Contentment was a huge test in Paul’s life. After all, God said he would use him mightily: “He is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). When Paul first received this commission, “straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God” (9:20).
Paul was in no hurry to see everything fulfilled in his lifetime. He knew he had an ironclad promise from God, and he clung to it. For the present moment, he was content to minister wherever he was: witnessing to a jailer, to a sailor, to a few women on a riverbank. This man had a worldwide commission, yet he was faithful to testify one-on-one.
Nor was Paul jealous of younger men who seemed to pass him by. While they traveled the world winning Jews and Gentiles to Christ, Paul sat in prison. He had to listen to reports of great crowds being converted by men he’d battled with over the gospel of grace. Yet Paul didn’t envy those men. He knew that a Christ-surrendered man knows how to abase as well as abound: “Godliness with contentment is great gain…and having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:6, 8).
The world today might say to Paul, “You are at the end of your life now. Yet you have no savings, no investments. All you have is a change of clothes.” I know what Paul’s answer would be: “Oh, but I’ve won Christ. I tell you, I’m the winner. I’ve found the pearl of great price. Jesus granted me the power to lay down everything. Well, I laid it all down, and now a crown awaits me. I have only one goal in this life: to see my Jesus, face to face.”
All the sufferings of this present time can’t be compared with the joy that awaits you.
Christ described the last days as a troubling and frightful time. What did he give us to prepare us for these calamities? What was his antidote to the fear that was going to come?
He gave us the illustration of our Father watching the sparrow, of God numbering the very hairs on our heads. These illustrations become even more meaningful when we consider the context in which Jesus gave them.
He told these illustrations to his twelve disciples, as he sent them out to evangelize the cities and towns of Israel. He had just endowed them with power to cast out demons and heal all manner of sickness and disease. Think of what an exciting moment that had to be for the disciples. They were given power to work miracles and wonders! But then came these fearful warnings from their Master:
“You won’t have any money in your pocket. And you won’t have a home, not even a roof to sleep under. Instead, you’ll be called heretics and devils. You’ll be beaten in synagogues, dragged before judges, thrown into prison. You’ll be hated and despised, betrayed and persecuted. You’ll have to flee from city to city to avoid being stoned.”
Yet, in this very same scene, Jesus told these beloved friends three times: “Fear not!” (Matthew 10:26, 28, 31). And he gave them the antidote to all fear: “The Father’s eye is always on the sparrow. How much more will it always be on you, his beloved ones?”
Jesus is saying, “When doubts flood in— when you’re at your wits’ end and you think no one sees what you’re going through—here is how to find rest and assurance. Look at the little birds outside your window. And run your fingers through your hair. Then remember what I told you, that these small creatures are of immense value to your Father. And your hairs are to remind you that you’re of much greater value to him. His eye is always on you. And he who sees and hears your every move is near.”
That is how our Father cares for us in hard times.
As Paul faced his court trial in Rome, he was held under horrible conditions (see Philippians 1:13-14). He was guarded around the clock by soldiers of the Praetorian guard, his feet chained to a soldier on either side. These men were crude, hardened, cursing frequently. They’d seen it all, and to them in their line of work, every jailed man was a guilty criminal, including Paul.
Think about it: Here was a man who had been very active, loving to travel the open road and high seas to meet and fellowship with God’s people. Paul drew his greatest joy from visiting the churches he had established throughout that region of the world. But now he was chained down, literally bound to the hardest, most profane men alive.
Paul had two options in his situation. He could spin out into a morbid, sour mood, asking the same self-centered question over and over: “Why me?” He could crawl into a pit of despair, reasoning himself into a hopeless depression, completely consumed with the thought, “Here I am bound up, with my ministry shut down, while others out there enjoy a harvest of souls. Why?”
Instead, Paul chose to ask, “How is my present situation going to bring glory to Christ? How can great good come out of my trial?” This servant of God made up his mind: “Now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20).
Paul’s attitude demonstrates the only way we can be emancipated from our dark pit of unhappiness and worry. You see, it’s possible to waste all our tomorrows anxiously waiting to be delivered out of our suffering. If that becomes our focus, we’ll totally miss the miracle and joy of being emancipated in our trial.
Consider Paul’s statement: “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel” (Philippians 1:12). Paul is saying, “Don’t pity me or think I’m discouraged over my future. And please don’t say my work is finished. Yes, I’m in chains and suffering, but the gospel is being preached through it all.”
There’s a common misconception about Jesus’ famous words in John about the sheep, the shepherd and the thief. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:1,7-10, ESV).
Now normally, if we consider the thief, we think that means he’s going to tempt us, to fill our hearts with lust, greed, anger and strife. If we consider the context, though, that’s not exactly what this passage is saying. In John chapter nine, Jesus had just healed a blind man in the temple, and the religious leaders — all of the people trying to come into the kingdom of heaven through a religious, rule-keeping way — were saying that Jesus’ work was from the Devil and not of God. They really didn’t like Christ saying that he was the way, the only way, to God.
There’s a way to get back into abundant life. If you’ve wandered and you want to get back to the freedom you had in Christ, that’s a dangerous thing in the Devil’s mind.
You may be in confusion, guilt or condemnation and not living in the victory that Christ has given us. That’s when the thief comes along and says, “You want to go back? I’m going to help you return, and here’s how. We’ll find another way in. We’ll find some religious system, some law-keeping, some works of the flesh so you can come back in your own strength.”
That will kill and steal from us and destroy us. Christ is the only way, our only saving grace and we must embrace that powerful truth.
Years ago when I first planted the church in Detroit, we started a prayer meeting on a Friday night. It was two ladies who prayed, one guy who just sat there and read the Bible, a demoniac who was manifesting in the corner, and me sitting there, thinking, “This is the worst prayer meeting in the nation, and if I weren’t the pastor, I wouldn’t come.”
Now these two ladies found a man on the street who had just gotten beat up the night before and had three broken ribs. They told him, “You’re going to come to our prayer meeting, and you’re going to be healed at that prayer meeting.”
So they walk in and tell me, “Pastor, we brought a man who’s going to be healed.” I thought, “Not at this prayer meeting.” On top of that, I didn’t even feel like I was good at praying for people to be healed. I felt like so many times I would lay hands on somebody, and nothing would happen. Just to cover myself, I would throw in things like, “God, let them be healed, if it’s your will.”
Not only that but the Apostle Paul backs me up! “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26, ESV, emphasis added).
So the guy with the broken ribs says, “Yeah, I want to be healed.”
I think, “Oh, great…” I lay hands on him, so do the ladies and even the Bible reading guy. He’s groaning. I say, “God, the real healing he needs is of the heart, but if it’s your will (there’s the fine print), heal him.” It wasn’t even a good prayer.
The guy suddenly pats himself down. “I’m healed.”
I say, “No, you’re not.”
He starts tearing off bandages, saying, “I’m serious. I’m healed. Punch me!”
I’m beside myself. “Oh my gosh, it works! This is amazing.”
This is why I love what William Cowper said back in the 1700s: “Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon their knees.” Prayer is not an issue of us; it’s about God praying through us. The only way I fail in prayer is to not show up.
After pastoring an inner-city congregation in Detroit for thirty years, Pastor Tim served at Brooklyn Tabernacle in NYC for five years and pastored in Lafayette, Louisiana, for five years. He became Senior Pastor of Times Square Church in May of 2020.