Devotion for the Week...
I spent all of last winter looking forward to this summer because I couldn't wait to go camping. We haven't done much camping the last two years, so whenever we talked about what we should do this summer, I kept saying, "I just want to stay on the island and go camping. Lots of camping."
Well. Here we are in the latter part of August and I have yet to sleep in our tent. Mostly the weather has been awful. There was even a video circulating of the local TV meteorologist being mock arrested for trafficking in RDF (rain, drizzle and fog)! This past week the weather has been beautiful, but Nathan and Zachary were taking part in a drama camp, so we've been stuck home (isn't that always the way?).
While the summer has been relaxing, it certainly hasn't been the summer I was hoping for and there have been days I've had a hard time being okay with that because I really, really, really wanted to go camping. Several times it has taken a conscious decision to snap out of a bad mood caused by the crummy forecast before I could enjoy my day at all. On those days when I've been less than happy about the lack of camping, I've thought a lot about the verse that says, "I have learned to be content" (Philippians 4: 12). I wasn't quite remembering it right, as the verse actually says, "I
have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation", but either way, I was thinking mostly about the concept of learning to be content.
Before I go any farther, let me say that I do realize that whether or
not I get to go camping in a particular summer is a very minor issue. There are people who
have to deal with things that are actually things, like illnesses, financial problems or the loss of a loved one. Camping or not really isn't a thing. Sometimes, though, it's not the issue we're dealing with so much as it is our attitude about that issue.
Whether or not we are content often comes down to our attitude. We can choose to focus on the things we don't have, or we can choose to accept those things and move on. We all know people who just aren't happy, no matter what, don't we? Chronic complainers, fault finders and generally negative. Yet, sometimes, I look at what they're complaining about and think that if they'd simply look at the situation a little differently their entire attitude would change for the better.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote, "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" (vv 12,13).
I find it interesting that Paul wrote about having enough food or not. In my mind, that qualifies as a thing.
Something major enough to be a big deal if you don't have it, and
something that you could reasonably be very upset about having to deal
with. And yet, Paul says he has learned to be content even in that
situation. So, obviously, this secret that Paul has learned can be applied to
anything, from a lack of camping all the way up to a lack of food and beyond.
And what is that secret? "I can do all this through him who gives me strength" (v. 13). Jesus gives us the strength to endure those situations that are less than ideal. Though He will not necessarily change our circumstances, He can change our attitudes. In Him, we are able to do as Paul suggested earlier in the same chapter of Philippians: "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is
right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if
anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things" (v.8).
There are two things I feel I should point out. First of all, being content in a situation doesn't necessarily mean that we never try to change that situation. When Paul was hungry I doubt he turned down food if it suddenly became available. Likewise, if we are sick, there is nothing wrong with seeking medical help or taking medication. As I said earlier, being content is a matter of attitude. We can have a good attitude even while we are working to make our situations better.
Second, I feel I should point out that there are times when the issue is more than a question of contentment. Depression and grief (and likely other situations I can't think of right now) go beyond simple discontent and are an entirely different issue. Though focusing on Jesus will certainly help in both situations, resolving them is not as easy as just choosing to change our focus. Many times people oversimplify things and say that if we have Jesus then we should never be sad - that we should be able to choose joy no matter what the situation. Often we can, but not always, and we need to be careful to avoid that oversimplification.
What about you? Is your natural tendency to be content, or are you still working on learning the secret, as Paul did? What do you find helps to change your attitude when it needs a little adjustment?
PS. In the interest of full disclosure, and because I think it's an example of God's sense of humour, I will tell you that I am writing this devotion ahead of time...on the same day when I am also packing for a camping trip. :) Yep - the weather has finally cleared at a time when we are able to leave town and so we are OUT OF HERE!