Welcome to Daily Steps!
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Philippians 4:11-13 (ESV) — Not that I am speaking of being in need, 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.
Contentment in the Midst of Captivity
Most of the world is in captivity right now. With the residents of China barely beginning to emerge from months of quarantine and the governor of Hawaii declaring that anyone visiting the state must isolate for 14 days before leaving their hotel rooms, it’s as though the earth itself has turned off its porch light, locked the front door, and gone into self-imposed hibernation. Seismologists around the world have noticed a marked decline in the noise and vibrations normally generated by the hustle and bustle of normal life on earth. It’s so quiet, in fact, they can now detect the planet’s natural rumblings and shifts with much greater ease. And if we could have a bird’s eye view from space, we would see more landforms through clearer blue skies, thanks to the reduced air pollution. Even the oceans are quieter, making life less stressful for marine creatures.
While this may be the quietest and healthiest moment for the earth’s ecosystem since before the industrial revolution, it’s likely the most disruptive and disturbing moment in modern history for all of humankind. We may all be staying at home, but the noise of panicking souls and discontented hearts is pounding louder and louder through our newscasts, social media, and especially inside our heads. We are held captive by an insidious stealth killer, and hunkering down tempts us on a daily basis to give in to feelings of discontent — in all its various forms.
Into this outwardly quiet, but inwardly chaotic scene, walks Jesus. The only One capable of calming both the storms of earth and the storms in our minds. Like us, the Apostle Paul was in captivity. Prison to be more precise. The religious elite wanted to kill him. A virus wants to kill us. The parallels between Paul’s situation when he wrote the book of Philippians and ours today, are astounding. So when Paul tells us that he has learned the secret to contentment in seasons of both hardship and abundance, we have an incentive — perhaps like no other point in our lifetimes — to learn his secret and grab hold of it for dear life. And in this case, Paul would tell us that the word life isn’t about our physical existence, but a life far more valuable and immeasurably more important — the life Jesus died to give us so that we can live forever with Him. In John 10:10b (TPT), Jesus said, “But I have come to give you everything in abundance, more than you expect — life in its fullness until you overflow!”
In our Scripture passage this week, Paul is telling us how to grab ahold of the abundant life and experience contentment, peace, joy, and patience while we remain in our captivity. Upon first reading of Philippians 4:11-13, the secret Paul is talking about is hard for us to grasp. It’s a remarkably short statement for such a big secret. But that’s because the secret isn’t in the statement itself. The meaning of the word “learned” in verse 11 and the same word in verse 12 are completely different in the original Greek version of this book. In verse 11 Paul is telling us that learning is the culmination of putting into practice everything up until that point. In other words, the secret to contentment is found in doing all the things Paul teaches us throughout Philippians and his other letters to the ancient churches. And the three words “learned the secret" in verse 12 are actually just one word in Greek, and it means understanding something that is ordinarily hard to know or hidden from view. That’s because learning to be content is a treasure worth more than any comfort or pleasure this world or this earthly life can ever offer us.
So how can we experience contentment in the middle of this pandemic? How can we avoid giving in to feelings of frustration when even the most basic necessities, like toilet paper, are in short supply? How can we receive a flood of peace, when the only thing our minds want to do is race, spin, and ruminate on worst-case scenarios and what-if thoughts? How do we discover Paul’s secret? It is our surrender, not our striving, that makes soul-contentment possible. We are called to rest in the captivity. To simply wait with a thankful heart, seeking our comfort in Jesus, not in creature comforts, health, or even physical freedom. Jesus is calling us to have a childlike trust in Him, not to be restless in nervous anticipation of the unknown or the unreceived. He urges us to rest in our heavenly Father’s best, not in what our own minds tell us we need or want to be comfortable and safe. The next five days of readings are designed to help you experience His supernatural rest.
Bible Readings with Prayer Prompts
This week's Daily Steps offer some practical guidance to help you apply Paul's instruction on contentment. Each of the five readings for this coming week focuses on a key to having a contented heart and mind. Spend time meditating and praying over each one and let Jesus guide you to a new level of faith in these uncertain times. As Paul would say, you "can do all things through Him who strengthens” you. Each of the keys you will study this week will help you understand how to lean into the strength of Jesus and not your own.
