Contentment (6) Security

What makes you feel safe? What makes you feel secure? If you’re not sure, ask yourself another question: What do you most fear losing?

When I found out my husband has cancer, it felt like my whole world was crumbling. When you’re married, you place a lot of your sense of safety in the person you love. And it’s not just our relationship that I fear losing. If the worst should happen, how will I provide for and protect our family? How will I raise our children? How will they cope without a father? These are real questions, but when they fill me with fear, I know I’m looking to other things besides God to keep us safe.

It’s no different if you’re single. Maybe you long for a relationship. Or maybe it’s a high-achieving career that attracts you. Or owning your own home. A young woman once told me she hopes Jesus doesn’t come back until she has a career and is married with children. I get that, because I remember feeling that way myself when I was young. But she longed for it so much that she chose to go out with a non-Christian.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting a relationship, a job, or a home – they are good gifts from God. But what happens when they become the source of our security? What if God never gives us these things, or if he takes them away? Will we still hold on to him then? Will we seek them in places or people he doesn’t want us to?

What makes you feel safe? It’s a question God sees as key to being content. In fact, two of the three main New Testaments passages on contentment are about security.[1] We’ll look at them both today, starting with this one:

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Heb. 13:5-6)

We may not see ourselves as “lovers of money”, but if we think we need money to keep us safe, that’s exactly what we are. The problem is that it doesn’t work. We will always want more, and however strong the vault we keep it in, it will always be vulnerable to loss.

God knows that, in order to be content, we need to be convinced we are safe even if we lose the little we have. He knows we are full of doubt and fear. So he assures us that he will never forsake us (v. 5). He is our helper. We don’t have to be afraid (v. 6). The strong vault of his character and promises won’t give way and can’t be broken into. He is the only secure treasury for our contentment.

Now we finally come to it: that famous passage where Paul shares the “secret” of facing every circumstance with contentment. I couldn’t see the secret straight away. Maybe you can spot it:

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.… And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:10-13, 19)

It took me a while to work out the logic of this passage. Here’s what I figured out. There are three steps to contentment:

  1. First, in verse 11, Paul says he to be content. I find that really reassuring. I think we sometimes see Paul as a super-Christian. But contentment didn’t come easily to him, any more than it does to me. He had to learn it, just like I do.
  2. Second, in verse 12, Paul tells us he learned it. It wasn’t some magic trick. He learned it through . He learned it by going through times when he had enough, and times of need. Dave MacDonald, who has lung cancer, “came to understand this verse” when he realised he was beginning to face repeated scans with greater trust and less fear. Experience taught him to find his security in God.
  3. Third, in verse 13 Paul shares the “secret” he learned, the secret of being content in every circumstance. Here it is (fanfare please!). The secret is

I can testify that what Paul says is true. The last year has been my hardest yet. I haven’t had the strength to face my husband’s cancer diagnosis and all it has meant for our family. But as I have turned to God, his strength has been enough for me. I know this will still be true, even if I have to cope with grief and loss. I have no doubt that it will feel impossibly difficult. But I know that God’s strength will be enough.

It’s easy to say those words; it’s harder to believe them. I fight that battle every day. I’m sure you do too. But it’s a cause worth fighting for, because God really will give us what we need. We don’t need to look to other people or things to keep us safe. We can depend on him. He is our strong refuge, whatever the future may hold. And so we can be content.

Satisfaction, security, and significance. We’ve looked at the first two. Next time, we’ll consider where we get our significance.

1. What do you rely on to give you security? What makes you feel safe? What do you most fear losing?

2. Do you really that believe God will provide for your every need? That he will give you strength to face every circumstance? How would believing this change the way you feel about the future? How would it impact your decisions now?

Photo: Krak des Chevaliers

[1] The other key New Testament passage on contentment is 1 Tim. 6:3-10; I looked at it in the third post of this series.