Someone once said regarding Christian teachers, “Live what you teach and teach what you live.” Now, that is true to a point, but if it were an absolute principle to follow, you would never teach on some subjects such as life after death or heaven. Nonetheless, for a teacher to maintain integrity, he needs, wherever possible, to “live what he teaches and teach what he lives.” For example, you can’t really teach on forgiveness if you are not willing to forgive and you are holding on bitterly to unforgiveness. All of us, as believers, are on a spiritual journey; none of us have arrived and become perfect. We are all growing, or at least should be, in our Christian walk following Jesus. We need to learn and grow.
Let me tell you about a recent learning experience that I have been going through – an experience that, although I am getting older, reminded me there are things I still need to learn. This experience involved being content, but before I tell you about it, let’s look at what the Bible says about contentment.
PAUL’S CALL TO BE CONTENT
Paul’s letter to the Philippians is sometimes described as the most beautiful of Paul’s letters, and the dominant theme is that of triumphant joy. This is all the more incredible given the circumstances under which it was written. When he authored this letter in AD 61, Paul was in prison in Rome. It is in the midst of this letter that Paul gives this extraordinary testimony. He writes in Philippians 4:11 (NKJV), after sharing his thanks for the gifts the Philippians sent him, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.”
What was the state or states that he learned to be content in? In verse twelve, he spells it out in some detail: “I know how to be abased [brought low], and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:12&13, NKJV).
The paraphrase in the Message Bible puts it this way, “I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am” (Philippians 4:11b-13).
What is Paul saying? I have learned to be content in all the various circumstances I find myself in through Christ, who enables me to handle them all. Now, let’s notice a couple of essential keys to discovering this contentment.
“I have learned” – In other words, this did not come naturally. It was something Paul learned over many years of following the Lord. No one likes to be hungry, although many would like to be full. However, Paul says I learned how to handle both extremes of life. “I have learned.” The learning process is a part of growth, and one of the ways we learn is through experience, which allows us to prove the Word in our own lives.
“In whatever state” – Paul was a realist about life. He knew that there would be highs and lows; there would be mountain tops and valleys. Thus, he had come to the point where he had learned to be content no matter what came his way, such as his imprisonment at the time he wrote Philippians.
“Through Christ who strengthens me” – The key to it all was Christ, his Savior, the one who redeemed his life. He learned in all situations that it was Christ who strengthened him. In other words, it wasn’t because of his efforts or his willpower; it was through Christ who strengthened him. Paul learned the secret that contentment lay in Jesus.
MY RECENT EXPERIENCE
Let me be clear from the beginning in sharing my experience that it is a learning experience in which I have not yet arrived but have caught a glimpse of what it is to be content. Let me tell you my story.
When I finished my time as interim Pastor of Church on the Hill, an Assembly of God church in Chaska, MN, I told the congregation that the primary thing I was to do now was to take care of Dorothy, who had not been completely well for many years.
During the first year, I had the freedom to do other things. One such project was to visit a number of churches, mainly pentecostal and evangelical, to see what God was doing in other places. Sometimes I went by myself, and other times with a friend. It was a stimulating experience.
Then in 2020, things began to change. To be specific, COVID arrived, which changed life for many people, ourselves included. At this stage, Dorothy was not well enough to go to church, so I decided to stay home with her and watch a service on the computer (she listened to it as I did). Consequently, this has continued for nearly three years. During that time, I only went to church once, and that was when my great-grandson was dedicated.
On Memorial Day 2020 (the weekend of the George Floyd incident in Minneapolis), Dorothy took sick. With the help of Mitchel, my grandson and Katie his wife, we ended up at Methodist hospital. The doctor would have kept her there, but with all the COVID going on, it was safer to send her home with some medication. Since then, she has spent most of her time housebound, especially in recent days. In addition to this, I myself am not getting any younger. I am no longer physically strong or able to do many things I used to do.
We have a wonderful friend who does all our shopping for us every week without fail. Our family helps in a variety of ways. For example, our grandson Mitchel helps with a variety of needs around the house, even little things that I once did so easily, such as replacing a globe in a ceiling light. We also receive kind help from friends and neighbors. Life doesn’t change a lot from one day to the next and from one week to the next etc. The main activity I have been able to continue, with the help of my daughter Joy and my granddaughter Hayley is the Langstaff letter.
So I have become her full-time caregiver, and my life has changed considerably. I am at home most of the time. I have not been out to go anywhere at night. My job is to care for Dorothy, and I have learned to do many things, such as cooking, as I now cook three meals each day.
Initially, it took some adjustments. I missed going to church. It was hard, bearing in mind I had been a pastor for 60 years and hardly ever missed a Sunday. Thank God, at least I had a service to watch and listen to on the computer.
It was during this time that God reminded me of how Dorothy had sacrificed her life for me and the ministries He had given us in the last almost 70 years since we first started going together and certainly since our marriage in 1958. I was conscious of what a wonderful wife He had given me, whose gifts balanced out my own and enabled us to see so much happening under the hand of God.
This summer, we re-read Dorothy’s book “Called Together” (I read it, and she listened), and it brought back to mind memories of all the things God had done in our lives during those years in Australia before moving to America in 1980.
A few weeks ago, I suddenly realized that I must be learning something because I noticed I am actually content in doing what I am doing, taking care of Dorothy. Oh yes, we have our moments, but I can honestly say I am learning to be content being a caregiver to Dorothy. As I have said, I have not perfected this, but I am learning to be content in the midst of our present circumstances.
Just recently, I was talking about the concept of contentment to another of my grandchildren, Timothy. Timothy has a call of God for ministry on his life, and at the moment, he is working through the Berean School of the Bible’s program in preparation for ministry and getting ordained. As he buries himself in his studies, Timothy has found that he misses the interaction with people he would have if he worked full time. Recently, I shared with Timothy that, at the moment, he is in a time of preparation that is necessary. God always prepares a servant before he releases him, so he needs to be content during this season.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
What about you? Are you doing something that God has for you at this moment, but you are not really enjoying it? Could it be that God wants you to learn the concept of contentment so that you can be happy doing what He has called you to do right now?
ONE LAST WORD
There is one other verse on contentment I would like to share with you. It is Hebrews 13:5-6 (NKJV),
“Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’
So we may boldly say:
‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’.”
Learn the lesson of being content no matter what circumstance you may find yourself in. Remember, He is there to help us be content.