A Devotional Thought by Don Anderson
Scripture is very clear that we will experience suffering in life. Scripture is replete with examples of suffering. Take Job for example; a man who seemingly had it all together. Job 5:7 states: “Yet man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” There is no question about that!
The apostle Paul is another example. In fact, his suffering was predicted even before his ministry began. “For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake” Acts 9:16. After years of ministry for Christ, Paul recounts the many ways he was called to suffer. “In labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). Wow! I doubt any of us could say that we have suffered as Paul did. I hope none of us are ever stoned and left for dead!
How could Paul keep up a ministry that required all of that tribulation year after year? How could Paul maintain an attitude of gratitude through it all? And how can we maintain an attitude of gratitude when the world continually throws trials our way?
Paul makes clear in Philippians 4 that maintaining an attitude of gratitude is a process of spiritual growth. He says, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. (Philippians 4: 11-12). The word “learned” in verse 11 means to learn by experience or practice. The word “learned” in verse 12 is a different word. The word was used of learning the secrets of something through initiation. What Paul is saying is that as life brings trials and tribulations our way, we are offered the opportunity to learn the secrets of contentment through them.
When we compare these passages with Paul’s testimony of suffering, it is clear that he was familiar with a full gamut of experiences: from being needy to abounding with abundance. Regardless of circumstances, Paul was able to command his readers to, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). It is clear that as God brought a myriad of experiences into Paul’s life, he learned from each situation how to be content and maintain an attitude of gratitude through it all!
But what was it about Paul’s circumstances that gave him the ability to learn contentment and gratitude? The next verse makes this clear: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). What a great verse to memorize, especially as circumstances come along that allow us to learn contentment!
Jesus was supplying the strength Paul needed. The result was to be content in whatever circumstance Paul found himself. It is interesting that the word “can” is in the present tense meaning that Jesus was ever-present in Paul’s life, ready to empower him when the need arose.
Jesus can do the same for us. When circumstances come along that test our ability to: “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18), we have a divine opportunity for learning contentment. Jesus will, just as He did for Paul, pour on the power we need in order to teach us contentment and develop our attitude of gratitude. As future circumstances present themselves, we will have additional occasions to refine our attitude. Over time we will be able to live above our circumstances. We can choose to trust God to lead us in all things for His glory and our good.