As the summer of 2015 approached, we knew it was going to be one for the family record books. What I didn’t know, however, was how much it would test my character, my contentment, and, on some days even, my Christianity.
On June 1, we loaded the last box into the storage container, closed the garage door, and backed the car down the driveway as we said goodbye to the house we had been living in for the last two years. Families move out of houses every day, so in the grand scheme of things, this wasn’t a big deal. Our story is unique, however, in that while most families move out of one place and into another, we moved out of our house without having another house to move into. You see, shortly before moving out, we finalized construction plans on a new home, but, of course, it would take months to build a house, which meant we would have to make other living arrangements for the immediate future. But we had a plan—one that we thought could work.
We spent much of June and July traveling together as a family. Some of that time we spent traveling to minister and some of it we spent away on great vacations. But, alas, even the best vacations must come to an end. Without a home of our own yet, Sarah’s parents graciously allowed us to move into the spare bedrooms of their home in southern Missouri where we spent several weeks. Then, the time came for us to come home to Ft. Worth so Justus could start kindergarten. The new house was slightly behind the original schedule, and it was still weeks from being completed. But, of course, these things are to be expected in a project like this. So instead of moving into our home when we came back to town; Sarah, our two children, and I all moved our entire lives into a thirty-foot camper here on ministry property. We knew at the beginning of the summer we’d probably need to stay in the camper for a week or two while the house was being finished, but as time went beyond what we had initially anticipated, I felt my grip on sanity slowly slipping.
Don’t misunderstand me. As far as campers go, this one was nice and would make for a great weekend getaway. But for our family of four, it was a tight fit to say the least. Two-hundred-fifty square feet gets eaten up quickly when it’s divided equally among two adults, a five-year-old, and a two-year-old. I remember standing in the doorway of the camper one afternoon while eating a hamburger in the dark because my son was asleep in my bed to my right, and to my left, my daughter was asleep in the collapsible playpen which took up most all of the space in the living room/kitchen/dining room/guest room. Each night after eight o’clock, Sarah and I would have to move about the camper in ninja-like silence so as not to wake our sleeping children who were never more than a few feet away from us.
And then there was the bathroom situation. For any married couple wanting to test the strength of their union, I can suggest that you try sharing a bathroom the size of this one for a while. You’ll soon find out what your marriage is made of.
We lovingly began to refer to the camper as prison. “We don’t want to go back to the camper!” our kids would cry, and we really couldn’t blame them. Every so often, Sarah and I would look at each other and say through clenched teeth and forced smiles, “We’re making memories.”
I could go on about the camper’s inability to keep cool in the sweltering Texas heat or the “joys” of emptying a septic tank every few days. But, somewhere close to our fiftieth day in the camper, all my complaining was abruptly interrupted one night as the Holy Spirit led me to a passage of scripture which spoke to me then and has continued to for the weeks and months since. In a letter to his partners, Paul wrote in Philippians 4:11, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” I don’t recall the exact events or what had happened the day the Lord showed me this scripture, but I can say with certainty that I had been anything but content.
To be content is to be strong enough or in possession of enough so as to need no aid or support. It is to be independent of external circumstances.
As I have meditated on these things, I’ve come to discover that contentment is an art form, one that requires gracefulness and finesse. It is an art that we must aim to be proficient in and one we can even become masters of. And though contentment is simple in its nature; like most fine art, it is rare and difficult for most of the world to achieve. It is time for you and me to rediscover the lost art of contentment.
First, we must deal with the misconception that surrounds the idea of what it means to be content. Most people hear the word and equate it to settling for whatever they presently have, regardless of desire, expectation, or their vision for the future. But we must never confuse being content with settling for less than God’s best in our lives. No matter what our present position is in life or how much or little we possess, we have not yet reached the end of our journey. Now is not the time to give up on our hope for the future.
So how do you reconcile living in a state of contentment with the things you have while continuing to press on for greater in the days ahead? How do you live in the delicate balance between contentment with where you are and faith for where you want to be?
I mentioned previously that Sarah’s family lives in Missouri. In the eight years we’ve been married, she and I have driven from our home in Texas to theirs in Missouri quite a few times. Not being much of a “road warrior,” I never really looked forward to the long drive. But over time, I came to enjoy it—at least a little more than I did initially. There is a stretch of road on the particular route we most often travel that takes us through the northwest corner of Arkansas. Even though Arkansas is neither the state we started in nor the state of our final destination, I have come to enjoy the beauty of the rolling hills, tall trees, and dense woods along the road. Being content on this journey doesn’t mean that I have to get out of the car in Arkansas, unload everything, and buy a house there. But it does mean that I have the ability to make the most out of the trip by finding something to enjoy about it along the way. Like Paul, I’ve found that I can be content in whatever state I am in—even the state of Arkansas. (Go Razorbacks!)
