Sunday, December 30, 2007

School of Hard Knocks

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.
Philippians 4:11
God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. I haven't been able to miss this truth behind almost every book of the Bible that I have read since I was first gripped by this sentence about two years ago. King Solomon, the wisest man to ever live apart from Jesus Christ, said that "there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9). There are no new truths and there is one primary source for all truth: the Bible.

I don't think there is a day that goes by in which I don't pray to God: Be most glorified in me by making me to be most satisfied in you. So as I meditated on this verse from Philippians, I couldn't help but to think about how God goes about answering such a prayer.

I am struck by the fact that Paul says, "I have learned...". He doesn't say, "I have discovered" or "I have realized" as though what he has obtained is something he stumbled upon suddenly. He says "I have learned" and to me the implications for this are significant.

Learning takes an accumulation of knowledge. It usually involves a teacher and often involves going to school. As I think about what Paul says here, I can't help but to think that he is talking about having been in the "school of hard knocks" with the One who can teach like no other can teach. He had stumbled and fallen, failing over and over again to be content in the situations that God had placed him in. One example of this is when he had the thorn in his flesh that it took him being three times denied the removal of before he learned how to be content with what God had given to him (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). And that comes after a long list of ordeals in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 that make him qualified to speak of "whatever situations".

My point is this: I think that I have had this idea that God answering my prayer of Him being most glorified in me by making me to be most satisfied in Him means Him revealing to me once for all a heart/mind set that I just need to enter into in whatever undesirable situation I might find myself so that I can be happy in Him. If I could just find that place...

But I don't think this is how Paul learned to be content. I don't think that for Paul being content is a mindset he has received that he can now apply to whatever situation he finds himself in. I think being content is the posture of his heart that he has learned because he has been in whatever (every) situation!

Paul is writing this letter from a Roman jail cell. He can preach to the Philippians about "rejoicing always" (Philippians 4:4) and "not being anxious about anything" (Philippians 4:6) and having "the peace of God, which surpasses understanding" (Philippians 4:7) because he has preached this to himself and knows firsthand this experience of the grace of God. He can tell the Philippians to find their joy and peace in thinking about whatever is honorable, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8) because this is what he has done to find his contentment when the pain is real. That's why he can say: imitate me (Philippians 4:9) and the God of peace will be with you.

It took Paul a lifetime to learn what it means to be content in whatever situation. And everything God placed in the path of his life was to bring him to to the place where he could say what he says in Philippians 4:11 without deceiving himself. Everything. The lows and the highs. And this much is true: it was not the path of least resistance. But it was the only path that led to a freedom that Paul couldn't have known any either way. And neither can I.
"...through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God."
Acts 14:23
Father in Heaven, thank You that You are in the business of setting slaves free. We are slaves in more ways than we know. To require a certain lifestyle to be happy is slavery because the moment we lose it we are in bondage to misery. I don't want that life Father. So please do whatever it takes to teach me how to be content in whatever situation. Make 2008 and every day of the rest of my life be about learning contentment in whatever situation. Teach me how to experience the pleasures of this world in such a way that when You take them my joy doesn't go with them. And teach me to suffer in this world in such a way that I can be sorrowful yet always rejoicing. Grant me to receive the pains and pleasures that You grant each day as Your answer to my prayer. And let me never stop praying that prayer. May You be most glorified in me by making me to be most satisfied in You, forever. And in that prayer being answered may the world somehow through my life know Christ's infinite worth. In His precious name, Amen.