DEVOTIONAL GUIDE: The key to contentment is simple, but not easy

The apostle Paul writes: "I can do all things through him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13).

Rev. Josiah Hoagland
Park Rapids Enterprise file photo
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In Philippians 4:11-13 we read, “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.”

As we draw nearer to Thanksgiving, this passage has been on my mind. The specific piece that captures my attention is the idea of contentment.

Contentment can be elusive. Advertisers make their daily bread by selling the idea that we are insufficient and lacking. The commercials we see confirm our worst fears that we need more and that we are not enough.

A sense of discontentment is felt in relationships when a family member is unable to meet our needs. Discontentment is felt when we experience painful health problems. We see discontentment in love stories, books, movies and popular culture that capture the inner sense of longing for more and more.

The popular song by U2, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking for,” is a great synopsis of the human predicament. Contentment is a difficult concept to imbue.


In Philippians 4, we see a remarkable passage written while the apostle Paul was in prison. These prisons are not like the prisons we encounter today. They were dark, cold and underground, and the food and clothing he needed could only come from visitors. He wrote this piece while encumbered with large iron shackles. Despite his horrendous conditions, Paul writes that he is content!

Where did Paul receive his contentment in the midst of such overwhelming barriers? Paul gives away the secret to contentment that has baffled humanity for millennia in verse 13: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

This appears too simple to be right. If it was that simple, why are there not more content people? The error many of us make is that simple things are easy. Paul’s statement is simple, but not simplistic.

It is a hard thing to abandon one’s attachments and find strength in God. Paul’s statement of being able to find contentment in God is a remarkable statement, in line with the whole of the Bible.

Jesus says that “those who try to hold on to their lives will give up true life. Those who give up their lives for me will hold on to true life” (Matthew 10:39). To let go of our attachments in some ways is a death – a death to all that we once held at the center of our lives.

Paul encourages his readers to recognize that contentment is the product of transformation through relationship with God. Contentment is the byproduct of letting go of distractions and attachments to find peace through connection with God.

Sometimes, doing what God intends you to do may be a matter of life or death.

Rev. Josiah Hoagland serves as mission director at CHI-St. Joseph's Health in Park Rapids.
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