Philippians Contentment Radical? Not at all.

Time zone changes + naps during the day + steroids mean I wake up at odd times. This is a quick wake up after 6 hours of sleep and I hope that when I’m done typing, I’ll be tired again and finish my night’s rest.. Two days ago, I posted about my really recent MS diagnosis. It was a rambling post. I started reading Philippians yesterday, too (go figure 😉 ) and I really feel like God is showing me a lot about myself and about life just in these first few days of unpacking and reflecting on what this means for me…. 

I want to get to a few main thoughts running around in my head. But I want to make a point of saying, that one of them isn’t attention, or extra measure of sympathy or pity. 🙂 This is a thing, a thing with some unknowns, but most of the time, a ton more good than bad. There are many people suffering from many worse things  (like actually suffering.. I’m not really even suffering at all – except for a minor frustrating bout of double vision and some wobbly-headedness when closing my eyes and leaning backwards). Enough by way of introduction. Today I’m going to try and get the first of the thoughts out. It’s about contentment. It’s about maturity. It’s about a vision of myself. It’s about a tenderness from God. It’s about Paul in his Prison cell.

Paul Was In The Right Place

I went to bed with Phiippians on the mind. I went to bed with some conversations with friends about the MS on my mind. I went to bed with my family on my mind. When I woke up at 3AM – it was with a thought and smile “Paul was exactly where he needed to be when he wrote that letter.”

Look at some evidence from his letter:

 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.  Philippians 1:12-14 (ESV)

Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. Philippians 18-26 (ESV)

See that? Paul’s letter goes on with some admonitions and advice for living the Christian life. But his occasion of writing makes those lessons that much more powerful. He was in a prison cell. He didn’t know what would come next. Maybe he had guesses. Maybe he had ideas. But he knew the actual answer actually didn’t matter. He was confident and assured of his deliverance in vs 19 either way. Whether it be an open cell or a cruel death.

In verse 20 he adds to that thought. His desire is to see Christ honored through whatever happened next. Whether it be a courageous life in prison, living boldly after release or facing death with honor.

Paul Was Content.

(and that period in my heading was on purpose 😉 . He was – Content – period) Paul had been through the ringer a lot. He never had to be either. He was a persecutor of Christians. He was – as he said – a Jew of Jews. A Pharisee of Pharisees. He could have ascended to the halls of power in his day continuing his fight against the Christians. But he was converted. He was knocked down and turned towards Christ by sovereign grace. So he knew the high life. He knew comfort. He probably thought he knew contentment before. Maybe a few years before – he would have said it was having three cloaks to chose from when going on the prowl for believing Christians.. Having a pass from temple sacrifice and duty because he was on “official business”, having folks helping him out and maybe attending to some of his needs. If you were to ask me what contentment meant over the years my answer would change. Every so often, something happens where I feel like my definition gets more sparse. I think through this, it’s getting more basic again. But in Philippians 4? Paul gets to the heart of this himself:

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 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. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:10-13

I’ve blogged a lot here about how we have too much stuff. We have too many distractions. We have too many things that end up being substituted as contentment or fools as Provision. In some ways – I may say in some round about way that being a relatively healthy, middle class or higher American Christian is harder sometimes than being one someplace else. We don’t worry about survival. We don’t worry about comfort – pretty much ever, and when we do you could call it “first world problems”. But those things. Those comforts.. They distract us from true contentment. I’ll get back to this below when I close but hold it in your head if you can until then..

Paul – he got it. This is saying “Hey.. Thanks for your prayers. Thanks for being worried about me. Stop it now. I’m good. Wherever I am? That’s where God has me. Whatever I find myself in? That’s what God has me in. I am content because I am His. I can be brought to the lowest places in our minds yet I will abound because of Him who strengthens me.

Paul was where he was supposed to be. Paul was content. Because I’m an American Christian – I keep wanting to say he was “radically content” – (Don’t get me wrong – I really enjoyed and was moved to change by the book Radical. I’m okay with adjectives. Anyone who knows me knows that). I don’t need to add that, though. Paul was content. Just content. It’s not radical. It’s not unusual. It’s natural for the believer. But I think it’s hard to see it through the comfort and false contentment.

It’s not until you are brought low that you realize just how much Christ is Christ. It’s not until you are sitting in your prison that you can fully taste grace, maybe. I don’t know – maybe that’s just me.

Closing Thoughts – About Me

So I just got done talking about the example of Paul. I risk ruining an already too long post with talking about me. I want to preface this again by disclaiming with – I’m good. I really am. And there are so many worse conditions to have. And so many people who have MS who are just living and having great lives and not blogging about what it meant to be diagnosed because the medicines and help are that good.

