Content Always

Athletes declare it. Children memorize it. The inspirational message is emblazoned on half the items in the Christian bookstore. “I can do all things through Christ.”

Often adopted as an anthem for living our dreams with God, Paul’s original message in his letter to the church in Philippi rang a little differently. Paul wasn’t competing in the Olympics or dreaming of career success. Paul was surviving. His gospel message resulted in beatings and imprisonment, shipwrecks and exposure to the elements.  He hungered and thirsted as he worked at spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. But, despite all that, it was well with his soul.

He said in Philippians 4:10-13:

“I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Bad times come to us all, and we’re in a pretty dark season right now, to be honest. Yet, Paul says that with strength from Christ, we can be content through it all. “Content” sounds a lot like having peace.

Jesus had a lot to say about peace. He said that in this world we would have trouble, but he has overcome the world and brings us peace. He invites the weary and burdened to come to Him for rest. He promises peace unlike the world gives, so we don’t have to have troubled hearts or fear.  So how do we experience this peace in all circumstances, particularly the tough stuff?

  1. Stick close to Christ.

The presence of the Lord is powerful, but we will miss it if we are not connected to Him. Yes, God is always with us, but we often allow His presence to go unnoticed when we’re distracted by all of life’s craziness. Peace comes when we make an effort to spend time with God through prayer, Bible study, worship, and even simple times of quiet where we pay attention to Him.

  1. Seek God’s perspective.

Paul looked at his situation and saw that everything he did- even in suffering- gave glory to God and spread the gospel. The story of Joseph- including family abuse, slavery, false accusations, and imprisonment- concludes with his declaration that what was intended for harm was used by God to save people from famine. Our limited vision often isolates struggle and pain, but with the Lord’s help, we can step back and view God’s big picture and see how He fulfills the promise of Romans 8:28, working out all things for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. Waiting on the Lord’s timing so we can look back and see His hand is often difficult. But when we call to him in the midst of trouble and ask for His perspective, He often gifts us with a glimpse of His glory. What do your circumstances look like from a heavenly point of view?

  1. Rely on God for strength.

We are human. We have limits. But we have a mighty God. Ask Him to fill the gaps where you fall short. Allow space for Him to work and keep an eye out for what He is doing. Remember that, though we like instant fixes, God has deliberate perfect timing. No matter what is happening, the burden is not all on your shoulders. God is the heavy lifter, working on your behalf. He provides strength and guidance all along the way.

During this COVID-19 threat, we’re limited to our homes and our work schedules have been disrupted. People are getting sick and hospitals are overloaded. The economy is worrisome and the world seems to be changing by the hour. Yet, God is still sovereign and He remains good. Like Paul, we can be content even in these extreme circumstances. Christ gives us strength no matter what is happening around us. We will do more than survive; we will have peace and life abundant in Him.

Good

The goodness of God is woven into the pages of Scripture from creation to Revelation, often in surprising places. Jesus spent His life revealing the glory of God and shattering some of the most common perceptions in the hearts of His people. He redefined goodness in unexpected ways and in the least likely people.

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The story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:29-37 is a familiar tale of the victim of robbery and assault, illustrating the definition of who is our neighbor. Upon seeing an injured man on the side of the road, both a priest and a Levite (a temple assistant) ignored the suffering. But a man from Samaria took action to care for the man in need. The lesson here is clearly to help when someone is hurt, but there’s another cultural detail that our modern minds might overlook. Samaritans were not respected in ancient Jewish culture. They were different because they had both Jewish and Gentile heritage. Some sources describe them as being despised. Yet, Jesus uses a Samaritan man as an example and calls him good.

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Tax collectors were also unpopular, thanks to their practice of taking people’s money and cheating them out of more than they were due. Their shady business practices severely lacked character and integrity while leaving people short-changed. Yet, Jesus tells a story in Luke 18:9-14 that flips the script on popular opinion. A Pharisee (devoutly Jewish) and a tax collector both went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee’s prayer gave God a report of his own good deeds, just short of giving himself a righteous gold star. The tax collector, on the other hand, mourned his sinfulness and asked for mercy. Jesus said that it was the tax collector who was justified before God, making a positive example out of someone considered lowly.

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Then Jesus got personal. In John 10:11-18, He describes Himself as the good shepherd. We can easily get on board with His description of a nurturer, thankful that God protects us- His sheep- and that we know His voice. These verses conjure images of Christ with long wavy hair, a staff in one hand and lamb in the other, clothed in flowing white robes. But in reality, shepherds were not a glowing vision. Their robes were full of dirt and sweat. They lived on the outskirts of society with their flocks- and smelled like them, too. Manners and propriety likely faded away the longer they abided in the fields. It’s no wonder that civilized people looked down upon shepherds. Yet, here Jesus was saying that He was one of them, and that He was good.

There are “others” in our lives today. We have a tendency to categorize people and sort out who is like us and who is different. Then we assign value based on economics, race, political opinions, and our judgment of their decisions. What would modern parables tell us? Who else would Jesus call good today that would make us pause or gasp in surprise- or outrage?

However, as centuries have passed, we haven’t learned from our biblical brothers and sisters. We haven’t yet seen people with God’s perspective. First, He created humanity in His own image. Though there are many ideas of what this means, we know for sure that there’s a reflection of our Creator in every single human being ever born. Psalm 139:14 says we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Luke 19:10 tells us that Christ came to seek and save the lost. And, of course, John 3:16 declares that God loved the entire world so much that He sent and sacrificed His Son to redeem all of His children.

How, then, can we look upon God’s beloved and decide that they aren’t good? How can we measure our neighbor by their identity or choices? The Samaritan was good. The tax collector was justified. God loves each person and commands us to do the same. Who knows? We could be “the other” to our neighbor, also in need of freedom from judgment and an outpouring of love instead.

God works all things together for good for those He loves and calls according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Those we’ve called “bad” become good in His hands. He humbled Himself and identified with those society deemed less-than. Let’s work on defining goodness by the Lord’s standards. I bet we’ll find transformation in our own hearts in the process.