From Gospel Translations
I am glad the apostle Paul wrote that he had learned to be content (Phil. 4:11). This grace of Christian character certainly has not come naturally to me. One day I stood before the bedroom mirror and counted seven distinct things “wrong” with my body — things I had often fretted over and murmured about. Some were merely cosmetic, affecting only my appearance, such as baldness that I’ve had since I was twenty-five.
A number of things that were (and still are) “wrong” were functional, and have been much more difficult to be content about. I can still remember trying to play baseball as a youngster in elementary school. I could neither bat nor catch well because I could not tell where the ball was, or judge how fast it was coming to me. I did not know until years later that my inability to play baseball was due to my having monocular vision — the inability to focus more than one eye at a time. Depth perception that is normal for most people is based on binocular vision — the ability to focus both eyes together to judge distance properly .
My other functional impairment is a total loss of hearing in one ear. This is frequently embarrassing when people speak to me and I don’t hear them, thus appearing to ignore them, or when I am in a social setting trying to converse with someone on the side of my deaf ear. Even our sense of sound direction comes from the milli-second difference of sound reaching our ears on either side of our heads. With only one functioning ear, I have absolutely no sense of sound direction. For example, when my wife calls to me from somewhere in the house, I often have to ask, “Where are you?”
I realize my physical impairments are, at worst, only inconveniences not to be compared with serious disabilities, such as total blindness, deafness or paralysis. Nevertheless, in years gone by, they often caused me to be discontent. In fact, on that day when I stood before the mirror and counted those seven wrong things, I was more than discontent. I was struggling with the “why me?” syndrome.
How have I learned contentment in these circumstances? The same way someone with greater or lesser impairments can: by focusing on the wonderful truth that God made me the way I am. Psalm 139:13 (niv) reads, “For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb.” The Bible teaches that God made each of us the way we are. This does not ignore the realities of genetic inheritance and biological processes. It means that God so superintends those factors that the Bible can accurately say that God uniquely fashioned all of us in our mothers’ wombs.
I had to learn that I am physically the way I am because the sovereign God who loved me and sent His Son to die for me made me just the way I am — complete with all my functional and appearance problems. I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14). My physical characteristics — warts and all — are the result of the careful, intimate, detailed, creative work of God.
This brings me to another truth that has helped me learn contentment. God not only made me in my mother’s womb, He also planned my days for me. Psalm 139:16 says, “And in Your book they were all written, the days fashioned for me when as yet there were none of them.” God uniquely created each of us to fulfill the plan He has for us. This plan embraces not only His original creation of us, but also the familial and social setting into which we are born.
I was born into a family of low income and social status. Both my parents dropped out of school at about eighth grade to work on their respective family farms. They had almost no education or cultural advantages to offer me. I used to be envious of others who had these advantages. It was through embracing the truth that God in His infinite wisdom and love had ordained that path of life for me that I learned to be content.
God’s plan includes not only the economic and social status into which we are born, but also all the “ups and downs” of life — all the seemingly chance or random happenings and all the unexpected turns of events, both “good” and “bad,” that occur in our lives. All these situations and circumstances, although they may appear only as happenstance to us, are part of God’s plan for our lives.
When my first wife was dying of cancer, I periodically went through “pity parties.” One day, in the midst of one of these, I decided to make a list of all of the significantly “bad” things that had happened to me in life (such as my mother’s death when I was only fourteen). To be fair, on the right side of the page, I made a list of all the significantly “good” things. It may not surprise you to learn that the list of “bad” things was about twice as long as the “good” list. In the fallen world in which we live, I suspect that is fairly typical. Then, with Romans 8:28 in mind, I wrote at the bottom of that page, “And God has caused all these things (both the good and the bad) to work together for my good.” Some of those so-called “bad” things had nettled me for years. But on that day God gave me a sense of contentment about them.
Then there is the area of calling. Although I studied engineering in college, soon after graduation I began to think God wanted me to be an overseas missionary. However, I never became a missionary. Instead, I became an administrator in a missions organization. At first, I thought of administration as a temporary interlude on the way to the mission field. Then one day I had to face the fact that God had gifted me for administration, and that was what He had called me to do. How did I learn contentment at that time? I accepted the truth that God places each of us in the body of Christ as He pleases (see 1 Cor. 12:18).
You can no doubt detect a common thread running through all my experiences of learning to be content: a strong belief in the wise and sovereign rule of God in all the circumstances of my life. There is another biblical truth, though, that is just as important to me: the realization that all that I am and all that I have is by the grace of God. I have not received what I deserve, namely, God’s condemnation and wrath. Rather, I have received what I don’t deserve: the forgiveness of my sins, the gift of eternal life and all the blessings of this life. I believe these two fundamental truths — the sovereignty and the grace of God — have helped me learn to be content.
Even the knowledge of these wonderful truths, however, cannot by itself make us content. Paul’s famous statement in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” was written in the context of his learning contentment. I had to learn, as Paul did, that however difficult and frustrating my circumstances might be, Christ’s divine enablement through the Holy Spirit is available to help me be content. That contentment, by the way, is a relative term when used of me. I am not always content, nor do I think I’m ever perfectly content. But I’ve come a long way in learning to be content. For this I give God thanks.