In The Meantime Part 3: Yes, You Can
On Sunday 17th April at our morning service, we continued our 'In The Meantime' with a talk called Yes, You Can. In this blog you will find a summary of the talk and then some questions and reflections for you to think through on your own or to discuss in your small group.
If you would like to listen to the talk on-line, please click here.
Talk Notes and Summary
In this series we have been talking about those times in our lives where we are in a set of circumstances that are ongoing and where there doesn’t seem to be a way out or a solution. We are asking the question “What do you do when there’s nothing you can do?”
One of the things that it is helpful to remember when you think about these “in the meantime” circumstances is to remember that the men and women who are a part of God’s story were not strangers to adversity. They didn’t see a contradiction between adversity and faith and they were able to live in the “in the meantime” seasons of life and still do some amazing things.
One of those people was a guy called Paul who was a follower of Jesus and what we will discover today is that Paul makes an incredibly bold statement - Paul said that he had found a way to find contentment even in the midst of incredible adversity.
Contentment is somehow something on the inside that is a peace even when everything on the outside is going crazy. Contentment is the ability to stop striving internally even though things on the outside are outside of control and Paul found a way to do just that.
Paul finds himself, after an eventful journey, imprisoned in Rome, something that he has no control over. In this in the meantime moment, rather than do nothing, he writes letters to some of the churches that he has started during his travels. He did what he could. It doesn’t sound a lot, he wrote some letters. But he didn’t know and couldn’t have known was the impact that those letters would have. What is amazing that we still have these letters available to read 2000 years later. We never know what the implications of the decisions we make in our in the meantime moments.
One of the letters Paul wrote was to a church in Philippi. This letter is better known as the book of Philippians in the New Testament and in part of it Paul shares with us how he coped with his situation of being imprisoned. A situation that was likely to end in his death. You can read that in Philippians chapter 4 verses 10 to 13. Click here to read that story.
It is clear from verse 10 that Paul has just received something from the church in Philippi. This was probably some sort of practical or financial help. Paul is letting them know that he is grateful for their concern and that any delay was not their fault.
Who of us would be content given Paul’s circumstances? How many of us are truly content in the circumstances that we find ourselves in, which honestly are probably much better than those Paul found himself in?
This contentment is not a natural state for Paul – he says that he has learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want (verse 11).
Paul uses a word to describe his learning of this secret that isn’t used anywhere else in the Bible. It is a word that would have normally been used to describe someone being initiated into a cult. What Paul is actually saying here is that he has been initiated into contentment. This suggests something much deeper and bigger than merely learning a secret.
He didn’t say “I have learned the secret of being happy”, no he said, “I have learnt the secret of being content”. Contentment does not always equate to happiness, you can be happy and not content.
How did Paul manage it? Paul has learnt how to be content by relying on the strength that he has been given (verse 13). It is not his own strength, nor is it some kind of human strength that Paul is talking about. It is something more. It is God’s strength. Paul has to rely on the supernatural strength of God through the Holy Spirit (which is God’s presence with us). It is God working through Paul, in spite of Paul’s weakness. This strength came from Paul’s close relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit. This close relationship enabled him to rely on God’s strength when his own ran out.
Imagine, if Paul hadn’t found this secret of contentment, hadn’t been initiated into it? He probably wouldn’t have written the letters that he did write from prison. We wouldn’t have been told the secret so that we could be initiated into this cult of contentment as well. We wouldn’t know the importance of being devoted to contentment.
How does the strength of Jesus initiate me into the cult of contentment? There’s a mysterious thing where for followers of Jesus the life of Jesus, the strength of Jesus, the endurance of Jesus is available to you and me in Jesus. That life, strength and endurance of Jesus means that we can be fine on the inside even though the world around us is out of control, not because we are strong but because he gives us his strength…we can’t but he can
Whatever you’re in the meantime adversity is, whether it is happening right now or will happen in the future, we want to finish with this: that thing is the epicentre of where God has the biggest potential to do the greatest work in your life. Paul started a writing ministry that changed the world from prison, facing death. Whenever you talk to people and they tell you a story of what God did through them or where something transformational happened in their spiritual journey, they most often talk about a season of adversity or a set of challenges.
When you find yourself in an in the meantime situation, remember you have no idea of what God wants to do through you and in you in this season.
Questions for Reflection
1. Talk about a season in your life when you were fully content. What was it about that season that fed your contentment?
2. Do you know someone who lives with pervasive discontentment? If so, how does that discontentment affect the quality of his or her life?
3. Does the kind of contentment Paul describes seem achievable in your own life? Why or why not?
4. What are some things that make it difficult for you to believe God may do extraordinary and unexpected things through your challenging circumstances?
5. How would your current season look different if you were able to resist the forces, pressures, and temptations of your circumstances?
6. What is your primary source of discontentment right now? What is one thing you can do to live with more contentment from the knowledge that you can’t change your circumstances, but Jesus can? How can this group support you?