Minister's Forum-Aug. 25, 2011

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Find contentment through spiritual 'weight training'

Webster’s Dictionary defines "insecure" as: 1: not confident or sure; uncertain 2: not adequately guarded or sustained; unsafe.

It seems that a look at many aspects of our world is enough to make us insecure. We feel neither confident nor safe in finances, personal safety or even the confidence that our lives won’t be changed immediately by a random event.
I recently attended a meeting of ministry peers that gathered from Illinois. Due to changes in denominational funding, some were being asked to change their ministry role or move on. It seemed harsh. Over breakfast, one person confided that he was choosing to find a different ministry position. He didn’t feel called to do what was offered,  and couldn’t take the pay cut and live where he currently resided. He was insecure!
Life has many good celebrations, yet at times it can be challenging. Antonyms of insecure could include safety, security and contentment.
Contentment is a life situation addressed in scripture. Again, Webster's Dictionary defines "content" as satisfied, not prone to grumble. Being content, or having the attitude of contentment is clearly addressed in scripture. God’s desire is for all people on earth to have a personal relationship with him through his son, Jesus Christ.
It is also God’s desire that all believers have an attitude of contentment in their lives. The Apostle Paul writes about contentment in Philippians 4:10 – "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."
Paul outlines in these brief verses a few simple, yet difficult,  steps for contentment.
First, we must realize that people are concerned about us.  Feelings of loneliness can be overwhelming. Our minds can trick us into thinking no one cares how we feel or what we do. Paul states in these verses that he is happy that the Philippians’  renewed their concern for him.  We think that they showed their concern by sending him money.
He goes on to say that he knew they were concerned, but they had no way to show it. There are many times that people are concerned for us, yet are unsure how to show their concern. They want to demonstrate their encouragement to those in need.  My peer in a state of transition needed words of encouragement and the promise of a prayer.
Several people have recently expressed concern over the economics of our nation. Retirement accounts and investments have shown losses. Those who count on that money as a source of income find themselves very concerned and insecure.
Paul goes on to say in verse 12 that he has learned a secret in life, and that is being content in every situation. He shares that he has been in need, been hungry and lived in plenty. In one sense, the talk of being content may be perceived as religious or preacher talk...words that are used to soothe when there are no other answers. At the same time, however, Paul is telling you and I that he has experienced many different things in life. Our life view or perspective can make all the difference in the world. He goes on in verse 13 to explain that it his faith in Christ that makes all the difference in his attitude.  
The second step in contentment is to recognize several life situations you have been through. In other words, review your personal history. It is easy to become over-focused on the present situation and forget that we have stood the test of time.
Most people can review their own life history perspective of surviving the bad times. They can find several good times in life. They can celebrate those. Often it is a confidence-builder to be encouraged by people around us, and then remember the good times in life. Remember the times we have survived the down times in life. Paul says that is one of his strengths – he has learned how to survive in style.
Verse 13 is the punch line of the passage. Paul says he can do all things through Christ which strengthens him. A person expressing their concern is good, and knowing that many are concerned is even better.  Reviewing our personal history is a reminder of our survival, and many times our survival in style.
Yet the greatest step in the three simple steps to contentment is to place your faith – and my faith – in Christ, who can strengthen us. Many people enjoy going to the gym to lift weights. Several teenage boys I know spend time lifting weights to get stronger. These guys will spend hours a week sweating and grunting to get stronger. Those really committed to strength-building will change their diet and engage in specific routines to strengthen areas of their bodies.
What Paul doesn’t tell us in this passage is that we get stronger in Christ by spending time with him. The “weight training” of our spiritual life is that of prayer and Bible study. Through spending time with God, we develop our spiritual strength.  And through the strength of our relationship with him, we find contentment.
God doesn’t remove unpleasant or challenging circumstances from our life very often. However, he will – and does – give us the ability to find contentment in our circumstances.