Have you ever had that dream where you are heading to a class for a final exam and you realize you’ve never studied or perhaps you’ve never even seen any of the material? I have this dream fairly regularly (insert your dream analysis here). For whatever reason, I always enjoyed school for the most part. And I still enjoy the learning process.
Often in my walk with the Lord, I sense that He has me back in school. Go with me in this analogy: He’s the professor. The Bible is the textbook. Sometimes He allows pop quizzes to interrupt my life and check me on the material. And like normal school, I could be taking a variety of classes all at the same time. Currently, one of the classes God has me enrolled in is Contentment 101. Let me explain.
First I need to let you in on a story that happened around Christmastime last year. My husband, Dick, and I were looking forward to having our oldest daughter, Whitney, our son-in-love, and our 14-month-old grandson at our home for a whole week! Our other daughter, Kelsey, was spending the holiday with her husband, our granddaughters, and his side of the family. On a Sunday night, before Whitney and her crew were going to fly in the next day, she called to inform us that our grandson, Liam, was running a high temperature and they were taking him to the ER. Later that evening, after his condition was stabilized, the decision was made that they would not be able to fly in that Monday. In my heart I was thinking, Thank heavens Liam is okay. And though I wish they were coming in tomorrow, I obviously want him to be well. Hopefully, after a day of antibiotics, he’ll be ready to fly the next day. Nice thought. Monday came and went and though Liam was a little better, his ears were not up to making two flight connections and faring very well. So the plan was for them to try again on Tuesday. I’d say right about this moment, I began to be a little concerned/frustrated with the situation. And as the day went on, I sensed the Lord ask me a question. Here was our conversation:
“Mel, are you walking in a place of contentment?”
“No, Lord, not really. This really stinks! We were going to have them here for 7 wonderful days. I don’t understand why Liam (who is never sick) had to deal with this right before coming to visit!”
“Remember my Word says, ‘I have learned the secret of being content…’”
As I stared at the Christmas presents all wrapped and ready under the tree, I tried my best to be content. To trust. To pray. To rest.
Tuesday, our sweet boy was better, but still not up for the trip.
On Wednesday, we got the news that Shawn, our son-in-love, had now caught what Liam had. Liam was a little better, but Shawn was now running a temperature. Maybe Thursday they could try again?
Thursday arrived, and sure enough both of the guys were on the mend. However, now we had another hitch. A massive ice storm hit the east coast and all flights were cancelled. Are you kidding me??
Fast-forward to the end of the story and the bottom line is that they never got to come for Christmas. Ultimately we packed everything up and shipped their gifts. Yes, they rescheduled to visit us for 4 days in February, so we got to see them then. But our Christmas season did NOT look the way we had hoped it would.
During that week of ups and downs, God had gently put Phil. 4:11-12 on my heart. Here’s what it says: “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.” As I spent time holding tight to this passage, here are three things the Lord showed me:
First, Paul says he has LEARNED to be content. Hmm, there’s the school analogy again. We learn contentment. We don’t just snap our fingers in tough situations and say, “Ok. I’m content now.” God allows situations to cross our paths that cause us to choose contentment or discontentment. Those are those pop quizzes I mentioned earlier. During this Christmas week, I was being presented with several of those wonderful tests. And God was instructing me in this concept that does not always come naturally. So #1, contentment is learned.
Secondly, I thought it was interesting that Paul said he had learned to be content whether he was in need or had plenty or he was well fed or hungry. I wondered, “Why didn’t he say he had learned contentment in the tougher times – being in need or hungry? Why did he have to learn contentment when he was well fed or in plenty?” The answer? Because there are many times that we have everything we could ever want or need, and we STILL aren’t walking in a place of contentment. Ouch. That was eye-opening and convicting to my heart.
Thirdly, as I pondered this passage, I thought, “Okay Paul, you say you’ve learned the secret of contentment. What is the secret?” And I was led to the next verse, Phil. 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Oh, I see! I can’t do contentment in my own strength. But through Jesus, connected to Him as the vine (John 15:5) I can walk in hope and peace and faith…and yes, even contentment when things don’t go the way I’d hoped they would.
I’m grateful for a Professor who loves me unconditionally and gives me second, third, and multiple other chances to learn and grow in grace. And in the process, He will never leave or forsake me. The Lord tutors and instructs and models the character we are to emulate. In fact, Jesus Himself said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29).
Mel Tunney is a Grammy-Award and Dove Award winning writer and singer. She had her first arrangement published at age 12. She began as a vocalist at the age of 18 with the contemporary Christian group, Truth, where she met future husband, Dick, the group’s keyboard player. Mel later joined Bonnie Keen and Marty McCall to found the group First Call in 1983. Mel (along with Dick) continued to write songs that found their way to recording projects by Larnelle Harris, Steve Green, Sandi Patti, First Call, Glad and others. Mel is currently Minister of Worship and Music at a Haywood Hills Baptist Church in Nashville, and now spends several weeks each year leading worship at parachurch events for organizations like The Jesus Film Project, Cook Communications International, The Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Christian Management Association. She also teaches women on subjects such as “How to Study God’s Word” and“Learning to Hear God’s Voice”.