Some years ago I watched a fascinating documentary by Lauren Greenfield called “The Queen of Versailles.” It was about a super-wealthy couple in Southern Florida, Jackie and David Seigel, the owners of Westgate Resorts, who were building the largest private residence in the United States — 90,000 square feet — which they named Versailles after the royal palace outside of Paris. At one point in the film David Seigel, who is 74 and has practically everything money can buy, said, “Nothing makes me happy anymore.” Stunning, isn’t it? Nothing in this world brings David Seigel, or us, the contentment we all long for. Abounding in what we think we want, we still remain empty.
The Apostle Paul knew this, and so he wrote, “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” (Philippians 4:12, 13).
Notice, first, that Paul said that he has learned to be content when he is brought low and when he abounds. One might wonder why Paul would say he has learned to be content even when he abounds. Would you not be content if you had what you needed and even more? Yet this is something we all know, and that David Seigel vividly illustrates: We are not only discontent when we don’t get what we want, we are still discontent in this world even when we get our heart’s desire.
So how do we find happiness? The Apostle Paul called the way to true contentment a secret. I think what Paul meant is that the path to happiness is not obvious. Fallen man, apart from Christ, just can’t see it. It doesn’t mean that God is hiding it from us and won’t tell us. He has told us — the answer is right here, in the Scriptures, but we don’t get it or we don’t want to get it. In this world it is hidden under cars and clothes and careers and romances and sex and wealth and acclaim. It is there, but it is hidden.
So what is the secret? What can stop our hearts from coveting and over-wanting so that we are truly content? Paul said — get ready — “I can do all things through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13). That’s it. The secret. And even though it is right in front of us, it is still hard for us to see.
Isn’t it interesting that this verse, which gives us the secret to contentment, is often made into the secret of success? A boxer will put on his shorts, “I can do all things,” which means “I can win this fight.” A football player puts this verse on his shoe which means “I can win this game.” A student writes it on their hand before an exam, meaning “I can ace this test.” But that is not it!
The question is not, can I win this game through Christ, but can I win and still be content? Or better yet, can I lose this game or this match and still say I am content in the Lord? Can I have everything taken away from me and be like Job and say, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
By God’s grace can we learn this secret? Paul is saying, “I can be content in any situation, winning or losing, failing or succeeding, abounding or lacking, married or single, rich or poor, healthy or sick. Why? Because I have Jesus, and he has me.” That is the secret.
When things seem to be going wrong and I am lacking what I think I need, where do I find the strength to be content? I remember that Jesus has me in his strong and tender hands. He is in control. And he is working all things together for his glory and my good. And when I am abounding in many good things, my heart is strengthened to feel true happiness as I remember, “All these good gifts remind me that there is an even more glorious giver. And I am his, and he is mine.” That is the secret to contentment.
James Calderazzo is pastor of Safe Harbor Presbyterian Church in Destin. He can be reached at email@example.com.