Tag Archives: Philippians

Learning contentment

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for 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 him who strengthens me. –Philippians 4:10-13

For a variety of reasons, my morning runs on the canal path have been a bit slower as of late.

The D & R Canal in Princeton at the height of summer.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
The D & R Canal in Princeton at the height of summer. Photo by Evan Schneider.

That’s not like me.

My type of running is usually a 3-4 mile sprint in which I push myself to the ultimate limit for thirty minutes, cramming in a brisk workout in an equally jam-packed day.  I’ve never been good at pacing myself out there on the trail, and when I’m out of shape and trying to get back to the grind, I have to remind myself over and over not to push, lest I get injured or expend the limited energy that I have.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing for us to push ourselves in life, but jogging this new rhythm, I’ve started noticing things I never saw at the breakneck pace– a hornet’s nest precariously dangling from a slight branch, a plush feather falling to the path, birds, turtles, snakes, and the ever-so-slight glimpses of fall in the reddening of the trees’ leaves.

I’ve started learning something like contentment in all circumstances.

Things are far from perfect, and yet God seems to be opening my eyes to the wisdom and gift of a slower pace, the grace that peeks out when we’re willing to take it in, and the goodness that is God beneath the ups and downs of this world.  Underneath contentment lies acceptance, and under acceptance, a deep, firm layer of mutual trust between God and me that seems to know no end.  It’s like firmament or insulation from this rough and tumble world, this world that pushes, that runs along at breakneck pace…

The first glimpses of fall.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
The first glimpses of fall. Photo by Evan Schneider.

But I’m discovering that we don’t have to.

We are meant to notice, we are meant to praise.  We are meant to live in God’s grace and lift up God’s glorious name in all circumstances.  Paul writes above that he has learned “the secret…of having plenty and of being in need,” and that secret is confidence, faith, and trust in God.  And I think when it’s at it’s best, it’s mutual.  As I trust God more with my life, with everything in it, I feel God trusting me to minister to others, to follow my call, and to speak words of wisdom in times of trial.

I’m discovering the depth of what it means to be content, to remain steadfast in our hope and faith in God, despite the wavers of this world.  And I’m discovering the overflowing gratitude that comes from it (I think it no coincidence that the verses previous to the ones from Paul in Philippians 4 are the ones that call us to rejoice and to focus on the true, the honorable, the pure, the just, the pleasing, that which is worthy of excellence and praise [Phil. 4:4-8]).

God is so good.

Skyping on the balcony with a friend in China.  My photo.
Skyping on the balcony with a friend in China. My photo.

Contentment is not a trite command to push ourselves to be positive in times of sorrow, but an invitation to notice the grace in this fallen world, and to take heart and trust that God is with us in all circumstances.

How is God teaching you about contentment today?

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Gentleness

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” –Philippians 4:4-7

Last night as I was reflecting on this verse and preparing for some silent prayer, I was recalling three words I had scrawled in magic marker on pink construction paper six years ago in Puerto Rico: kindness, patience, gentleness. That pink swatch of construction paper served as a bookmark in my Bible for many years, reminding me of God’s greatness and my own weaknesses. You see, kind, patient, and gentle are three things I was not (and probably still am not), but three things that I had committed to praying for, to becoming through God’s work in me.

It is quite recently, however, in this past year, through weekly talks with a soul friend of mine, that I have been learning that truly experiencing God’s grace requires dealing gently not only with others, but first with oneself. After all, how can I impart grace to others if I do not embrace that promise of grace first myself?

Reading through my devotional last night, it reminded me that a prayer word in silent prayer serves as a gentle way of coming back to God. “Free from thinking,” J. David Muyskens writes, “we enter a profound rest.”

It is a small thing, but I recalled a moment during yesterday when I was genuinely fatigued, but I couldn’t figure out a way to rest. I felt convicted that I should have been doing something, and so I was restless, which I am becoming convinced is an unnatural state for humans created by a God who made a day for rest! A friend of mine also recently sent me this article on clergypeople who are not taking time to rest, and for whom it is causing great consequences.

It sounds simple, but I think learning to rest, and being gentle, are two qualities which usher in the fullness of the humanity for which God intended for us.

In what ways do you resolve to deal gently with yourself, and how does it bring you nearer to experiencing God’s peace?