True Contentment (pt. 2)

Philippians 4:13

So in my last post, I posted some thoughts about New Year resolutions and how they are often manifested because of our dissatisfaction or lack of contentment with the way things are in our lives.  I moved on to talk about Gospel Contentment and how Paul is able to have such an incredible peace amidst the hardships that he was facing during his imprisonment.  What Paul shares to his beloved friends in Philippi is that he has learned to find this incredible contentment/peace in Christ through the depth of his understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and how it is only through the Gospel that he can say with such confidence “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).

So why do we have a Part 2 to this True Contentment topic then, Helicon?  I could totally have stopped at the end of last week’s post and ended this train of thought but I believe that God has helped me see some new wisdom and insight on the topic recently.   There were times when it was not so easy to be filled with joy or fixated or at peace with Christ, but it was in those times that I continued to pray and ask God to show me more reasons why this understanding is so important and how much further it continues to go into my foundations and faith.

Here’s why this contentment stuff is so important… like me, you WILL face times when you will encounter hardships /discouragements /trials/suffering /loss/heartbreak/loneliness!  The question is… how will you respond in those times?  Will you become so distraught that you are unable to function?  Will you start to panic and perhaps even go as far as to blame God for what happens?  Maybe you won’t panic as much, but inside you are deeply shaken to the core of the foundations of your faith and this may become the catalyst to a growing distance from God in your daily life.  You may even be rebellious due to your frustration and lack of seeing God’s activeness.

The reality is we face these dilemmas and they are a part of our lives that we cannot ignore.  Rather than facing these times, we often rather hide these struggles as we try to put on a brave or courageous face for the rest of the world to see.  What happens is we ignore these thoughts until they are upon us and then we have to struggle even more so because we are ill-prepared to face the reality of our lives.  This denial or willful blindness only makes the journey longer and the hole deeper; rather than finding ourselves to God, we feel further and more ashamed than before.  To ignore these dilemmas then would be a huge blind spot in our soul, and a place where we will be missing God’s grace and refinement (God’s there, but our blindness leads us unaware or unwilling to listen to him in those areas).

Paul grasps this hope/eschatological confidence in the Gospel… and as a result, he not only has a deep peace in the truth of the Gospel, but in the promise of the Gospel.  What is the reason we can trust God so much in the present when things look so screwed up? I think that we can have such confidence in the present because of a confidence in the fulfillment of the promise in the future.  The promise of that hope and the belief that it will be fulfilled drives our confidence in the present… and though this may seem so elementary, we can easily gloss over it in our own hearts.  The truth is that this is a very powerful ingredient to Paul’s confidence in the Gospel.  He believes what Jesus Christ has said and that God will redeem it all in the future; he has no doubt about this and this is what strengthens him in the present.  We remember the past and what Christ has accomplished, but we anticipate the future for its fulfillment.

Too often, I think our understanding of the Gospel is stuck only in the present… and rather than seeing God’s powerful work transcending time, we can only see it from the singular (even narrow) perspective of the present.  We are so easily shaken because we can only see things within the present context and never consider the Sovereignty of God & His control that transcends time.  We may consider the past and we may consider the future, but what we must remember is that God is not bound by the boundaries of time.  God sees/defines/authors the complete big picture!  I think that it’s in seeing the promise of God (with an understanding of the future) that gives Paul this unwavering 100% confidence.  He doesn’t just understand this… he KNOWS this with all of his being to be true.  This is a real faithfulness and trust in God’s promises!

This is definitely something I feel that we have to desire and constantly pray for because it is so easily forgotten.  How often has that dreaded feeling of doubt and discouragement come creeping in during a bout or season of trial or hardship?  This is why preaching the Gospel to ourselves has such an essential role to our faith and its healthiness.  It is this constant radical reorientation back towards Christ; it is that recalibration that cannot afford to be off even by a teensy bit in our lives.  We need to be focused because even the smallest incorrect focus over the distance of our lives will end up far off the target of our relationship with Jesus Christ.  This constant vigilant correction is necessary and perhaps why we are compared to sheep: who are so easily distracted and strayed.

So as I share today, do we constantly see this future promise and it’s completeness in the Gospel?  Do we see and place our confidence in these promises and earnestly desire to see these things from this mindset?  It is perhaps when you are able to do these things that you can say with as much confidence as Paul the following words: “… for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11b-13).

What do you place your confidence in when things get tough?  Do you place it in the promises that Christ will return and things will be made right?  How often do you reflect on the Gospel and preach it to yourself?  Do you believe and long for the future fulfillment of God’s promise and see it as a definite or a possibility?  This my friends will be something you wrestle with your entire life… it is a journey that you will constantly encounter such moments, and the question then is: will you continue to remember to preach the Gospel to yourself, and cling to Christ?

True Contentment (pt. 1)

Philippians 4:13

HAPPY NEW YEAR!  I hope you were able to spend some quality fun time with friends and family. In light of this transition, I am wondering if you would take time to reflect on the previous year?

