“I have learned … to be content” (Phil. 4:11) stated the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians. Most of us would agree this is a lesson people in our society need to learn. Maybe those of us who claim the name of Christ most of all.
If Paul can do it, so can we! Most of the time we look at the apostles as superhuman and ultra-spiritual. This is our perception, but it’s hardly the truth.
In his own words, Paul considered himself “chief among sinners” and admitted he struggled to keep his fleshly desires in subjection every day. He would be appalled if he thought we considered him to be more spiritual than anyone else.
The Author of the Book, on the other hand, made sure that we could find examples in its pages to use as patterns. Since He created us, He knows we learn best if there is a model to follow.
Our supreme model is Christ. After all, we were created to be conformed into His image.
We can learn much about both the right and wrong paths by studying other examples in the Bible. Some of us relate to Peter’s foot-in-mouth path toward conversion. Others identify more with Paul, who was old out from the very first moment. If neither of these strike a chord, the Bible contains hundreds of others.
For this article, I’m going to focus on the method Paul used to find contentment in his life. Before I begin, I want to explain that the Greek root word used in Phil. 4:11 as content is the same one translated sufficient in the passage I’m going to use.
It’s a familiar passage for most of us. In 2 Corinthians 12, we can find Paul’s step-by-step method for finding contentment in one situation.
When Paul had a problem, his first avenue was prayer.
“…There was given to me a thorn in the flesh. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me” (2 Cor. 12:7-8).
When we find ourselves facing an issue that steals our joy and peace, we rarely go to the Lord first. We might pick up the phone and share our woes with a trusted friend or family member. Maybe we lock ourselves in our room and cry until our eyes swell shut.
For me, it depends on the problem. In the case of a health issue, we often seek the advice of a doctor before going to The Great Physician.
If we want contentment, we need to learn that our first avenue in every situation is prayer.
“For this thing I besought the Lord thrice” (2 Cor. 12:8, emphasis added). It’s obvious by the word choice in this verse that Paul didn’t pray about his problem in a single sitting and let it drop. He was serious about his request and proved it by bringing it before the Lord three times.
We give up on God when he doesn’t answer our prayers within the time frame we’ve determined is acceptable. Maybe a week for minor things and up to a month for bigger things, like a job change or house purchase.
The Bible doesn’t tell us how long it was between Paul’s first and third prayers about his thorn in the flesh. It doesn’t say God immediately answered after Paul’s third petition. This ambiguity teaches us that there is no time limit on God’s answers. He knows when it will be the right time to respond.
Our job is to keep praying and waiting for his answer. If we run ahead without hearing God’s solution, we won’t find contentment. It’s likely we’ll find even more trouble instead.
“And he said unto me” (2 Cor. 12:9). Paul heard an audible reply to his request. Surprisingly, the answer sounded more like a no than a yes. In fact, God did not say yes to Paul, but He did present him with a solution.
There have been times I’ve wished for an audible voice. This is foolhardy. If I would be still enough, I would hear the answer. Most of the time, I want my own answer so I pretend not to hear God’s.
This is not listening. It will never lead to contentment. In fact, it’s a perfect way to find more trials.
“Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ my rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10). Instead of pouting about God’s answer, Paul rejoiced.
It sounds almost ludicrous. Glory in my weaknesses? Why can’t you just turn them into strengths, Lord? Wouldn’t that be better for everyone involved?
No, but it would give us a chance to take credit for overcoming a difficult spot. Boasting and contentment can’t peacefully coexist. We need to humbly accept God’s grace.
Once Paul got his answer, he never brought the subject up again. He let it go. This is how he learned to be content with his physical infirmity.
Once you’ve prayed, pursued and heard God’s answer, it’s time to move on. Believe that God knows best. Only then can you learn true contentment.