For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. — Philippians 4:11-13 (HCSB)
It’s official. “The Joneses” are overrated.
Yes, I’m referring to those Joneses. The ones we all are trying to keep up with. Totally overrated. I should know. I’ve been trying to keep up with them for years. Once I achieved it, it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
These past few months have not been easy financially for me and my family. We were certain when all of this hardship began that it would be very temporary. Three or four months. But now, nearly seven months later, there does not appear to be an end in sight. Essentially, we are destitute. Hand to mouth. Etc. Etc. At first it was late bills. Then it was selling a few personal items. Now, the house, cars, jewelry … all of it is gone. Yes, it is painful.
This morning at church, the sermon was about suffering. Oh boy was I going to relate to this one! I had a story about suffering. I was losing all that I owned. I was ostracized by former friends. Yes. This sermon was definitely for me. Pen in hand, I was ready to take notes and then wallow some more in why my life was so bad. Then God’s Word spoke to me.
Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. –Matthew 27:27-31
Yep. God quickly reminded me that I didn’t know suffering at all. How could I possibly feel sorry for myself and the circumstances I find myself in when I read those verses? So what if I don’t have the home of my dreams. So what if I am no longer accepted in some social circles. I am alive and free because my God loved me enough to allow His Son to suffer for my sins. And boy was I sinning today. I was feeling jealousy, anger, resentment, bitterness… And Jesus suffered because He knew I would sin just like that. That’s some powerful stuff.
When I think of the emotional pain that I am living with, I have definitely wondered when God would step in and make it stop. But in the message today, I heard a wonderful statement. “God is not the author of my pain.” Wait. What? You mean it’s choices I have made that have impacted my situation? So what does it all mean then? What’s the point?
The point is that God is not the author of the pain but He will definitely use it for good. I can now have compassion for others walking through some dark valleys. I can offer them love and acceptance. I can show them God’s grace through my actions. That’s the point. God isn’t going to cause us pain but He will show us how to use it. Matthew 25:31-46 drives home this very point.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
Getting back to the Joneses…
I’m fairly certain there will be times when the Joneses will invade my thoughts again. We are told over and over that to be loved and accepted we must look a certain way, live in a certain home and wear a certain label. But I believe God is showing me exactly how He wants me to be used in His ministry. He doesn’t want me to be like the Joneses. These comparisons destroy our contentment. When we see others owning, enjoying, or experiencing what we do not have, but wish we did, it can make us doubt our self-worth. In a letter to the believers in Philippi, the Apostle Paul wrote Philippians 4:11-13. “For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” I’m definitely not where the Apostle Paul was. Not even close. But at least God has deliberately shown me how He expects me to live my life – content in whatever circumstances I am.
God has already prepared a place of contentment for us when we can’t pay the bills. We find that place when we take our eyes off of our situation and fix them solely upon God.
A blog that I read about comparisons said the following:
” When we cease making comparisons and instead willingly embrace our current lot in life, welcoming all that God will teach us through it, we will finally unearth the secret Paul knew. True contentment is not merely having what you want, it is wanting nothing more than what you already have.”
Heavenly Father, forgive me for not embracing my current situation and seeing it as an opportunity instead of a sacrifice. Show me how to be your hands and feet to others walking through pain so that I might be of use to you. Thank you, Lord, for never wasting a hurt. Amen.