because he didn’t want to be accused of preaching the gospel for financial gain. However, he did that in that particular circumstance. Otherwise Paul teaches that people in ministry deserve to be supported and have their needs met by those to whom they are sent to serve. In this case, Paul accepted whatever care package the Philippians sent him because they gave it willingly out of sincere concern.
“Paul faces the difficult task of showing the Philippians his genuine appreciation for their financial support, both past and present, but of also showing that his work is neither dependent on nor motivated by this support. He does this through combining expressions of gratitude and qualification designed to prevent misunderstanding…Paul wants the Philippians to know that his joy does not depend on the alleviation of his physical discomfort, thus, although he is in prison, Paul says that he is not in need.”
11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.
Again, Paul wants the Philippians to understand in v. 11 that the joy he derived from their gift had more to do with their sincere concern for him and their generous attitude than it did with filling some kind of need that Paul may have had. Instead, Paul wants them to know that he doesn’t expend a lot of energy focusing on the things he doesn’t have and wants or needs. Instead, he lives his life in a state of what seems to be perpetual joy. Paul isn’t detached from reality. He knows he’s in prison. He knows he’s tired, hungry, and poor. However, he is very intentional about not focusing on what he needs or what he does not have and instead focuses on “Rejoicing in the Lord.” Paul has mastered the art of Contentment.
I want you to notice something Paul says and what he doesn’t say. He doesn’t say that Contentment is a gift. He doesn’t say that Contentment is something he was born with. Instead, he says that Contentment is something he “learned.” That means it is something we can all incorporate into our lives. What does learning require? Learning requires: Desire, intentionality, and practice. Contentment doesn’t just fall on us like rainfall. Contentment is something we must strive to master. So what must we desire, be intentional about, and practice? Rejoicing only and always in our relationship with Jesus. If that is our desire and we are intentional and practice our focus on the relationship we have with the One who gave His life for us then, like Paul, we will become masters of Contentment.
Paul’s Contentment “was not Stoic self-sufficiency, the cultivated attitude of the wise person who could face life and death with equanimity because of his own inner resources; rather, Paul’s independence of external circumstances was only because he was totally dependent upon God. He is able to be content in all things because of his relationship with Christ who gives him strength.”
12I 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. 13I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Notice in v. 12 that Paul doesn’t say that the secret to Contentment is a life of austerity. He also doesn’t say that Contentment is found in a life of luxury. Instead, Paul says he learned the secret of Contentment in every situation of life—austerity or luxury. Paul tells us his secret in v. 13 is his relationship and dependence on Jesus. But Jesus already told us this secret during His earthly ministry.
A rich, young ruler came to Jesus and asked Him what he needed to do gain eternal life (Mk 10:17-22). Jesus told him to follow the Ten Commandments. The young ruler told Jesus that he had already done that. However, he wasn’t “content” with that and asked Jesus what else he needed to do. So Jesus told the rich, young ruler to sell all he had and follow Him. Mark tells us that the young man hung his head and turned away from Jesus. There are so many lessons in the story of the rich, young ruler but for the purpose of our lesson I want you to see that Jesus was trying to teach the young ruler that he would be content in his salvation if he sold everything and devoted himself to following Jesus. The young man had everything most people desire—money, power, and position; he even appeared to be faithful in his commitment to the Law, yet he was still not content. Jesus gave him the secret to Contentment—stop chasing after all the things that don’t bring Contentment and instead nurture a deep and abiding relationship with Him.
“Circumstances were the arena of spiritual growth, and through them Paul developed adaptability…Paul displayed spiritual equilibrium. He was equally unaffected by poverty and riches. This knowledge is learned by walking with Christ, who is the sufficient one, and by developing a solid theology of material things. Things ultimately do not matter. Relationships matter. Paul’s attitude contrasted with the false teachers’. They were preoccupied with food and earthly matters. Paul could rise above any set of circumstances.”
I’ll be completely honest with you, I didn’t want to prepare this lesson because I knew there would be some hard truths that I didn’t want to hear. If that describes you then I’m thankful to not be alone. Contentment hasn’t always been difficult for me. However, after being sick for more than two years now, I find myself constantly thinking about and longing for a life without constant pain and exhaustion. I am anything but content with my place in life so I knew this lesson was going to be hard. Is Contentment difficult for you as well? Are you constantly jumping from one boyfriend or girlfriend to the next because you’re just not content to be single? Are you constantly on the lookout for the next house; a bigger house; a better house? Do you drive down the street in your new car and long to have the car that just pulled up next to you at the light? Do you move from job to job to job because you’re convinced that the next job will make you happy? Are you constantly planning the next vacation or “business trip” because you’re rarely content to just stay at home? If that describes you and you’ve heard some things in this lesson that you didn’t want to hear then maybe this lesson will help you as well.
