Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! … Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I’ve been thinking a lot about contentment in the past couple of years, and have been struck by the fact that we can choose to be content. As Paul says in Philippians 4:12, ‘I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation … whether living in plenty or in want.’ He doesn’t explicitly tell us what it is – though we’ve been mining his letter for clues over the last few weeks – but it was when I noticed the word ‘learned’ that I began to understand.
Contentment isn’t something we have to hope we might be given, or something that would blossom in our lives if only we received or achieved all the things we’re longing for. Contentment isn’t the result of everything being the way we want. Nor is it a gift randomly given to some people to enable them to bear difficult circumstances.
Rather, it is something we can learn, something we can actively pursue. We do that by choosing to seek Christ’s glory over our own, to emulate his life of grumble-free humility, and to learn from others how to press on towards the goal of becoming more like him. And we do it by choosing to rejoice.
Paul doesn’t say ‘Rejoice in the Lord when things work out’, or ‘Hang in there; we’ll be able to rejoice one day’. No, he commands us to rejoice in the Lord always. God is always good. There are always things to praise him for, in our plenty and in our want, in promotion or demotion, on a luxury holiday and in a long, lonely lockdown. (Isn’t it interesting that Paul had to learn how to be content with plenty as well as with want? Even the dream job, ideal home, and perfect partner won’t bring automatic contentment.)
This doesn’t mean denying the reality of our situations. We can and should ‘present [our] requests to God’, we just do it in an attitude of thankfulness not anxiousness. And as we play our part, God will respond by giving us something greater than what we have asked for – he’ll give us his peace, ‘which transcends all understanding, [to] guard [our] hearts and [our] minds’.
True contentment is a gift from God – as indeed is everything good in life – but God in his goodness allows us to choose whether to receive it or not. So make the choice: rejoice!
Jennie Pollock is a writer and editor who lives, works, and worships in central London. She blogs at jenniepollock.com and tweets as @missjenniep. Her first book, If Only: Finding joyful contentment in the face of lack and longing, is out now.