|English: Saint paul arrested (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
So why didn't he pray up an earthquake to rescue himself from prison every time he was in there, like the one that rescued him and Silas in Philippi?
Why didn't he power his way out of floggings and stonings?
Why didn't he just keep those ships afloat instead of suffering shipwreck two times?
Why didn't he pull together a slick presentation that wowed everybody's socks off and made everybody fawn over him, instead of being slandered, beaten, hated, and drummed out of town all the time?
C'mon, Paul, why didn't you do those things? Don't you know what you wrote? Don't you know "all things" means ALL THINGS? You should be healthy, wealthy, and loved everywhere you go!
You should be enjoying your best life now!
But what if "all things" doesn't mean "everything we want?" Everything we think is best?
Does "all" always mean "Anything in the universe," or does God say "all" within pre-defined parameters?
When I took my little kids to the store and (on rare occasions) pointed to the candy display and said, "Pick whatever you want," was I inviting them to rush away to the sporting goods section and pick out a bike? Of course not!
What are our parameters? What are the limits of God's "all?"
Paul knew what God's power in his life was for.
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. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Php 4:11-13).
Paul knew that God's power was there to enable him to suffer well. He also knew that God's power was there to enable him to receive God's pleasant gifts unselfishly, and to use them for ministry rather than for his own luxury.
And where did he get this perspective? Do you remember what God promised when He told Ananias about His decision to save Paul and use him for gospel ministry?
"I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:16)"Well that's all well and good for Paul," you may say, "but God never said anything like that to me!"
Didn't he? Have you ever read Luke 6:20-36? Were His disciples lying to the suffering Christians in Acts 14:22?
Jesus probably hasn't told any of us what we're going to suffer, but He has promised us that we will suffer (John 16:33).
So if "all things" doesn't mean delivering ourselves from suffering, then what good is it?
It means that whatever God has put in your life, whether suffering or pleasure, He will enable you to turn both of these temporary things into eternal treasures as you endure or enjoy them with contentment.
"I have learned to be content in all circumstances...I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
Christian power doesn't come by rebuking so-called "demons of whatever I don't like" (which we'd better be cautious about doing anyway, Jude 1:8-10). It doesn't come by "naming it and claiming it" (2 Co 12:8-9).
Christian power comes through the immovable strength of contentment in Christ Himself. Contentment, in fact, is nothing more than the peace which comes from faith in a good and loving God who will "work all things (including suffering) together for the good of those who love Him" (Rom 8:28).
Contentment strengthened Paul to go back to minister in places where his life was threatened.
Contentment strengthened Paul to sit in a dank, filthy prison, chained to guards night and day, with his back lacerated by brutal whippings, and to write epistles which overflowed with love, praise, and joy. And every time we read Paul's epistles, we who love God are still receiving the promised "good" which God brought from those incredible sufferings.
Will you pray for the faith-filled contentment which is the only thing that will empower you to love and serve and praise and rejoice in the midst of your tears and tiredness?
Godliness with contentment is great gain indeed (1 Tim 6:6).