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Philippians 4:11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
The apostle Paul was a very happy individual. I know that because he says in Philippians 4:11 that he is able to be content in every situation. I looked up the meaning of happiness and I realized it’s being content or satisfied. Did Paul really mean that in any and every situation he was happy? What about the times when he was shipwrecked and drifting a sea, or when he was beaten multiple times by the authorities for preaching the gospel, or when he was stripped naked, and so forth. (2 Corinthians 11, enumerates his tough experiences). In fact at the time of writing the letter to the Philippians he was in a Roman jail.
Thus I wonder, how could Paul be truly content amidst these tough circumstances. Our text gives us the answer, for in verse 12, he said he learned the secret of happiness. Did you know that there is a secret to being happy? And by the way its not the “American dream”, the pursuit of happiness, its not fame, success, power or popularity. His secret was finding his satisfaction in God. I know what you are thinking, that’s just verbal Christian lingo. Sounding nice, but practically, no help to you, in your situation of trying circumstances. Before you give up on reading this article, look closely at Paul’s words.
He said he “learned” the secret of being content. See it doesn’t come naturally to any of us Christians, including the apostle Paul. Indeed the secret to happiness must be learned.
Thankfully Paul relays his secret in an earlier verse in the same chapter. Phil 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Several things can be learned from this important scripture. Firstly, Paul tell us happiness deals with our internal wellbeing. In the world, particularly in the west, many are worried, anxious, depressed, and even physically sick due to stress. Paul’s first advice is to tell us to STOP the mental anguish stop worrying. Can you imagine visiting your doctor, and having Him tell you to stop being sick. Yet this is no ordinary advice. It comes from the lips of God the Holy Spirit, through his messenger Paul. When God speaks, worlds are created, and evil forces are stopped. So him saying to stop worrying is powerful enough to jolt us to reality. Ask yourself, why do you worry? Does it make things better? In fact if you hadn’t worried about your last greatest crisis or decision, but calmly acted, would it have changed the outcome. Stopping your mind from the worrying trap causes it to be open to what God may have to say to you.
Secondly Paul tells us what do with the anxiety we go through. Instead of worrying, he says to petition God. I remember a friend that I knew once who needed to alter the judgment that a judge had made pertaining to their immigration status in Canada. This friend went about and got a petition signed, by literally hundreds of individuals, proving that they were indeed an asset to this country. Reflecting upon this event, tells me a couple things about the nature of petitions. Petitions are specific. I cannot imagine my friend being unclear about the goal of their petition. Yet many times we petition God with a general prayer, “God help me”, “God bless me”. Yet he wants to know in specifics what are the details of our request. Further, petitions are written down, thus showing the officialness of their nature. Similarly praying to God should be treated with such importance. After all He is the highest judge in the universe. So why wouldn’t we treat our prayers seriously, and even write them down. As we take time to seriously petition God, the source of our help, our anxiety diminishes.
The third aspect to Paul’s solution to perpetual happiness is that he was thankful during his prayers, ie before they have been answered. When my daughter Elizabeth comes to ask me to take her for a movie afternoon outing, she is quite thankful when I say yes and we set a date some time in the near future. This thankfulness, is not necessarily because we have gone yet but simply because of her confidence in my ability to carry out my promise to her. Thus Paul commands us to thankfully prepare our well crafted petition to God. See, thankfulness elevates our petitions before God, because it evidences our faith. Scripture reminds us that without faith it is impossible to please God, because God rewards those who diligently [and faithfully] seek him. So can you do me a favour? Next time you are sorely stressed about critical life issues, upon asking God for aid, thank Him confidently and meaningfully answering your request.
I recently preached a message on the happiest people on the earth. I truly believe Christians are called to be such. Though we may not be smiling, particularly during the hardest times, we can be content. And maybe like Paul, we can learn to be happy in every situation knowing that in God we can truly trust.
– Pastor Olu Jegede