Monday, June 29, 2015

Pastoral Pings (Plus) ~ The Learning That Brings Knowing

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.[1]
          A new week brings me to a another section of God’s book, and immediately some very challenging and encouraging lessons from my heavenly Father.
          In this section, Paul speaks to his brothers in Christ about the issue of contentment. He was writing from prison because of his preaching about Jesus Christ. He knew that these fellow believers were concerned for him, and so he takes great care to assure them of his well-being.
          As Paul brings his encouraging letter to a conclusion, he wants his brothers to know that there is a “secret” to being content. He has just told them, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you,”[2]so his secret of contentment is clearly not his alone, but one he wants them to practice as well.
          What encouraged me this morning was that what Paul knew about being content “in any and every circumstance,” was something he had learned. He knew how to be content because he had learned the secret.
          The reason I see so much encouragement in this is that it both tells us there is a way we can know contentment in every circumstance today, and it tells us there is a journey of learning that will get us there. The fact of such a destination encourages us with the hope of what we can experience in Christ, and the fact that it is a learning process encourages us that God will lead us there as a Father guiding his little children.
          I believe this is of huge significance because of the common tendency to read the encouragements of Scripture as though God expects immediate capability. However, when we receive Paul’s example through the gospel of God’s grace, and understand that God is working into us the very things he wants us to know and experience,[3] we can look at Paul’s example as an extremely hopeful experience of our own.
          If God is working into us both to have the will to know this secret of contentment, and to experience the work of this secret of contentment, and he assures us that this is something that is learned, not immediately demanded, we can then look at how to work out our salvation on a daily basis so we can apply Paul’s secret to the circumstances we are presently facing. As we put aside anxiety about what we are going through, and present our requests to God with prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving,[4] we discover how God makes us feel content in one specific circumstance. The next thing we face, we continue to “rejoice in the Lord always,”[5] and let our “reasonableness be known to everyone.”[6] We address the sark’s temptation to anxiety once again by presenting all our requests about our immediate circumstance to God with prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving. As we continue to walk with him in this way, we learn how God causes us to feel content in another circumstance. Soon we can join with Paul and say, “I have learned the secret of contentment in any and every circumstance.”
          No matter what we are facing today, God’s book presents these two things we can bring to God in the form of requests. He offers us the experience of knowing the secret of contentment, so we can request that he would bring us to know contentment in whatever we are going through.
          God also shows us that we come to know the secret of contentment through a process of learning, so we can request that he would show us the immediate lessons of contentment in what we are facing at the moment, wherever we are starting from today. We have asked him for the destination, so we also ask him for an unhindered journey to get us there.
          I praise God for weaving together the thoughts of his word in ways that give glory to the work of his Holy Spirit teaching us all things, and reminding us of things we have already learned.[7] He once again brings to mind this glorious Scripture, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”[8]
          This gives me so much hope because the daily transformation from one degree of glory to another is a process. It is a journey. It is God’s gift of hope to all his children that, if he says we can know the secret of contentment, and calls us to learn this for ourselves, we can expect to learn it in a daily increase of glory that is measured by the ability of the Holy Spirit, not the ability of the children of God.
          After all, the secret of contentment is, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”[9] If that is the secret of contentment, it makes sense that it is also the means of learning the secret for ourselves.
          What am I going to expect today? That God will turn the page on his textbook of contentment and hand me a lesson bigger than I have encountered before so I can learn something new about contentment. Yesterday’s lessons were good for yesterday. If I am going to learn to be like Paul, or, in an even greater way, if I am going to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ my Savior, I certainly better expect daily lessons that call me into a new level of trust in Jesus’ strength. That means that I will see things that feel even more impossible than the last lesson, but will teach me an even greater experience of contentment than I have known.
          My heavenly Father says I can know contentment in every situation, and the Holy Spirit is at work to teach me these things. They are working this into me, to both will and to work for their good pleasure. I accept the calling to work this out with fear and trembling from wherever I really am starting from today, in whatever I am facing, because I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens me.

© 2015 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Philippians 4:11-12
[2] Philippians 4:9
[3] Our main theme of Philippians 2:12-13
[4] Philippians 4:6-7
[5] Philippians 4:4
[6] Philippians 4:5
[7] John 14:26
[8] II Corinthians 3:18
[9] Philippians 4:13

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