Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4: 11-13 NASB)
This weekend my pastor pointed out from these verses that contentment is learned. It is not something we just naturally have. I can attest to this from watching babies and toddlers. Currently there are three toddlers at my house. For a toddler typically whatever I have is only interesting for a couple of seconds. What I really need is whatever someone else has. Of course, as adults we do the same thing. We just aren’t usually as obvious about it. At some point we learn manners. We stop reaching over and just snatching what is in our neighbor’s hands. But we aren’t as successful in learning not to want what is in our neighbor’s hands. Our whole economy runs on the basic premise that everybody needs this year’s model, because last year’s just isn’t good enough.
Paul said “I have learned to be content,” “I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry.” The secret is this: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” The secret to our contentment, to fulfillment, to success is not the stuff we have, or in our physical well being, or in our families, or careers. It is not based in our conditions at all. The secret to contentment is God.
What’s more, the stuff we have, our families, our careers, even our bodies are not ours. We have been bought with a price, and we are not our own. All that we have, and even we our selves, belong to God. When we eat we are eating God’s food. When we spend money we are spending God’s money. When we treat our bodies poorly we are not being good stewards of God’s possessions. We are not our own.
Jesus said “So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6: 31-33 NET) Philippians 4 builds on this same idea: “my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus.” That isn’t “out of His riches,” as if he’s dribbling pennies out of his vast horde, but rather “according to His riches.” That means that he supplies our needs in proportion to his riches, which are endless. There is no small print here.
Of course, we can and often do misinterpret this. I need more stuff, and God hasn’t given it to me yet. George Muller talked about God’s provisions a lot. He stressed over and over again in praising God how much God provided just what was needed just at the right time. Often we think that God should give us what we need earlier, so we don’t need to worry about it, or so that we can plan. That’s a lack of trust. If we believe that God will provide for our needs, we don’t need to plan around it or worry. “Don’t worry about anything,” Paul tells us earlier in Philippians 4, “but in everything with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving take your requests to God, and the peace of God that is beyond our understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6,7)
Often our problem isn’t just that we don’t trust God, but that we forget that all that we are and have is his. Suppose a rich man was going to go on a long journey. He appoints his servants to take care of his vineyards and farms and businesses while he’s gone, and lets them stay in his houses and provision themselves out of the proceeds from his businesses. After a while, he sends someone to check on his properties. While he’s been gone, though, his servants have started to pretend that they own the place. They are enjoying the houses and are using up all of the profits from the master’s businesses to live like business owners. When the owner’s representatives come, the servants treat the messengers like they are the supplicants, like giving anything to the owner is an act of charity. The more generous and dutiful give ten percent, and send the messengers on their way. But even these generous and dutiful servants treat the master’s possessions like they are their own, and like they are giving from what is theirs.
All that I have and all that I am belongs to my Master. He can do what he wants with it. He can entrust me with more if he wishes. He can take these resources and allocate them elsewhere if he wants to. He can assign me to whatever task he desires. He can send me wherever he wants me to go. My well being doesn’t depend on how much he gives me, but in my relationship with Him. Whether he entrusts me with much or with little, it is important that I remember that none of it is really mine. I am not the owner.
I am grateful, though, that the Master is not on a long and distant journey. He is right here, caring for my needs moment by moment. He doesn’t do so stingily. Instead, he lavishes his grace and blessings on me not as his slave, but as his adopted son. He doesn’t trickle out an allowance. He pours blessings out in proportion to his riches. Whenever I have a need, whether it is financial, relational, emotional, health, or anything else, I can turn to him and he hears me. He understands my needs better than I do, and he can see all the parts of the picture that are outside of my field of view. So he provides for my real needs, in light of what he knows, rather than ignoring the parts that he knows I can’t see because I ask in ignorance. I can trust him to get it right and care for my every need even when I don’t know what to ask for, and even when I get it wrong.
Where is your hope? Is it in “your” stuff? Is it in your plans? Or is it in God? God can be trusted absolutely. I can’t even be trusted with cookies.