“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. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13 NKJV).
Our telephone rang, waking us, at 1:00 a.m. the night before we were to leave for Bangladesh.
It was the airline informing us that our morning flight had been canceled and that our only alternate route which would enable us to make our international connections would depart at 5:30 a.m. Since we still had to make the reservations for the flight, get up, dress and finish packing, drive an hour and fifteen minutes to the airport, then check in and clear security, it was just barely possible for us to make it. Fortunately we did.
Had I not already been familiar with the principle, that experience would certainly have done much to convince me that “the only thing certain is change.” Speaking of our life experiences, we all can relate many things that simply did not turn out according to plan.
Sometimes these are superficial matters, involving minor alterations to one’s schedule or a change in diet (how often does the server tell us, “I’m sorry, we don’t have that item today?”). But on other occasions there are major changes in our life situation, causing physical and emotional stress.
The apostle Paul was a veteran of change. Consider the implications of his well-beloved statements from Philippians 4. He had known abundance. He had also known need. His ministry had led him to many distant places and resulted in imprisonments, personal attacks, and many hardships (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23-27). At times, he was in comfort, ministered to by faithful Christian coworkers (Acts 28:30-31; 2 Timothy 1:16). At other times he was alone and without resource, even in imminent threat of death (2 Timothy 4:10; 1 Corinthians 15:32).
How did Paul react to such widely diverse and suddenly changing circumstances? He assures us, “I have learned . . . to be content.” There is great wisdom as well as great faith in such an attitude.
Adverse change confronts us with three possible responses. One may be fatalistic (defeatist), simply saying “it is what it is and there is nothing I can do about it.” This often leads to giving up and to despair.
Secondly, one may be defiant, refusing to accept change and either fighting it, sometimes hopelessly, or blindly rejecting the reality and acting as if all is well. This usually results in defeat.
Paul exemplified the third alternative. He accepted change for what it was and determined to do whatever he could, positively, to cope. If circumstances required him to be hungry, he refused to allow hunger to dominate his attitude and change his personality. If persecution arose, he continued his ministry in spite of it.
Success and happiness in life do not depend upon our material circumstances. God can provide and protect whether we are rich or poor, hungry or filled. Change will occur. Conditions will change. But our Father in heaven is unchanging and will love us and keep us no matter what (Romans 8:37-39). Therefore let us, too, be content.