Summary: With God's help and the steady support of Christian friends, we live in real joy by discovering the good in life's situations - as varied as they are - by trusting God to provide, then by giving God the glory for our contentment.
DISCOVERING THE JOY IN LIFE’S SITUATIONS
In a certain third world country, a Jewish man complained to his rabbi, “Life is unbearable for me and my family. There are nine of us living in one room. What can I do?”
The rabbi thought about it for a moment and answered, “Bring your goat into the room with you.” The man was taken aback but the rabbi insisted, “Do as I say and come back in a week.”
A week later the man came back even more upset than before. “We cannot stand it,” he told the rabbi. “The goat is filthy.” The rabbi told him, “Go home and let the goat out. Come back in a week.” Yet another week later, the man returned excited, and full of joy, as he exclaimed, “Life is beautiful. We enjoy our lives now. There’s no goat – just the nine of us.”
In practically every one of life’s situations, things could be worse than they seem. Thus, as Mama used to say, “Always look for the silver lining.”
In the Christian life, there are two ways you can approach a bad situation in which you find yourself - with contempt, or, with contentment.
You can despise your situation or you can “look for the silver lining”, make necessary adjustments, and proceed to make the most of your situation.
Vance Havner suggested three options ministers have when faced with an untenable situation: Resign . . . Become resigned to the situation as it is . . . Have your commission re-signed - as did the Apostle Paul time and time again.
Paul ended his letter to the church at Philippi by pointing out to them that, by having his commission “re-signed” (so to speak) each time his situation seemed unbearable, he had learned to be content whatever the circumstances.
He could have despised his situation . . . compromised his faith . . . he chose to believe that, in each situation in the Christian life, the joy of Christ in our hearts gives rise to contentment not contempt. Thus,
Paul stressed to faithful supporters of his ministry that one thing above all else he had learned, in and through it all, and that therefore one thing he wanted them to remember and live by for the rest of their journey, was the discovery he made of the “secret” of contentment: True contentment is found, not in things but, in Christ – Philippians 4:10-20 . . .
Here was the great apostle who, before Christ, was known for his great achievements and accolades, but whose conversion to Christianity and commitment to spread the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth brought upon him great harm and suffering, the likes of which no servant of God had ever or since been subjected to - speaking of his contentment.
It is so rare to find a truly contented person but, as an old saying goes, “when you do, listen to him”! Amazingly, as with Paul, truly contented people don’t really have much materially. To illustrate this phenomenon, there’s this ancient parable:
Once upon a time, a great king suffered terribly from a painful ailment. His astrologer told him that the only cure was to find a contented man, get his shirt, and wear it night and day.
Messengers speedily traveled the whole of the king’s realm, searching for such a man, intent on returning with his shirt. Months passed as the servants looked high and low. One by one they returned, but none brought back the healing shirt.
“Did you find a contented man in all my realm?” the king asked. “Yes, O king, we found one – just one, in all your realm,” they replied. “Why did you not bring back his shirt?” cried the king! “O great king,” they answered, “the man had no shirt.”]
The Apostle Paul was much like the shirtless man. He had nothing, locked in a prison cell, facing the death sentence, all because he remained true to his calling to preach the gospel . . . to tell the Good News . . . to spread the Word of salvation to all people everywhere.
Despite his circumstances, though, Paul was content because he had Jesus in his heart and on his mind. In the spirit of Christ, Paul expressed heartfelt thanks for the gift from his fellow believers brought to him by Epaphroditus, but more important than the gift of money was Paul’s awareness that his friends still cared about him and the ministry of spreading the gospel.
Whereas Paul truly appreciated this unexpected gift, he made it clear that, in his way of thinking, it was God who supplied his needs, though his friends allowed themselves to be instruments in God’s hands. To be an instrument in God’s hands ought to be the heart’s desire of all truly committed Christians. May the prayer of St. Francis be ours: