Which of us can say with Paul, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” (Philippians 4:11)?
I have been on a journey seeking what this means and how this looks. The Lord has taught me much, but I have definitely not mastered it, as Paul seems to have done. How about you?
The biggest way God has grown me on this journey is a more consistent prayer life. I have learned… rather, I am still learning how to surrender every worry to Him. It is all the little worries (and a few exceptionally huge ones) that add up to a discontent heart.
I have watched what Scripture promises happen in my own life. A consistent prayer life, a continual pattern of surrender, feeds the spirit of contentment Paul spoke of.
This contentment is tied directly to “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,” that he talked about a few verses earlier. This state of being at peace has literally nothing to do with our circumstances (which is why it passes understanding). It has everything to do with God and the position of your heart and mind in relation to Him.
We cannot achieve what Paul said he had learned in verse 11, without living out what he taught in verses 6-7:
“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 suprasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
Here are three aspects of a consistent prayer life that feed a spirit of contentment.
- SHIFTING YOUR PERSPECTIVE
A discontent heart is one weighed down by circumstances.
The choice to pray, whether you planned and set aside this time with God or you are in the moment, is a choice to look up from your circumstances. You shift your eyes off your tasks and to-dos, off the distractions, off the worries and stressful situations, and fix your eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2).
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace
You turn your eyes upon Jesus and off your circumstances. Shift your perspective.
A discontent heart is one weighed down by lies the enemy feeds you about what’s really going on in your life, and even about God Himself and what He’s up to.
When you pray, you can remind yourself Who He is and what is true. How do you know what to remind yourself of? Consistent Bible reading. This habit must be tied to your prayer life. We must remember Who we are praying to, and what He has said. I highly recommend actually praying Scripture (but that’s another post).
A discontent heart is one weighed down with “I just can’t do this.”
Prayer acknowledges that He is able, otherwise known as surrender. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) Because He is able, I don’t have to be. Here is where the next aspect begins, now that you have shifted your perspective off yourself and onto the Lord.
2. SURRENDERING YOUR PROBLEMS
You have shifted your perspective off your circumstances and acknowledged that God is able. Now you get specific in that surrender, and give Him your problem. Whether and when He answers is up to Him and not in your hands at all.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything (here is where consistency comes in) by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God…” (Philippians 4:6)
Philippians 4:6-8 breaks down into a straightforward 3 Step Prayer for Stressful Moments. (I broke it down this way because I need a plan when I get stressed, or I spiral down quickly.)
Step 1: Speak your request aloud to God.
When you get specific and speak your request out loud, it forces you to put your worry into words. Worry can roll around in our hearts and minds, start lying to us about the situation, and become unrealistic and overwhelming. When you define what you are specifically stressed about and need God’s help with, the stress is not in charge of that moment anymore. God is.
Step 2: Thank God aloud for something specific to the situation.
When you are surrendering a problem, don’t neglect the thanksgiving part. Why?
First of all, it is part of the command in Philippians 4:6. But it is also the beginning of a transformed heart. You have acknowledged that God is able. Now you take it to the next level, and agree that He is good and gives good gifts.
Make it specific to the situation you are praying about. Here are a couple examples:
-You are praying about a bill you can’t pay. “Thank You, Father, for all the times You have provided for our financial needs. Thank You that we can trust You will provide for us in Your perfect timing.”
-You are praying for patience because you literally just swept the floor, and it’s covered with crumbs again, for the fourth time today. “Thank You, Lord, for the children You have given me. And thank You for enough food to feed them today.”
Small or big, we can surrender our problems to God in prayer, with thanksgiving. And then comes the promise.
(To read about Step 3 of my Prayer for Stressful Moments, hop on over to my blog.)
It all this reminding your mind and heart of truth, in all this surrender, in all this time spent in the presence of the Holy Spirit, He gives us something that is beyond our human understanding. Peace.
3. SOAKING UP HIS PEACE
I have poured out the worries of my heart, asked for His help, thanked Him for specific things… Then I get up with a peace in my heart that doesn’t necessarily match my circumstances. This peace truly “passes all understanding,” because it is completely unrelated to circumstances.
Peace that we can’t even understand is the promise that specifically follows the commands to give your requests to God and give thanks, in Philippians 4:6-7. It is also the testimony of many Christians, myself included.
Bible reading feeds this peace, as we choose to believe what is true and rest in it. Contentment grows in your mind.
The Holy Spirit also deposits this peace into your inner being, a process we cannot even begin to understand. Contentment grows in your heart.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
A consistent prayer life feeds a spirit of contentment.
If you pray consistently, yet find yourself still lost in discontent and worry, ask yourself how you are praying. What I have outlined here is not a formula you plug in to get the same result every time. It is a growth process. Here are two questions to ask yourself to get you growing in the right direction, toward a healthy, effective prayer life.
- Are you consistently reading the Bible along with your prayer time? This is key for reminding us what is true about God and His kingdom, and taking our eyes off our circumstances. Otherwise, we simply end up only praying about our problems, and not actually shifting our perspective.
- Do you remember to thank God for something specific to the situation when you are praying about a problem? This is clearly part of the command in Philippians 4:6. If you don’t obey the whole command, then you may not obtain the whole promise of God’s peace.
If you are reading this post, I have prayed for you, that you will grow in how you pray and how consistently you read God’s Word. I also pray specifically that God will grow in you a spirit of contentment in Him.
Susan Haines is a Bible-studying, blogging wife and mom. She mentors and equips Christian wives and moms in finding contentment, this mom/wife life, and the spiritual disciplines. You can find her at Growing a Content Heart.