I recently stumbled upon an article claiming to expose the “7 Secrets of Super Healthy People”… or something like that.
I want to be healthy. I want to know secrets. I was hooked.
After browsing the article, I kept scrolling, a bit disappointed that every “secret” I had unlocked could probably have been found in a 6th grade health textbook. Drink water, be active, chill on the sugar….pretty standard stuff.
I was intrigued by the post because I had hoped it would tell me something I didn’t already know- some super easy life-changing key that would require little effort and give me instant results. But alas, that’s simply not how it works.
In Philippians 4, the Apostle Paul tells his readers that he has learned the “secret of being content.” Consistent with my curious nature, and much like that health article, knowing this secret intrigued me. Unlike the cheesy article, however, this “secret” was an instant game changer.
“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.” Phil.4:11-12
Secret #1: Contentment is less about what I have and more about what I believe.
Philippians is one of the most uplifting, joy-filled, feel-good books in the whole New Testament.
That being said, it may be surprising to realize that the author of the book happens to be an expert on the topic of suffering. Paul had been rejected, beaten, falsely accused, shipwrecked, and almost killed multiple times. In fact, these very verses in Philippians were penned from a prison cell.
Kinda humbling, huh?
Sometimes I find myself struggling to be content as I sit in my heated apartment with a stocked refrigerator and internet access. I have a car that runs (most days), a phone that works, and more than enough clothing, yet sometimes I still struggle to be ok with what I have. Here is a man who has nothing, yet speaks as if he is abundantly provided for. How? He tells us in verse 13: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
He faced highs and lows, plenty and hunger. His level of contentment was steady even though his circumstances changed, which can only mean one thing: his satisfaction had nothing to do with what he did or did not have. In order for his attitude to be unchanging, it had to be rooted in that which was also unchanging. For Paul, and for us, the only thing that never changed was his Savior.
Secret #2: Comparison is the greatest enemy of contentment
I drive a 2004 Nissan Sentra (affectionately named Henry). I was given a generous price in a pinch when I really needed something to get me from A to B, which my little car has done faithfully for a little over a year now. The AC doesn’t work, but I enjoy having the windows down. The front bumper is zip tied together (thanks, Dad), but it’s simply cosmetic. It’s been in the shop for repairs four times this year, but isn’t that just how it goes?
I never think about the faults, inconveniences, or issues…until I ride in someone else’s car.
I feel the power of fresh cold air through the vents, notice the lack of DIY bumper remedies, and begin calculating all the bills I’ve forked over to my mechanic this year. Comparison steals any and all progress we make in the contentment department.
For example, there are some interesting and aesthetic Instagram accounts that I just can’t follow; not because the content is sinful or crude, but because I tend to find myself much less thankful for my breakfast, my apartment, or my relationship status when I fill my mind with someone else’s.
When our eyes start to wander from what we have been given to what someone else has been given, we clear a broad path for envy and all of its friends: jealousy, bitterness, disbelief, and discontentment. So begins the downward spiral.
Questions to ask to fight comparison and discontentment:
Do I believe that God loves me? If so, do I believe that He has my best interest in mind? If so, do I believe that a loving, care God would actually keep good things from me when He knows what I need, even if He seems to be giving them to someone else? Is He worth trusting with my wants, needs, and hopes?
Secret #3: Contentment is learned, not earned.
For the longest time, I bought into this misconception that one day, when I became super spiritual and wise, I would automatically find myself perfecting whole contentment thing.
Update: that’s not how it works. When Paul refers to being content, he talks about it as something he has learned, not something he has stumbled into. Having an attitude like Paul’s is not something that is reserved for super spiritual people, it’s something YOU can learn.
Philippians 4:13 – a verse often quoted by athletes or sports heroes, is not actually about weight lifting or breaking your mile time. It’s about learning to be content. Both sports and contentment require incredible discipline! It takes a conscious effort, focused attention, and intentionality to improve in either area. Growing in contentment is not about feelings, it’s about faith. Referring back to point #1, it’s not about what we do, it’s about how we think. What we know, what we practice, and what we prioritize shows up very clearly in our attitude towards what we have.
Secret #4 It starts with the Gospel.
What does the cross have to do with contentment? Absolutely everything.
When we don’t see our circumstances through the lens of the gospel, we are more prone to sow seeds of entitlement. Like Eve in Genesis chapter 3, we become quick to take matters into our own hands when we distrust, disbelieve, or forget what God says.
Milton Vincent, in his book The Gospel Primer, says this about how the gospel motivates contentment:
“The gospel reminds me first that what I actually deserve from God is a full cup churning with the torments of His wrath. This is the cup that would be mine to drink if I were given what I deserve each day. With this understanding in mind, I see that to be handed a completely empty cup from God would be cause enough for infinite gratitude. If there were merely the tiniest drop of blessing contained in that otherwise empty cup, I should be blown away by the unbelievable kindness of God toward me… As for my specific earthly circumstances of plenty or want, I can see them always as infinite improvements on the hell I deserve.”
He is enough, friends.
The more we know Him, the more we see Him for all that He is, and the more our eyes are fixed on the incredible blessings He’s poured out on an undeserving people. Contentment brings rest, and the heart of the Gospel is where the redeemed sinner finds it.