I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 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. - Philippians 4:11b-12
I so wish I could say the above statement was true about me. But if I'm honest, when I survey my life I don't exude much contentment: When I’m “brought low” I whine. When I face “hunger and need” and it’s not long before I’m snapping at someone. I’m not proud of it, I'm just confessing it. For example, the other day on our way to church I was the polar opposite of contentment. We were running late and the kids were hard to get out the door (“I can’t find my socks!” “Where’s my jacket!?” “Stop hitting me!!!!! were the words heard as we tried to leave). I was getting more and more agitated because I REALLY don't like being late (though this is not my church we are heading to and I am not preaching). I'm grumpily raising my voice at them to "hurry up" and "stop messing around!" Of course my boys hadn’t eaten yet, so we make a “quick” stop in at Dunkin Donuts. There's was nothing “quick” about our stop. The line was long. I'm standing there with a look of discontent on my face for all to see. I'm telling my wife every other second that we're gonna be late! They take forever to get our order out to us. By this time, it is a certainty we are going to be late and so I'm rushing my family around and complaining loudly because we just CANNOT BE LATE!!!
We end up arriving Right. On. Time.
And I am once again amazed at how easy it is for me to become a real jerk for basically no good reason. Eventually I apologized to my wife and kids. During the worship service I repented of my sin to the Lord, trusting in His forgiveness won for me on the cross.
My guess is I’m not alone in this tendency to discontentment. I’m pretty sure you’ve been there too. Riffing on this tendency towards discontentment, Louis CK says, “I really think we’re aliens. I mean, really, we don’t like it here. I mean, if we’re from here, why aren’t we comfortable here AT ALL?!!!? We need nice smooth surfaces and right angles and we need it to be cool and not too hot….” ’Tis too true…..
So why is it that we find ourselves so often discontent?
Paul alludes to some reasons in the text above:
We think we have control
This is certainly the case for me and was most definitely the case the other day. Rather than trusting that my time is ultimately not "my time" but the Lord's time, I try to live my life in control. The reality is we don't have real control over anything. Yes, I know we can make schedules and generally try to plan ahead, but ultimately we don't know what will happen from point A to point B on any given day. What the Scriptures tell us to do is to trust that our heavenly Father knows what we need and He will provide it (even if at the time it doesn't look like it). As James 4:13-15 says,
 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (ESV)
We focus on our circumstances
I can't help but think of the story of Peter walking on the water. Jesus shows up yes, actually walking on the water and tells Peter he can do the same. At first, Peter does it! As he focuses his attention on Jesus, he is doing something quite impossible. But then, Peter begins to notice the waves and starts to sink. That is so often the case for us. Instead of looking to Jesus for our hope and peace and ability, we get distracted by the waves around us (our circumstances) and we lose contentment.
We believe we're entitled to ease and abundance
Generally speaking, if we find ourselves lacking contentment it's because we have bought into the cultural narrative to expect comfort at all times. But real life is not like this. Real life is messy. Most days there are real challenges and if we don't have an Anchor, a resource for dealing with the challenges than we'll often walk around feeling like victims.
So what does Paul say the secret is that can cause him to have real contentment in the midst of being "brought low" or "abounding"? He goes on in Philippians 4:13 to say this:
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Yes I know, you've seen this verse used by everybody to talk about all manner of accomplishments. But in its context, it's really talking about how Paul remains content through challenges. The key (as always) is depending on Jesus. The key is recognizing that in it of yourself you're too weak, but your Savior is more than strong enough. So the next time you find yourself griping about being late or wanting to make a stink because things aren’t going “your way”, take a moment (or many moments), acknowledge the problem and ask your Lord for help. He'll give you what you need to face the daily battles of life. He’s good like that. And if you blow it (like I did the other day), just come to your Savior admitting your fault, ask Him for forgiveness and be assured that He’s washed it away. He’s good like that too.