In 1965 the Rolling Stones sang, ‘I can’t get no Satisfaction’ and 55 years later it is still an anthem that is as relevant as the day it was released.
In 1987 U2 sang, ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’ and 33 years later it is still a classic that in the words of Bono is “an anthem of doubt more than faith.”
In 2020 are we satisfied? Have we found what we are looking for?
In 2019 in the Government’s annual population survey, which captures data from 320,000 people across the nation, people’s sense of satisfaction and ‘feeling that things done in life are worthwhile’ dropped. Just over half of Britons are happy. Those who have high anxiety levels are around 20%. But that was last year. I wonder what it is in 2020?
We are going to read a verse which is often taken out of context to mean that God will enable us to do what is set before us. We will read it in the context it was written and see it is not about doing but about being content with what is happening and where I am.
“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.” (Philippians 4: 10-13)
Remember Paul is in prison. Where are you today?
Remember also how one of the reasons for him writing to the Philippians was to thank them for the gift they sent him in prison. He has done that and mentions it again in this section but he also tells them that he is not needing things to help him get through. In fact he doesn’t anything. He has had it all and he has had nothing and he is probably in that circumstance right now. But that hasn’t come easy. Notice he uses the word ‘learned’. This has been a lesson in life, a work in progress, he has been tested in it and he has learned.
I haven’t studied Seneca or Epictetus, but these Stoic philosophers are appearing again in many popular books as I walk around Waterstones. These men believed that a good mental health cultivates happiness. Nothing deep about that perhaps. But they also teach that happiness comes when we know we can control hardly anything except what we think about our circumstances. Life happens and if we decide to think a situation is bad then we will become unhappy but if we view it as having meaning and purpose then we will be happy.
Paul is not using Stoic philosophy, he has his own.
Neither am I advocating some ‘put a smile on your face’ happy clappy attitude. There are times such as in grief when we mourn with those who mourn. There are sad times in our lives and we are wrong to minimise the hurt that people go through.
Paul teaches us how he has learnt to be content and the word here means to be independent of external circumstances.. He has learnt how because of Christ. Jesus has given him the ability to be self-sufficient. Christ has enabled him to live independently.
For my own journey the closer I get to Jesus the more I live contented. The more I think on him and who He is the less ‘stuff’ becomes necessary for my contentment.