“Not that I am speaking of being in need, 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.” —Philippians 4:11-12
I’ve always thought that when Paul wrote, “I have learned to be content in all circumstances.” that meant I was supposed to learn how to be content when I didn’t have enough money for the things I wanted, or even needed and then again to be content when it was provided for me. That alone was simple enough. I was being raised well in this area already. Growing up during my elementary years, I learned how to plan a memorable party with a total budget of $10. We watched nothing but The Andy Griffith Show for a season because we couldn’t afford cable and that’s how I memorized every word of each episode. Our hearts were full, and at times, our cupboards were bare. I never went hungry (obviously). It was a happy time full of making memories and building relationships. But there just wasn’t the overflow or safety net that most of us strive for while we sit at our desks or work with sweat on our brow all day, everyday.
It wasn’t an easy season – most significantly, of course, for my parents. But I’ve found since that it’s so much more than only being thankful for the roof over my head. I found after our season of little sacrifices that what’s hardest is to be content when there is abundance.
When I’m sitting with too many things while I’m starving myself of Him for no good reason at all.
“We may be earnestly desiring to be obedient and holy. But we may be missing the fact that it is here, where we happen to be at this moment and not in another place or another time, that we may learn to love Him—here where it seems He is not doing what we expected Him to do, where He is most absent. Here and nowhere else is the appointed place. If faith does not go to work here, it will not go to work at all.”
—Elisabeth Elliot, The Path Of Loneliness (emphasis mine)
Faith that stays behind the walls full of all the pretty lies we’ve built ourselves is not real. Faith that is wilted just because of financial status is worth nothing. Faith that is comfortable and never exposed, is not faith. Faith that is not content in every place and time, blooming strongly wherever it is planted, is not the faith that comes from God alone.
I don’t want to be known for poverty of heart in the midst of too much. I want to be known for having the fullness of Christ in the face of persecution, in sadness, whether coming up or down the mountain.
Dear God, in the face of honest prayers like these:
I want to lean harder into You, in the absence or in the presence of my words — in my countless groans. When I’m paralyzed by fear or running on confidence. When I can hear You and when I can’t. When I can see Your movements and when You feel a million miles away.
Let us walk through the woods of mundane tasks and heart cries with Your strength in us, and come out stronger than ever before.
Let us make Paul’s statement to the Philippians our anthem, whatever it looks like in the nooks and crannies of our modern lives. Let there be more than just our circumstances keeping us afloat.
Our results might end up echoing Paul’s words more than we would have first imagined. It may sound something like this on the other side, when we sit down to mentor someone as we’re writing a letter of our own:
“I have learned to love God, even when my flesh is naturally jealous of the good gifts He’s giving to other people before me.”
“I have learned to be content when I’m invited to the party, and when I have to watch the peaks of the party on Snapchat alone in my room.”
“I know what it’s like to be in love and what it’s like to be brought to the ground because of a broken heart.”
“I have learned to be content when I have texts flooding in, and when my screen stays dark.”
“I know what it’s like to be embraced emotionally, physically, and spiritually — I know what it’s like to be coldly rejected.”
“I have felt Your companionship in my singleness and barrenness, in my marriage and in my fruitfulness.”
“I have heard Your whisper in the cruel beatings and the gentle massages.”
“I know what it’s like to have a best friend and what it’s like to stand alone.”
“I have learned to love myself when I feel fat and when I feel skinny.”
“I have found You in the woods and in the clear.”
“I have learned to be content on a dirt floor or sitting on a granite counter top.”
“I have learned the secret to being content traveling to beautiful foreign places and staying still in my familiar home.”
Mosquito net and my Bible
Concrete bed I’m still smiling
Ain’t eating much but I’m smiling
I’d rather be in the jungle and in the will of God
Than anywhere else outside it
“I have been brought low by depression, and brought high on Jesus and the laughter He brings in community life.”
“I have loved You in my dreams that crashed and burned, and when You made them fly.”
“I have found You when I feel known by the people around me and when I feel forgotten.”
“We thank You when our bank accounts are low, and we thank You when they’re doing alright.”
“We’ve danced in the thunderstorm, in the snow, and with the sun on our faces.”
Teach us how to love You at Goodwill and at Gap. It’s work to love You. Help us know You’re more than worth it. Teach us how to love You when we’re safe and when we’re vulnerable. Teach us to thank You, all the time.
Yours alone is true provision. We can’t breathe, let alone be thankful in everything, without Your grace. Your strength is this divine secret.
Let us breathe in prayers like this in and out: I’d go anywhere with You, Jesus.
Wherever I go, You’re the same loving Father and You’ve went before me.
I’d rather be in the jungle and in the will of God, than anywhere else outside it.
“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.” —Philippians 4:19