by Joseph Franks
The great teacher of wisdom wrote, “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider that God has made the one as well as the other.” (Ecclesiastes 7:14)
For many of us, these are tremendously good days. Physically, we find ourselves in the best shape of our life. Mentally, we are growing in knowledge and wisdom. Relationally, we are surrounded by friends, and our home situation is an always-present oasis. Financially, we have never been better off; the trajectory of our net-worth is upward. Professionally, whether in the home or the marketplace, goals and objectives are being met. Politically, the party and platform we prefer is making advancements, and ecclesiastically, we are presently encouraged by the character, knowledge, and skill of our leaders, and our church family is experiencing both quantitative and qualitative growth.
At the same time and in the same place, for many of us, these are incredibly troubling and bad times. Some of us have bodies that will not cooperate, others have a mental condition that is on the decline. Many of us have relational difficulties all around; our hearts are constantly broken by parents, spouses, children, grandchildren, parishioners, ministers, coworkers, and neighbors. For many of us “bleakness” is in our financial forecast, and lots of us are experiencing great woe as we witness ministerial, corporate, and national decline.
King David experienced all these situations and emotions. He experienced weal and woe, prosperity and anguish. His testimony includes dining with the Shepherd in green grass and beside still waters. It also includes walking through the shadow of death, experiencing the Lord’s rod and staff, and being found in the presence of his enemies. (Psalm 23)
Jesus Christ also experienced the best of days and worst of days. Great joy was found as he grew in wisdom, statutory, favor with God and man. He was thrilled as disciples were found, made, and matured. Yet, he suffered much and was afflicted; he endured much physical, mental, relational, financial, professional, political, and ecclesistical sorrows.
So too did the Apostle Paul; he experienced both pleasurable and painful seasons. He met the Risen Christ, was able to travel the world, and spent his days making converts, building lasting friendships, developing leaders, planting churches, and distributing divine revelation. However, like David, Jesus, and many reading this devotional, Paul experienced hellish days that included ministerial, relational, financial, political, legal, physical and mental hurdles.
Life for everyone — David, Jesus, Paul, you and me — is like a roller c0aster. Sometimes it is up; sometimes it is down. Excitement, fear, glee and terror are seasons experienced by all born of Adam.
However, as struggling believers, we ought to love what Paul said and covet what Paul experienced:
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me … 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. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble … And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus …. (Philippians 4:9-20)
Paul, whether free or imprisoned, whether honored or humiliated, whether full or hungry, whether prospering or impoverished, in “whatever situation” learned to be content. Whether atop the mountain or under its crushing weight, Paul learned to experience stability, satisfaction, and peace. Somehow, whether his life was characterized by soft winds or hurricane-like conditions, this sinful believer sailed atop the waves as one perched securely in God’s ship. At the time of his writing this letter, Paul was imprisoned and yet content, and this was something he had learned to become. Whether experiencing weal or woe, his attitude was “Bring it on!” for he was internally satisfied.
So what was the “secret” to Paul’s non-circumstantial peace and contentment?
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)
Or as J.B. Phillips stated it in his translation:
I am ready for anything through the strength of the one who lives within me. (Philippians 4:13)
There it was; the secret was out. Paul’s disciples could find constant contentment through experiential communion with Jesus Christ, and he longed for them to “learn, receive, hear, see, and practice” after his model so they might experiencing the same spiritual peace and contentment.
Friends, how ought we respond to Paul’s inspired invitation?
First, let us believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. Jesus tells us, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, but I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) He also says, “Peace, I leave with you, my peace I give you … do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) Spiritual, non-circumstantial contentment is a fruit that only comes to those who are united with Jesus Christ. Why don’t we bow the knee and be adopted into the family of God today? Why would we perish in our unsaved state and forever lack contentment in hell?
Second, let us commune with the Lord Jesus Christ in his Word. Read his book and be daily reminded of his presence, power, purpose, and affection. Squelch the lies of Satan and your fleshly brain. God is present. As he watches he does have all power to rescue and change your circumstances. But while he doesn’t know your struggles are not without purpose. And always keep in mind, he loves you more than you yet understand.
Third, commune with the Lord Jesus Christ in prayer. With audacious reverence, talk with him. Lament like Jeremiah. Wail and argue like David. Cry with all your might as did Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and on Golgotha’s cross. And in the process, recite his promises to him and to your soul, for he promises to “keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in God.” (Isaiah 26:3) They only way to be a buoyant in troubled waters is to walk in and be freshly filled by Christ’s Spirit. Prayer is the means by which God steadies the soul.
Fourth, because we are suffering, weak, and still very sinful, we need to gather with our Christian fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters. Moses needed God’s fellows to help raise his arms in prayer. Jesus longed for such support from Peter, James and John in his moment of duress. God does not intend for us to suffer in solitary confinement. Let us not neglect the assembly in our times of tribulation; we need them. Then, let us not neglect the assembly in our times of triumph; someone needs us.
Finally, while learning perfect contentment in this life, let us remain discontent in one area. For us to die is gain. It is good for us to long to see the beautiful face of Jesus Christ and to pant for the ultimate defeat of sin and its corresponding curses. Christian utopia really is somewhere over the horizon. Prosperity Theology is a reality when our journey through this life is over. Cherish this though — while “It is Well” with our soul in this particular day on this troubled planet, it will really be well with our soul, mind, body, relationships, and church when the trumpet of the Lord sounds and time is no more.