Over 60,000 subscribers
How to Find Contentment in Times of Trouble
Recently I spoke with a friend who is not a Christian. He is a charming and delightful person. He has been very successful with his business and made a great deal of money. He has a wonderful wife, a good marriage and a great family. Yet he spoke to me of the deep emptiness in his life, and the lack of peace and contentment he experiences.
‘Content makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor’, said the American Statesman, Benjamin Franklin. Few people seem to be genuinely content. As Martin Luther once said, ‘Contentment is a rare bird, but it sings sweetly in the breast.’
The Bible never promises that we will not face hard times or difficult situations. It promises us God’s strength and grace in these times of crisis.
The apostle Paul is an example of a person who found the secret of a life of peace and contentment in times of trouble. He tells the Philippians how to find peace. He tells them the secret of being content (Philippians 4:12).
1. Find soul satisfaction in God’s wisdomProverbs 24:5-14
What happens when we face a crisis in our lives? How do we respond to hard times and difficult situations? All of us are likely to face times of trouble in our lives. The writer of Proverbs says, ‘If you falter in times of trouble, how small is your strength!’ (v.10). ‘If you fall to pieces in a crisis, there wasn’t much to you in the first place’ (v.10, MSG).
The wise person will not fall to pieces, for they have ‘great power’ and ‘knowledge increases strength’ (v.5). They seek guidance and have ‘many advisers’ (v.6).
When evil things are happening (v.11), they do not close their eyes and say, ‘But we knew nothing about this’ (v.12). We know nothing about this ‘that’s none of my business’ (v.12, MSG).
How do we get this wisdom? The wisdom of God is like the sweet taste of honey ‘Know also that wisdom is sweet to your soul; if you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off’ (v.14). For us, this wisdom is found supremely in Christ, for he is ‘the wisdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:24).
Lord, thank you that in Christ we find soul satisfaction and the secret of contentment and peace. Thank you that the promises of God are like honey from the comb that is sweet to taste. Thank you that in Christ, the wisdom of God, we find honey for the soul. Thank you that we have a secure future and a hope that will not be cut off.
2. Find the secret in Christ JesusPhilippians 4:2-23
Life is a series of challenges. No one goes through life without difficulties and hard times. Paul is not without his troubles (v.14). For a start, he is in prison, and no doubt has plenty to worry about.
However, he writes, ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (vv.6–7). This is a remarkable and wonderful promise, and one which I have claimed and experienced many times in my own life.
Sir Winston Churchill said, ‘When I look back on all these worries I remember the story of an old man who said on his death bed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.’ Worry can wreck our lives. Some of our worries, like Paul’s, are real, and some are illusory, but in either case, a life weighed down by worry is not really living.
Paul’s solution is to encourage us to turn to prayer, bringing our specific concerns to God. As the Message puts it; ‘let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns’ (v.6, MSG).
I find it a help to keep a prayer diary where I write down specific requests. This not only aids concentration but also enables me to look back and see the ways in which God has answered my prayers. By doing this, we can then recollect answered prayers and give thanks (v.6), and continue to seek God as our confidence in prayer increases. As Joyce Meyer points out, Paul does not say ‘pray with complaining’ but ‘pray with thanksgiving’ (v.6). We should offer our current prayers from a foundation of a life that is currently filled with thanksgiving. The extraordinary and wonderful promise is that as we do this ‘the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (v.7). As we bring our worries and anxieties to God in prayer and leave them with him, he gives us his peace in exchange.
The word for peace means far more than an absence of hostility. It means wholeness, soundness, well-being, oneness with God, every kind of blessing and good. It is a peace ‘which transcends all understanding’. It surpasses both our ability to cope and our anxiety about what is to come.
Paul then turns his attention to what we think about. It is hard to think in this way, because the world we live in is quite different. We are surrounded by images and words from televisions, newspapers, films, advertising, conversation and events which can so easily lead us in a wrong direction. We are bound to be tempted almost daily by wrong thoughts. But we can resist this. As Martin Luther said, ‘you can’t stop a bird flying overhead, but you can stop it nesting in your hair.’
The way to get wrong thoughts out is to get right thoughts in. Our minds cannot be unoccupied. If we don’t occupy our minds with good thoughts the enemy will fill them with bad ones.
Paul encourages his readers that ‘you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best.’ (v.8 MSG) He realises that what we think will affect every area of our lives. We need to fill our minds with good things, whatever ‘is excellent and praiseworthy.’ (v.8)
We need to think about what we think about. The root of our problems may be our thought life. If we change the things we allow our minds to dwell on ‘God, makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies’ (v.9, MSG).
The hardest part is always putting all this ‘into practice’ (v.9). The only way of learning any skill, trade, or sport is by practising. We must practise avoiding quarrels, staying united with other Christians, and avoiding anxiety by continual prayer. If we do, then Paul promises that ‘the God of peace’ will be with us (v.9).
Paul did not worry about the meeting of his needs. He had learnt that the secret of contentment in every situation, in plenty or in want, was that he could ‘do everything through him who gives me strength’ (v.13). He knew that whatever situation he was in God would strengthen him to do whatever he was calling him to do.
He praises the Philippians for their generosity, which is a ‘fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God’ (v.18). This generosity is a part of love. You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.
God promises that he will meet all our ‘needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus’ (v.19), as we live generous lives free of financial worries. This includes our material needs – though not necessarily our wants. As the Message puts it, ‘you can be sure that God will take care of everything you need, his generosity exceeding even yours in the glory that pours from Jesus’ (v.19, MSG). We cannot out-give God.
Lord, help us to follow Paul’s example, just as he urges us to when he says – ‘Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice’ (v.9). Help us not to be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, to present our requests to you. Lord, today I bring to you my anxieties … Thank you for the promise of your peace which transcends all understanding.
3. Find soul rest on God’s pathsJeremiah 6:1-7:29
God loves us. He wants us to find ‘rest for our souls’ (v.16). He wants to protect and provide for us. It is tragic when his people do not listen to him.
Jeremiah continues to prophesy about times of trouble. He does not act without warning. He warned his people through the prophets, asking, ‘To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me?’ (6:10). The false prophets spoke of a false peace, ‘ “Peace, peace” they say, when there is no peace’ (v.14b).
On the other hand, the Lord says, ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls’ (v.16).
The problem was that they did not listen to these words. ‘Their ears are stuffed with wax’ (v.12, MSG). ‘They ignored everything I said’ (v. 19, MSG).
Jeremiah proclaimed the message courageously (7:2) and called them to repentance: ‘Reform your ways and your actions’ (v.3), ‘change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly’ (v.5). He called them not to oppress the outsider, the fatherless or the widow, and not to follow other gods. God calls his people, ‘Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all my ways I command you, that it may go well with you’ (v.23).
‘But do you think they listened? Not a word of it. They did just what they wanted to do’ (v.24, MSG). The tragedy of these chapters is that the people refused to do this, and turned their back on God’s blessings.
Lord, forgive us when we have not listened to you and gone after other gods. Thank you that when you call us to repentance, you promise that if we return to the ancient paths and walk in them we will find rest and contentment for our souls.
Thank you for the forgiveness that you have brought in Jesus Christ. Thank you that in him we find contentment and peace, soul satisfaction and rest.
‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’
I am trying hard not to worry but to pray instead. So whenever a thought, during the day or night, comes into my mind (it could be about someone who is sick, a decision I have got to make, a long flight, or whether anyone will come back to Alpha next week), I am trying not to waste a lot of time thinking about it, but instead say a prayer and trust that he has heard and will answer.