For me, I often spend some time reflecting on the previous year during the Holiday season.  I usually think of things I’ve done, and what I hope to see change in the new year; I set them aside as things to give to God in prayer.  I don’t set resolutions personally, but I know many folks that do set resolutions.  I find myself often at the gym, and the one thing we all know is that at the beginning of the new year, many folks set resolutions to work out and to lose weight (I need to do this as well).  The thing is…over the span of the next 1-3 months, many of these folks end up stopping or not showing up at all after a few sessions.  There are many reasons for this, but today I am not going to address that side of resolution setting.  Rather than talking about the outcome of resolutions, I want to talk about the reasons which we are motivated to set resolutions in the 1st place.

I think the primary reason we set resolutions is because there are ultimately certain elements/aspects of our lives that we are deeply unsatisfied with.  Whether with our own body image, the hardships of our lives, unanswered prayers, unhappy employment situations, broken relationships, or suffering from a difficult season, we set resolutions because we are not content or happy with our lives in one of these areas.  This dissatisfaction becomes a place of brokenness, shame and often is what leads to unhealthy choices or paths towards even more struggles and pain.  I was recently reflecting on the text of Phil. 4 and considering Paul’s words from verses 11 through 13.

11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

What gives Paul such unerring confidence and peace in the midst of his imprisonment and suffering to be able to trust God?  How can that peace or confidence or contentment or joy be found in Paul’s life… and more so how can we come to have that as well?

I think that as I thought about this, I realized that Paul is so at peace and so tremendously able to find confidence in God in the midst of his hardship because his understanding of God’s Gospel is so rich; it is a truth and a reality in his life and the source of his confidence.  It is this confidence in the Gospel that gives Paul his strength, and is often I think where we may fail in our own lives that leads us to be so easily discouraged or shaken when we encounter stormy weather of trials and hardships.

According to Gordon Fee, he points out that to the Philippians, who were Greek trained… they would have understood Paul’s words here (Phil. 4:11-13) as a nod towards stoicism.  Basically this “stoicism” is the seeking of an inner peace to help face the external pressures of life; it is this self-sufficiency, complete self-adequateness,  where a person needs no assistance.  This is also where we get the word “stoic” from… which is when a person can endure pain/hardship without showing their feelings or complaining.

This is so true and can be found in our lives even today especially while considering the reasons why we often set resolutions.  We believe that the Gospel gives us some sort of means or tools to overcome situations and be tough and confident in God in the midst of pain, suffering, loss, hardship, struggle, job loss, death of a loved one, etc.  The truth is this: this is NOT the Gospel and is not about a dependency on God, but a reliance upon self.  The Gospel is not a tool in which we use at our discretion; it is the entirety of our perspective of life.  When you fixate upon this strengthening to resist the buffeting of storms with your own power… I think this is more related to what is culturally acceptable and what is often taught in our lives today… whether thru self-help books or thru what is taught via media.  The Philippians were facing life with this stoicism just like we often do, and what Paul is stating here is a contrasting view to the stoic way of thinking.

The Gospel that Paul finds such peace and trust in is a far cry from the “tool” mindset of facing life with stoicism or with a Gospel tool.  The Gospel is so much more!  In this passage, the stoic way of thinking or the way may lead us to think is that we are to somehow avoid or transcend the circumstances by our own will power or strength.  But what Paul points out here is that rather than avoiding or circumventing the circumstances of our hardship… it is to live in the midst of it!  Our lives are still affected by our circumstances… but rather than moved left and right, we cling to Christ in the midst of it!  This sufficiency is not finite nor is it limited, but it is infinite and unlimited.

Consider Phil. 4:13… “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”  More often than not this is used wrongly by people to talk about how we are to overcome and do amazing things by God (aka Dwight Howard on his sticker for slam dunk contest a few years back).  I confess that I was of the same camp in thinking this way, but what Paul says here is NOT about new/crazier things, but how he has learned to live in the midst of these things through Christ.  Martin Luther’s words then are so poignant as I consider Paul’s words: “The Gospel cannot be preached and heard enough, for it cannot be grasped well enough.” 

Rather than setting a new year’s resolution and applying a temporary fix of discipline to your life, apply a change that requires the entirety of your life (all of your mental, physical, emotional, AND spiritual focus).  This kind of application is what Paul has discovered in coming to understand the Gospel.  The question we must consider then is what is the Gospel to you and I? Is the Gospel simply a tool to be used at certain moments, or is it the rhythm/melody/theme to which you base your entire life and mindset on?  Change happens not temporarily but infuses Paul’s soul and life.  The reason Paul is able to face the hardships of life is because the Gospel is the central foundation of his life; Christ strengthens Him because His promises are true and are a reality in every perception of Paul’s life.  Too often people have seen the Gospel as a message that speaks to a person up to the moment of their salvation.  They think that once you hear the news, there you go… you are in! But what Paul is saying is … the reason I can live how I live is because I have come to see the Gospel in everything I do.  “I can truly do all things in Christ who strengthens me.”

How often are you seeing the Gospel as the reality in which you live your life?  Has the Gospel changed everything in your life?  If not, then today, I challenge you to try out an experiment with me.  Rather than setting a temporary new year’s resolution, let’s apply this Gospel mindset into an area of your life, and reflect about how Christ’s life, death, and resurrection speaks to that part of your life.  Let the sovereignty of God, Christ’s victory over sin, and the Spirit’s powerful working in your life speak to that area of your life.  Feel free to email me personally (helicon.kuan@livingstonescc.com), and I would be glad to journey with you in this experiment; I’ll practice the same exercise with you!