Toward the end of Jesus’ ministry, He told His disciples that He would be leaving them. Naturally, His disciples were distressed and disturbed by that revelation. In response to their concern, Jesus promised that he would send them the Holy Spirit to be their constant companion to teach them and guide them and who, in some translations, is referred to as the Comforter. At the end of Jesus’ discourse about sending the Holy Spirit, He says something that is important in the context of our lesson on Contentment. He says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (Jn 14:27).” “Peace” is closely related to Contentment. When we are content, our spirit is at peace; we are at peace. So Jesus made it possible for us to be content because He gave us His peace. Notice that He says that it’s not the same peace the world gives. The world says, you’ll find peace when you’re together with your next boyfriend or girlfriend. You’ll find peace when you buy a bigger home. You’ll find peace driving that nicer car. You’ll find peace on that next vacation. The peace the world promises is always just out of reach so that you are never content. The peace Jesus promises is the gift of the presence of God in our lives. The problem is that we get distracted by all the world has to offer and we lose focus on God’s presence in our lives. Paul could say that he was content in all things because he never lost his focus on Jesus and the strength Jesus gave him to cope with all circumstances in his life. What was the secret Paul learned in v. 13? Paul detached himself from the temporal in order to stay focused on God’s presence in his life. And when that became difficult, he derived strength from the presence of Jesus in his life. Paul learned that Contentment was found when practicing God’s presence in His life.
Other than the gift of salvation that God freely gives us, everything else in our relationship with God requires practice. And practicing the presence of God is no different. Brother Lawrence was a humble cook in a monastery toward the end of the 17th century. During his time there, he shared his spiritual insights in letters and interviews that were compiled by an abbot, Joseph de Beaufort, into a small spiritual handbook that was published with the titled, the practice of the presence of God. Here is how brother Lawrence describes the presence of God and how we can practice God’s presence. I want you to pay close attention to the key word “peace” for which you can substitute Contentment:
“The presence of God is the concentration of the soul’s attention on God, remembering that He is always present.
“I know a person who for forty years has practiced the presence of God, to which he gives several other names. Sometimes he calls it a simple act—a clear and distinct knowledge of God, and sometimes he calls it a vague view or a general and loving look at God—a remembrance of Him. He also refers to it as attention to God, silent communion with God, confidence in God, or the life and the peace [Contentment] of the soul…
“By dwelling in the presence of God [a person can establish] such a sweet communion with the Lord that His spirit abides, without much effort, in the restful peace [Contentment] of God. In this rest, [a person] is filled with a faith that equips [that person] to handle anything that comes to him [or her].
“This is what…is called the ‘actual presence’ of God, which includes any and all kinds of communion a person who still dwells on the earth can possibly have with God in heaven. At times, [a person] can live as if no one else existed on earth but [that person] and God. [A person] lovingly speaks with God wherever [they go], asking Him for all [a person] needs and rejoicing with Him in a thousand ways.
“Nevertheless, one should realize that this conversation with God occurs in the depth and center of the soul. It is there that the soul speaks to God heart to heart and always dwells in a great and profound peace [Contentment] that the soul enjoys in God. The trouble that happens in the world can become like a blaze of straw that goes out even as it is catching fire. The soul can retain its interior peace [Contentment] in God.
“The presence of God is, then the life and nourishment of the soul, which can be acquired with the grace of God. Here are the means to do so.
1) The first is a new life, received by salvation through the blood of Christ.
2) The second is faithfully practicing God’s presence. This must always be done gently, humbly, and lovingly, without giving way to anxiety or problems.
3) The soul’s eyes must be kept on God, particularly when something is being done in the outside world. Since much time and effort are needed to perfect this practice, one should not be discouraged by failure. Although the habit is difficult to form, it is a source of divine pleasure once learned. It is proper that the heart—which is the first to live and which dominates all the other parts of the body—should be the first and the last to love God. The heart is the beginning and the end of all our spiritual and bodily actions and, generally speaking, of everything we do in our lives. It is, therefore, the heart whose attention we must carefully focus on God.
4) In the beginning of this practice, it would not be wrong to offer short phrases that are inspired by love, such as ‘Lord, I am all Yours,’ ‘God of love, I love You with all my heart,’ or ‘Lord, use me according to Your will.’ But remember to keep the mind from wandering or returning to the world. Hold your attention on God alone by exercising your will to remain in God’s presence.
5) Although this exercise may be difficult at first to maintain, it has marvelous effects on the soul when it is faithfully practiced. It draws the graces of the Lord down in abundance and shows the soul how to see God’s presence everywhere with a pure and loving vision, which is the holiest, firmest, easiest, and the most effective attitude for prayer.”
Paul was content because he had his priorities right and he practiced the presence of Jesus in his life. However, he said that he “learned” to be content in all things. Well we won’t learn to be content unless we get our priorities right and likewise we begin to practice the presence of Jesus in our lives. If you will take the time with me to incorporate brother Lawrence’s practice of the presence of God in your life, I am confident that you too will find the Contentment we all so desperately long for.
 Frank Thielman, Philippians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), 235-236.
 Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, eds., Dictionary of Paul and his Letters, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 625.
 Richard R. Melick, Jr., Philippians, Colossians, Phil
 Brother Lawrence, the practice of the presence of God, (New Kensington, PA: Witaker House, 1982), 67-70.
(Audio version; Music--"Keep Your Eyes On Me" by: Tim McGraw & Faith Hill and "I'll Think About You" by: We Are Messengers)