Monday — Key #1 - Put your full belief and trust in God to do what’s best for you. Read Psalm 84:11 and Psalm 63:3-4. All discontentment is rooted in unbelief. Having faith that God is trustworthy, that He is aware of your situation, and desires to help you through whatever life brings you, is the antidote to unfulfilled cravings and feelings of entitlement. When we determine in our hearts to trust that God knows what He is doing better than us, we put our faith in action. Spend time asking the Holy Spirit to root out any seeds of unbelief in your heart and ask Him to lead you to promises in the Bible that will reassure you. Use Google to search for Biblical promises that apply specifically to how you are feeling.
Tuesday - Key #2 - Strive for humility. Read 1 Peter 5:6-7. If unbelief is the root of discontentment, then pride is its food and water. Pride can make a fledgling unbelief blossom into a full-grown thorn bush of discontentment, grumbling, and pessimism. Thomas Watson, the author of The Art of Divine Contentment, penned these words way back in 1653: “When you lay humility for your foundation, contentment will be the superstructure.” That statement is still true today. Spend time thanking and praising God for all the good things in your life, recognizing that your very breath is a gift from Him.
Wednesday - Key #3 - Get your sense of hope from the only things that last. Read Deuteronomy 31:6, Psalm 33:20-22, and Hebrews 11:1. Everything in our culture today revolves around the idea of doing whatever it takes to make yourself happy or at least comfortable. But happiness is a feeling, and contentment is a virtue. Happiness is temporary and contentment is a state of being that breeds peace and trust. When you place your hope in God’s promises and direction, you will have strength and endurance from within. Spend a few minutes today making two lists: one with all the things you typically turn to for happiness and the other with things that create lasting impact or spark hope regardless of your circumstances. Pray over your lists and lay them at the feet of Jesus.
Thursday - Key #4 - Adjust your perception. Read Matthew 6:33 and Colossians 3:2. In the field of public relations, there’s a common saying that perception is reality. That’s because we often believe what we think we see, and we see what we want to see. But within each of us, there is an ability to change our perceptions through the power of the Holy Spirit. We can choose to see what we have versus what we don’t. With all of this downtime, we can choose to place a high value on spending time with long-distance family via FaceTime versus spending hours shopping online to snag a deal on the latest outfit. We can focus on things that bring glory to God, versus glory to ourselves. Spend time meditating on the verses you read for today and then ask God to adjust your perception of your current circumstances or desires.
Friday - Key #10 - Pray as often as possible. Read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. As we endeavor to find contentment deep in our hearts, prayer is the best medicine for a lifetime of soul satisfaction. When you spend a lot of time living in the King's throne room, your desire to wander away from the things that truly matter greatly diminishes. To get into the habit of praying throughout your day, try a technique called breath prayers. Breath prayers are simple words that you can lift up to God in a single breath. There is no magic or mystery here. Choose whatever words reflect your heart cry to God and when you say them throughout the day, take a moment to truly focus on Him. As you breathe in and out, for each prayer you lift, spend another breath listening for Him to speak to you. Just imagine how much time you’ll end up spending with Him in one day by offering up one breath prayer every 30 minutes to an hour!
Why You Might be Feeling Panicky or Anxious Right Now and What to Do About It — If you are struggling with anxiety especially during this season of captivity, you may find this essay especially helpful. It was written by someone who is prone to anxiety herself, our own Community Team Study Guide Writer, Sara Goetz. Read Part 1 of the Essay.
Invite God's Presence
Select one or two of these spiritual practices to try this week. For ideas on how to practice these and why they are beneficial, watch the brief video series about Daily Steps at the bottom of this resource page.
- Worship by singing along with your favorite praise tunes. Here is a playlist you might like.
- Meditate on a verse from this week’s readings
- Be still and listen for at least 5 minutes
- Spend time outdoors in solitude (i.e. a walk in nature)
- Journal about the ways you see God moving
- Create (paint, sculpt, draw, write poetry or music, etc.)
- Fast from something that allows you to spend more time with God