25 Aug Choosing Joy & Contentment
August 25, 2020
Over the past several months, as I’ve been preaching through the book of Genesis, one of
the things that has impressed me is that over and over God promises to be with us, to
bless us, and to provide for us. And over and over Genesis reiterates that God is a
promise-keeping God. Because God promises to be with us, we have nothing to fear and
we are not alone. Because God promises to bless us, we can trust that God will work all
things for our good. Because God promises to provide for us, peace and hope can be
ours right now, even in the midst of trying circumstances. We do not have to wait for
the coronavirus to be eradicated to enjoy the presence of God, to rest in God’s good
purposes for our future, and to celebrate each day in joyful gratitude.
Centuries after Genesis was written, the Apostle Paul will convey a similar thought in
different words: “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to
have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have
learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in
need. I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11b-13).
There are two important points to glean from what Paul says. First, the last part of this
text, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”, is often taken out of
context. This verse does not mean that any of us can literally do anything we set out
minds to do. The context of Paul’s statement is contentment in the face of adversity.
When Paul writes these words he is in prison, with his movements and choices severely
limited. Yet, Paul writes that he “can do all things.” Clearly, Paul is not tying his ability
to do all things to a set of conditions that actively promote his self-actualization,
freedom, and happiness.
Which leads me to a second nugget to be gleaned from Paul’s letter: contentment is a
choice, not the result of ideal circumstances. Paul’s situation was abysmal, yet he chose
to be content anyway. Earlier in the same chapter, he urged the Philippian church to
praise the Lord, and rather than worry about anything, to give over to God in prayer the
things that concerned them. And the result of making these choices, Paul says, is that
“the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds
in Christ Jesus” (4:7).
Many of us are experiencing the coronavirus as a type of imprisonment. Our freedom of
movement is limited. Our choices about travel, going to school, attending milestone
events like weddings or funerals, gathering for worship, and even eating out have all
been impacted. From the mundane to the significant, COVID-19 has come as an
interloper into our lives and altered how we work and move, communicate and relate.
And yet, even here, in this weird situation, scripture reminds us that God is with us, and
therefore, we are not alone and have nothing to fear. God is blessing us with presence
and peace. And God provides for us, as we let go of our worry and instead, pray, trust
the Lord, and choose contentment.
Paul didn’t say it would be easy. What he says is that we can do it “through [Christ] who
Yours for the Kingdom,