I don't know about you but sometimes, in spite of having a home, food, warmth and loved ones I can sometimes be left feeling rather flat. Particularly during this time of Covid-19 I find myself wondering at times why I am not feeling more grateful that I am healthy and safe.
In the letter to the Philippians, St Paul writes:
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. (Chapter 4, verses 11b-13)
Paul writes as one who has known deprivation, cruel treatment and suffering in his life and yet he claims to have learned how to be content in any given situation. Not through his own power but through the one who gives him strength.
Who is this one who gives him strength? It is Jesus. Jesus is the one who turned Saul (as Paul was previously known) from a life of persecuting Christians to building up and looking after the church. On the road to Damascus the scales fall from Saul's eyes and he knows that his life belongs to the Lord. Paul is no superhuman, he has no powers of his own, and yet through trust in Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit Paul is given the strength to be content in all manner of things. I imagine in a lock-down situation he would spend his time penning deeply pastoral letters to the churches, encouraging the, in their trials and tribulations.
Contentment in all things then is no magic trick, rather it is found a deep and abiding love and trust in Jesus who can lead us into gratitude and acceptance through grace. All we have to do is trust. It is that simple. Yet, for most of us the simplest things can be so very difficult to achieve. Our attention, gratitude, thanks and contentment are drained away from us as we look to other things to meet our needs. In our age and culture we are surrounded by distractions that all point to worldly things. These entertainments amuse us for a short while before we look emptily for the next source of distraction.
We are all susceptible to these distractions, none of us can fully resist temptation to turn away from God from time to time. Thank goodness Jesus is always there to forgive us and accompany us back on the right path.
In times of life when all feels flat it is important that we do two things. The first is to make sure that we are not suffering from a mental illness- depression is not something that we can just pray away- by consulting our GP. Secondly, we must try to turn back to God in prayer. We must find something, even something small, to be grateful for in our lives and give thanks for it. Your grandmother might have called it 'counting your blessings' and it is a good practice to adopt. Every time we recognise how blessed we are we draw closer to God- it is how Paul could be content in all things. By realising that each one of us is sustained by and has been redeemed through Jesus even death can hold no power over us.
In all likelihood we will never attain the contentment in Christ that Paul managed this side of the grave but that shouldn't let us be dismayed. On those days when life is dull, when motivation has disappeared and when you feel irritable and ungrateful despite your relative wealth and comfort remember that you are not alone. Hold out your hands and walk in prayer and thanksgiving back to contentment in Jesus.