It neat how the Lord arranged for several books, Bible studies, and messages about the closely related topics of contentment and gratitude to come across my path during one of the most difficult times of my life thus far. I’ve needed the constant reminders to be thankful for all the good and perfect gifts the Lord has given me. I wish I could say I’ve responded perfectly with thankfulness every time I’ve been tempted to complain and fret, but the lessons I’ve learned about gratitude and contentment have kept me from complaining all the time and from wallowing in discouragement.
I’ve been greatly encouraged and instructed by the little phrase “I have learned” from Philippians 4:11: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” I tend to think of Paul as having instantly grasped everything about the Christian life at his conversion, but he also had to learn about Christ and grow in godliness. He had to learn contentment, too, and he did that during times of plenty and times of drought, great freedom and intense persecution.
In The Art of Divine Contentment, Thomas Watson writes, “This word, ‘I have learned,’ is a word which imports difficulty. It shows how hard the apostle came by contentment of mind; it was not bred in nature. Paul did not come naturally by it–but he had learned it. It cost him many a prayer and tear, it was taught him by the Spirit” (7). Even though learning contentment is hard work, this passage encourages me, because if Paul could learn these lessons, there’s hope that I can learn contentment too. The Holy Spirit teaches us through the Word, just like He taught Paul; in fact, we have more Scripture available to help us than Paul did! And as Paul followed after Christ, so we can follow his example of Christlike living (II Timothy 1:13).
“It is not enough for Christians to hear their duty–but they must learn their duty” (Watson 4). We have to learn contentment because it is a spiritual thing and “spiritual things are [against] nature” (7).
I’m praying that God will teach me more about contentment and truly resting in Him and thanking Him for all He has done.