Yesterday a good friend with MS saw me at a SQL event, gave me a big hug and asked “How are you?!” and I knew what he meant. My answer was “I can’t explain it. I’m not excited at all to have a condition that has some really expensive drugs, some weird unknowns and a prognosis that has a small risk of changing like the wind.. But right now excited almost comes to mind.. Content. At peace” and I tried to explain but it ‘s hard to explain. Here’s what I mean though…

Like I blogged about yesterday – I can be better in many areas of life. I have maturity to gain. I have battles to give to God. I have time to allocate more properly. I have so many things that are distractions and I let them distract me. I let my Bibles collect more dust than they ought. I give my kids more superficial time than actually giving them myself. I give my wife my needs and concerns and don’t take hers like I should. I louse around too much. Now don’t get me wrong. I could be a lot worse. But I could be a lot not worse. This is not a death sentence diagnosis. But it’s a stop and refocus moment.

No clock has been set up for me to count down to a bad moment in my life. But. There are unknowns. It’s not a cold sore, it’s not bronchitis – I’m living with the knowledge that things can change. That what I am able to do today, I may not be able to do in 20 years. Or 30. Or 10. Or even 5. Everyone is affected differently. The drugs help everyone different. It really is a strange disease and it could do nothing different than the dizziness and double vision and some of the tinglings and issues I’ve noticed before. Or it could put me into a wheel chair at 55.

And what that does? What that’s doing? It’s making me understand more fully what Paul was getting at here. I’m shuffling the list of “contentment factors” in my mind this week and as I pour things onto the screens to filter out whats critical from what’s not – I’m left with the image of boulders, rocks and sands.. The sand goes out easily. The rocks easier. But the boulders are hard to move. And the boulders are actually small in number..

God. Family. Friends.  That’s it. I say “what about providing for my family?” And the answer is God. Now that doesn’t mean I stop working – but it means if I focus right, if we spend right – God provides a way.

Instead of searching for the next device. The next fun experience. The next pleasure. What a world of contentment I’m surrounded in with just those boulders. Job lost sand, rocks and boulders, All he was left with was his wife who wasn’t so helpful 😉

This MS thing? I think I am in the right place. Sure, I’d give it up (at least right now) if given the opportunity.. Actually I don’t know.. Now that I type that – I’ve known I ought to find a more humble sense of contentment. I know what I’ve ought to have made first. But I’ve often found distraction easier. Maybe I wouldn’t give it up, if God continues to show these things to me about myself. If he continues to bring me along to the kind of contentment Paul shares. If he brings me low to let me see the beauty of his grace best. If it makes me mature more. If it makes me run to Christ more. If it makes me abandon myself and my selfishness for more of Him.

Because? That’s what this life is about first and foremost. It’s about our relationship with Christ, it’s about preparation for eternity with Him. It’s about our horizontal relationships here. It’s about preparation. And what prepares you for realizing that all you need is Christ than circumstances showing you how important He is?

That’s what I mean when I say excited. And I have to be careful using that word. In my genes is a slight desire to be the center of attention. A desire to have crisis surround me. I won’t get into where it comes from – but it’s there. So I don’t mean it like that at all here. That’s why it’s not the right word. I do worry about what burdens my family could have, but I’m confident that we’ll all learn and grow through this. And I’m confident that a dad who is being pushed along towards contentment in God alone (pushed along because I’m not there yet.. It’s a journey. I can tell you that through the adoption. Through this. I’m closer to it than I was 5 years ago.. but still so far away) is a good thing for that family to have – even if I wake up one morning and I have a temporary relapse where the whole family has to drag me out of bed and down the stairs 😉

I want to type so much more. And so many hymns come to mind to quote here. The one that keeps singing in the back of my head while I get nearer the end of this post is “It is well” but I don’t want to quote that one. I want to quote Rock of Ages instead. A great verse from the song that always punches me. But it punches me sweetly right now.

Before I post it – just a question for you.. What about you? Are you content? Have you thought about what it means? Are you distracted? Run to Him if you are his and ask him to show you where to focus your time and energy. Get back into the word if you’ve fallen out of it as it is so easy to do. Right now? In health, wealth, comfort? It feels like the lyrics below are only true “in a way” but in reality? They are fully true. And we’re all only a car accident, disaster, financial crisis, or diagnosis away form understanding the lyrics more. Work on gaining that understanding now instead 🙂

Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling;

Naked, come to Thee for dress;

Helpless, look to Thee for grace;

Foul, I to the fountain fly;

Wash me, Savior, or I die.

2 thoughts on “Philippians Contentment Radical? Not at all.

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