One of my favorite passages in Scripture comes from the Apostle Paul:
The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:5b-7 (NASB)
Did you notice that first sentence? Ahh. This is good stuff. But keep reading, and you come to verses 11-13, which is a tough cut of meat:
Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
This passage has become personal for me over the last ten years. I now have a glimmer of understanding about what Paul meant when he wrote these words.
Have you ever noticed that God's provision usually looks nothing like we expect?
I worked as a copywriter for an in-house advertising agency for several years. The environment was a toxic combination of tight deadlines, micro-management, intra- and inter-departmental power struggles, brown-nosing, corporate ladder climbing, re-organizations, and a company relocation that offered no assistance to the plebes. Millions were spent on consulting companies, just to re-arrange our office for the umpteenth time. Several people told me that the stress had driven them to anti-depressants. One day, while faced with a crazy deadline and one of several managers with double standards and unrealistic expectations, I suddenly couldn't breathe and thought I might be having a heart attack. Turns out I had experienced my first ever panic attack while sitting at my desk.
I wanted out. And I wanted out right then.
I went home that evening and told my husband I wanted to quit my job. The thing was, I couldn't quit my job without another job in line. But there were no other jobs to be had. This is what you face when you live in a small town with only one large business and lots of factories. And as much as I hated to admit it, I knew that where I worked was better than the chicken factory.
I prayed about it, agonized over it, despised where I was and my helplessness to change it. I asked God repeatedly to let me leave. Each time He said "not yet." My joy was gone. My own attitude slowly grew toxic, and I felt like I had nothing positive left to give in my work, which just added to my misery.
I cried out to God. "Let me leave!"
He answered, "No."
"Why? Why do you keep me there? Why can't I leave?!?"
"You must learn to be content, no matter your circumstances."
I really hated that answer. I was angry, with myself for being so weak, with God for requiring me to stick it out. I hated it.
This was, spiritually, the driest point of my life so far.
Or so I thought.
After a few weeks, I realized He was serious about His requirement, that I really would have to be content there before He would let me leave. So I started praying, asking Him to help me be content.
Within a month or so, I found myself saying, "Okay, I'm content. You can let me leave now."
Sigh. Another couple weeks would go by. "Okay, this time I really am content where I am. I'm going to start looking for another job."
This went on for about six months. Then I met someone at work — a Messianic Jew named Sid. I kinda sorta knew Sid's wife Patty from prayer counseling training years before. Yeah, at that point I wasn't exactly applying the things I'd learned. Oh, the lessons in that alone. But I digress.
Sid invited us to attend a Messianic congregation about 45 minutes away from our home. We did. And our lives were changed forever. Doug and I started attending this congregation regularly. We learned all kinds of amazing things about Jesus Christ (Yeshua haMashiach). We fell in love with our Messiah all over again. We learned about the Torah (the books of Moses: Genesis - Deuteronomy), which is a Hebrew word that means "God's teaching and instruction," and how to see Christ in that Torah. We realized who we really are in Scripture and who we are in Christ. Identity is a priceless gift from Him. We learned some Scriptural truths that amazed us, shook us, stretched and challenged us. Grew us. Changed us.
And the next thing I knew, another six months had passed. And I realized that when I got my eyes off my circumstances and really submersed myself in Him, God was able to change my heart, my desires.
Don't get me wrong. Work was just as stressful as before. Same deadlines. Same ladder climbers scrambling over me and my other co-workers. Corporate life was still all that it's cracked up to be (pun very much intended). None of that had changed.
I had changed. He had changed me.
I looked around my cubicle, now a different cubicle from the one where I'd had the panic attack. And I realized that I no longer resented being there. I no longer dreaded coming to work. I could not say I loved my job. But I could say that I was content right where I was. Content.
I was there for a reason. God had kept me there, in that miserable work environment, because that was where I needed to be to meet Sid. To be invited to that little Messianic Jewish congregation. To meet my Messiah on a totally different level. To be refined. He had great blessings for me, but I needed to walk through the fire to experience and appreciate them.
Within a week of that epiphany, the Lord opened the door of a lifetime. He told me to apply for a job at Samaritan's Purse. I did. And I was hired. I had gone from the worst work environment I'd ever experienced to the one that was better than I had ever hoped for. Suddenly, I found myself surrounded by other believers, many who had been through the refiner's fire in their own ways. My new employer started off each day with organization-wide devotions and prayer. Our motto, hung above the phone at each desk, was "pray first."
Was this a dream? Tears come to my eyes still today when I think about it. I worked for Samaritan's Purse for two and a half years, was promoted to a supervisory role, before I chose to leave the best job I'd ever had and stay at home with my newborn daughter. That was almost five years ago.
Every time I think about Samaritan's Purse, I remember the job before it. And I can honestly say I'm thankful for the experience.
I wish I could say that I'm a master of contentment now, but that would be a lie. I can, however, draw on the truth I've known when I face new situations of discontent. And while I do feel restless and dissatisfied from time to time, I have found that He is still faithful. And God's provision is always there, ready for the taking. I just have to recognize it for what it is.