St Paul GreekBe anxious for nothing. How to be content? A Reflection on Philippians 4:6, 11

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6).

One of my favourite bible chapters is from Philippians 4, an excerpt from one of St. Paul’s prison epistles. It is a letter that boasts of joy in the midst of chaos.

His exuberant joy always makes me wonder – how can one, amongst such turmoil, be rejoicing? How can he keep saying, “rejoice” when anyone who looks at his surroundings will tell him, “mourn Paul!”

Well, a small revelation dawned on me today. It told me – it’s how the problems and surroundings are dealt with. For St. Paul, this was an occasion and opportunity for rejoicing, and he did indeed rejoice. It is never a time to complain, or self-loath, or self-mourn, but to rejoice.

But, how? Be anxious for nothing. I’m not saying that when problems rise up in our lives, we brush it off hypothetically, pretending we are joyful and put a big smile on our face to feel something good. No. It is the process of trusting, believing, relying, knowing the things that are happening in my life are for the good – because God is with me, He is always with me, He is carrying me in His palms (Isaiah 49:16), He is guiding my paths (Proverbs 16:9), He is whispering in my ear (Isaiah 30:21), He is forming me (Psalm 139:13) He is looking at me with love (Ezekiel 16:8).

My revelation was that for so long many of us, we expect problems will not arise. That life simply must be perfect (although we don’t want to be perfect or think we cannot be we think life should be). I pray, read my bible once in a while, go to church almost regularly, I think I’m committed to Him – but then when something goes ‘wrong’ – panic, frustration, feelings of irritability, and a feeling of self-help-me-my-life-sux funk arises. So where is the joy in the trials?

I believe St. Paul knew something and lived something that society continually teaches us otherwise. He was content. “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” (Phil 4:11). The world tells us we need the next best gadget, the better position at work, the better career, the better relationship, the better family, the better lifestyle, the better life. And so, our expectations arise. They must because if we want better – we expect better. So we strive for better and for more.

I’m not stating that we shouldn’t strive to be better or for better things even, in fact, we must strive to be perfect (Matt 5:48, Colossians 1:28). But St. Paul was content with his situation. He knew the purpose of his life, and he lived purposefully and on purpose (a lot of purposes). Why? Because he was content. He was content with whatever God gave him. God gave him trials, ok. God gave him rest, ok. God allowed him to be in prison, in shipwreck, in sleeplessness, ok (2 Cor. 6:5-8). Because he learned “in whatever state I am to be content.”

Yes, problems happen, but do we live as they really do? I think if we fully trusted in the Lord and know our life truly comes from Him, our lives would be fuller and filled with satisfaction. We must believe life is happening for me and not to me (if I may quote Iyanla Vanzant) and our anxieties will subside.

So I’m going to stop trying. Stop trying to stress about getting my work done. Stop trying to think my life is going to be perfect smooth sailing. Stop trying to be anxious to see what’s ‘next’ in my life. Stop trying to think if this happens or if that didnt happen, I, or things would be different. Stop trying to think other things other than now and what and who I am supposed to be. I have learned in whatever state I am to be content.

I, in my own God-created image, have the ability to live in the now, and am called to live in the now, to be content. And this may be why, when Moses asks what’s God’s name – He answers funnily – saying “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14) – I am now. (The Greek verb for “I am” here shows the present tense of time that is continual -and so we too, to live in the now and are continual, immortal beings).

Let us strive to live fuller lives, seeking contentment, seeking perfection, and trusting our lives are in the hands of God (Wisdom of Solomon 7:11), and whatever problems may arise, let us pray to not be anxious, but to pray to learn how to enjoy Him in every moment of our lives – in trials, in peace, in times of rejoicing and in times of difficulty.

I will let myself live, and live abundantly. (John 10:10)