Slowly and deliberately, I penned Paul’s words into my journal. With cautious effort and a heart desperate to love the meticulous details, I etched words that have been misconstrued and misinterpreted and all too familiar in Christian culture.
I know how to be brought low,
and I know how to abound.
In any and every circumstance,
I have learned the secret
of facing plenty and hunger,
abundance and need.
I can do all things
through Him who strengthens me.
Yet it was kind of you
to share my trouble.
I stare at the words in their sentences and look at the book the way John Piper is teaching me. I begin to ask myself some questions:
How does Paul “know how” to be brought low and abound? I have learned the secret.
How did he learn? It seems like he learned along the way. He was likely taught, in the midst of both desperation and plenty, to rely not on what he had or lacked. In real life experiences he learned the secret.
What is the secret? I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
What is He talking about when he says “all things?” Facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
I circle words and link them to each other. I make notes and arrows as my pen digs for the treasure. I come out with this:
Contentment must be learned.
Contentment has a Teacher —
and He’s the same who strengthens hearts for contentment in “any and every circumstance.”
At some point Paul transitioned from learning contentment to knowing how to be — it happened as he drew nearer to the Strength.
I chase the keyword Strength to another familiar passage and write the words with the same intentionality as the first.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the
strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
My pen makes circles and arrows again that eventually yield notes of truth.
Yes, my flesh and my heart may very well fail. My life and feelings may be chaos, but it does not change God’s residence in my heart, His Strength.
When do I learn that? When my flesh and heart really do fail — but I find that God does not. All my resources may have to fail before I find the truth that He never does.
Jesus is the strength inside my heart,
and His residence fills me up completely.
That’s what portion means to me. So I chase it down to one of my favorite chapters in the whole Bible. Psalm 16.
The Lord is my chosen portion
and my cup;
You hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me
in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
Again the circles and arrows turn into truths I drink in deeply.
Contentment means seeing the arrangements of my life as providentially ordered.
Contentment means believing God is doing something beautiful with my life even when it seems to be falling apart.
Contentment means embracing Jesus as my most beautiful treasure.
When I choose Jesus as my portion, He shows me His beauty in any and every circumstance.
So the brought low and abound, facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need, these are providentially ordained by the God who holds my lot.
The same God who is my beautiful inheritance, my chosen portion, and my strength.
Beloved, what are you fighting against today? What part of your life feels out of control and less than you need?
Is it having a boyfriend but still not feeling like he’s doing enough to prioritize you?
Is it not having a boyfriend and hurting deeper than they know when your friends ditch you for theirs?
Are you aching for a healthy family? For parents who don’t hate each other and take it out on you? For siblings to come home?
The invitation Paul makes to us is more than what we’ve always heard. When he assures us he’s able to do all things through Him who strengthens him, he’s not talking about winning a football game or acing a test. He’s not talking about getting into the right college or being welcomed at the lunch table.
He’s talking about an ability so much richer than all of these.
Paul is referring to “all things” shipwrecked or safe, starving or employed, in prison or free. What Paul has learned, and what Jesus has extended to you, is the gift of contentment.
You can be content, no matter your circumstances, because Jesus is the strength who fills your entire heart.
Does it mean our longings will always feel fulfilled? No. Our bodies and emotions, our desires and needs, they will still fail.
But Paul means that our lives can fall apart and we’ll still be held together. He’s saying we can lose all the things but still have Everything.
Perhaps when our lives shatter, we get what we really needed all along. Jesus.
The invitation is open to you today, Beloved. Won’t you come to His word and trust Him?
Look into the eyes of the One who died to inhabit your heart and find Him faithful to fill you with the best of Himself.