Obviously Paul wasn’t referring specifically to states like Texas, Missouri, or Arkansas. If we keep reading in Philippians 4, we find out just which states he was referring to. In verse twelve he says, “I know how to be abased and I know how to abound.” Paul is talking about his ability to live both in the state of abased and the state of abounding. Like him, every one of us are somewhere on the road between those two states.
To be abased is, as the Amplified Bible says, to live humbly in straitened circumstances. We’d probably describe it as “living tight.” Have you ever had more need than you had supply? More month than money? I’ve been there. You’ve been there. We’ve all experienced tight times. And, evidently, so had Paul. He had been experiencing some financial tightness in his life too. But there may be one key difference between Paul and us. Look again at his words, and you’ll find that he says, “I know how to be abased.” Just because you have ever or presently are coming up short and living in the state of being abased, doesn’t necessarily mean you know a thing in the world about how to do it. And if you never find out the right way to be abased, then you are destined to live there for the rest of your life.
My friends, if you are currently living in an abased state, you need to know that it doesn’t have to be your final destination. God’s plan for you is to live in a state of abundance with every need met, every godly desire fulfilled, and the ability to reach out beyond yourself to meet the needs of others. But sadly, God’s plan is unrealized in the lives of many many people all because they fail the contentment test and are not qualified for the increase God has already prepared for them. If you’d like, I can administer the contentment test to you right now so you can find out how close you are to picking up and moving on down the road to the state of abounding. The test has only one question: “Though you have dreams, desires, and even faith for more things in the future, can you be happy right now without them?” If you answered yes, then congratulations, you passed and are well on your way to your final destination in the state of abounding! If you answered no, don’t be discouraged. There will be a retest when you wake up tomorrow morning.
While living in the camper, I failed the contentment test almost every other day for fifty days. But God was so gracious and merciful to let me take it again and again until I finally got it right. That 250-square-foot space was not my family’s final destination. It was just the state we were in as we headed towards a beautiful home with more than enough room to meet our needs and be a blessing to other people. Now that we are all moved in, we feel as though we are living in the state of abounding, but to get here we had to spend a few days in a tight spot. I can’t help but wonder now if my lack of contentment had anything to do with the delays in finishing the house. What if I had been more thankful in the right now instead of postponing my happiness until after move-in day? What if I had found something to be grateful for on the first day in the camper instead of waiting almost two months to get my attitude right? What if I had thanked God for all the breath He had given me instead of using it to gripe about being tight? Do you suppose that would’ve passed the time quicker or possibly even opened a door to the realm of the miraculous intervention of God on our behalf? I’m confident it would have. And what do you imagine God could do in your life right now if you’d just choose to get happy in this space between where you are and where you want to be?
In my prayer times in recent months, I keep hearing the same words come out of my heart and mouth. I find myself telling the Lord that if He never did another thing for me as long as I lived, I’d still have enough reason to thank Him for eternity. He has brought such faithful partners and friends to us in our ministry, but even if they all quit on us today and never sent us another dollar or encouraging word, we’d still have cause to lift our voice in thanks and praise for all the wonderful things He’s already done. That is contentment. But here’s the good news: according to 1 Timothy 6:6, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” I know Jesus well enough to know that He is nowhere near done increasing us, and He’s not about to stop causing His grace to abound towards us. But now I know that my contentment today has everything to do with my prosperity tomorrow.
Friends, your joy and peace must never be dependent on more money, a bigger house, or another car. Your happiness must not be allowed to rise and fall with the bank balance. If you are finding it difficult to live in the state you’re in, then all you need to do is keep reading in Philippians 4 to find out Paul’s secret to living in any situation. He said in verse 13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Contentment is not being dependent on external circumstances. It’s being dependent on Christ, the Anointed One and His anointing in you! Contentment is to require no aid or support. It is being confident that all the strength you need is resident within you right now and is available to anyone who will lay hold of it by faith in Jesus.
Rest assured: abundance is your final destination, but until you get there, now is the time to become proficient in the art of contentment.