Paul moves forward because of his goals. He is driven. After his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, his life is turned upside down. We find the narrative of his conversion experience in the book of Acts (Acts 9:3; 22:6) three times, two of which are the apostle’s own testimony. Before Agrippa he describes his new life, his obedience to Jesus’ command: “For I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:16- 18).1 By asking to be directly judged by Caesar (Acts 25:11), Paul can go back to the empire’s capital. He plans to pursue his objective of going to evangelize Spain as he mentions in his letter to the church of Rome (Rom. 15:28-32). Unfortunately, we know the end of the story. Paul’s arrest, his captivity, and his condemnation will defeat his plans. However, it is from his cell that he writes those wonderful lines: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Ph. 4:4).
Held captive, condemned, and almost dead, the apostle encourages each and every one to rejoice. Method of self-persuasion or spirit of contentment in every circumstance? Not a single doubt with his testimony: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, 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” (Phil. 4:11-13).
To rely on God all the time, this is what not only the apostle but also the Israelites during their journey in the desert have learned. In fact, after leaving Egypt, the people find themselves in the desert. Forgetting the liberation and deliverance by the divine hand, they cry out in thirst and hunger: “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Exod. 16:3). Once again, the goodness, the grace, and the love of God will be revealed. Not only does He send meat beyond their expectations (Exod. 16:22), but He sends bread from heaven, called manna (Exod. 16:15)
We should thoughtfully consider the Israelites’ experience with manna. First, it’s necessary to evaluate one’s needs: “Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat,” while still considering one’s dependents (Exod. 16:16). Sharing is still required. Not too much, not too little, but in just the right quantity, here’s the result (Exod. 16:18). Second, wanting to collect for diverse reasons but mainly for fear of wanting, the fear of tomorrow comes down to not trusting God. The manna turned bad during the night, except for the manna collected for the Sabbath! (Exod. 16:20). Third, despite the renewed miracle, the spirit of weariness and bitterness wins
By putting on the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, ninety-nine out of a hundred of the troubles which so terribly embitter life might be saved.
over the people. “Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, ‘Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at’” (Num. 11:4-6). They will finally eat meat “until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you” (Num. 11:20).
But what about us, about me? What state of mind have I developed in the face of life events, of troubles as well as blessings? A spirit of contentment and of progress, or of selfishness and self-centeredness?
Ellen White writes, “By putting on the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, ninety-nine out of a hundred of the troubles which so terribly embitter life might be saved.”2 Our God desires that each one develops a spirit of contentment, of gratitude, of progress so as to consider life differently. This is the whole purpose of Stewardship Ministries. By putting God first, that is, by putting Him at the center of our lives, our lives will change.
Our God takes care of us today like He did the people of Israel and the apostle Paul. Jesus told this to His disciples during the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:25-34). It is our turn to develop a real trust in Him. This means changing our outlook on everyday life, on what God provides for us at every moment. Neither too much, nor too little. Furthermore, the wise prays as: “Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God” (Prov. 30:7-9).
To have a spirit of contentment means to rejoice in the Lord on every occasion, at every moment. To have a spirit of contentment means to be aware of your needs in order to satisfy them but also to share with others. To have a spirit of contentment means to choose life over death (see Deut 30:19). To have a spirit of contentment means to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2) As such, we can prosper in all aspects, like the apostle John wished for his friend (see 3 John 1:2) and receive life in abundance (John 10:10).
1 All Bible texts are taken from the ESV.
2 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, p. 348