I can keep a secret, but the people I tell--they can’t keep a secret! So, if I tell you a secret this Monday, it’s OK if you spill the beans.
I found this secret buried deep in a stack of letters from a man stuck in prison. The kind of prison where you had to provide your own food and clothing, which was a problem because you were in prison. If you were out of friends you were outta luck. The kind of prison where you sat before you went to trial, wondering if you were going to trial. The man in prison had been beaten, healed, scarred, and beaten again. Shipwrecked three times, and far from home. Still, he had a secret, and he shared it with his friends:
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Philippians 4: 11-12)
This man, Paul: a follower of Jesus, falsely accused, in prison awaiting trial for more than a year, had discovered the secret of being content.
Contentment is perhaps even more of a secret today because the Western world is locked up in its own striving and appetites, wholly unaware of its blessings. Can we hear Paul’s whisper through the clamour of consumerism today? Consider just a few insights into his secret:
- Contentment does not depend on circumstances: Paul could be content in the midst of plenty or little. In our world plenty is not enough: each of us know first-hand people who cannot be at rest even when they are surrounded by every comfort. Worse: some of us are those people.
- Contentment does not mean giving up: Paul still had places to go and things to do. He was not a fatalist who accepted every event in his life as the final word. Yet even when he faced obstacles and frustration he found contentment within.
- Contentment is not the result of positive thinking: There’s an old story about the child given a pile of horse manure for his birthday: he joyfully grabbed a shovel and said “there’s got to be a pony in there somewhere!” Not so. Sometimes there is no pony: life simply covers us with dung. The danger of positive thinking is that it comes from our own strength, and eventually that resource runs dry.
The “secret of being of content” is much deeper. It is born out of relationship to an unchanging person and his unshakable kingdom. This week’s meditation is an invitation to tune our ears and listen to the man in prison. His words are like a treasure map: hearing the secret is not enough, it must be discovered. At the end of the search we will discover ourselves people so in tune with the Kingdom of God that we navigate difficult times, supplied with peace as well as strength.