Even with plenty of food in my pantry and no pressing physical needs worrying me, the past couple of weeks have been difficult for me emotionally. I suspect that it is the same for many of you. Do you feel like quitting sometimes? It takes an entire lifetime to be formed into Christ’s image. It takes years before we learn spiritual and physical reliance on God.
In these days of social isolation and lockdown, we may feel we are living in house arrest. However, the apostle Paul truly was imprisoned in either Ephesus or Rome when he authored these words of encouragement to the Christians in Philippi.
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)
Here Paul is referring to his physical needs that the Philippians longed to provide out of love. But now I see it is also possible to be spiritually discontent. What is the secret of contentment? I believe Paul provides the answer for us in the text: our strength is in Christ. This truth is crucial for us to acknowledge if we are to mature spiritually. Just as the Israelites struggled to rely on God’s provisions in the desert, so we must learn that we are utterly dependent on his grace. The difficulty is my immaturity often stems from the false perception that I am able to provide for myself. I work hard. I only pray if desperate. I am distracted by the many modes of entertainment and extravagances that fill my life. But these days of spiritual and social hardship can help us refocus our understanding of just how vulnerable we are. God is our sustainer, and we are both utterly dependent on him and beloved by him.
Likewise, I am learning just how dependent I am on the faith of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Without reminders of his goodness and without the face-to-face joys of being a part of his community, I might succumb to loneliness, selfishness, or ingratitude. Walter Brueggeman reminds us, “we should be weaned from the seductions of commodity for the gift of communion, a presence that leaves us in joy and well-being.” (A Way Other Than Our Own)
This is applicable to the gift of Christ’s holy presence as well as the church. During these days, however, when we are being deprived of meeting together in person, I am reading and reflecting on what it means to be poor in spirit.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)
May you also rest in reliance on God. May we be content in our circumstances. We do not enjoy the social and spiritual sacrifices, but we carry on because we carry his strength. Now we focus our eyes on him, weak and vulnerable, poor in spirit, admitting he is the very communion we all need.*
* If you have urgent physical needs as well, such as groceries or other necessities, please contact the church office. There are many who would be honored to assist you.