As the morning sun peeps over the horizon and beckons the day, my heart fills with praise. I breathe a deep sigh of contentment – I am home and my spirit is at rest. The day that lies before me is full, but there is time to think and fill blank space with words. It is not easy – this filling of blank space, but it is worship to me and praise fills my heart with gladness and dispels my gloom, just as the sun beckons the day and dispels the dark.

As I thank God for the day and the joy and peace that come as a welcome relief after a stressful week, I wonder, “can we really choose gladness?” Why does gladness fill my heart today and other days find me wrestling with discontentment?

Paul tells the Philippians in Philippians 4:11, “…for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Paul says he learned to be content. There have been times in my life when all around me the storms of life are raging, yet never has my Lord left me and never did sorrow completely overwhelm; when grief might have consumed, I was content to rest there in His presence, but when I reflect on those times, my contentment seemed to be more of a gift rather than a choice.

So how did Paul learn to be content at all times? I think when we read further Paul shares his secret in verse 13, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” As I read the scriptures, I have begun to see that all things are given to us as precious gifts, even those things that we cannot fully grasp: faith, hope, joy, gladness, contentment, and even praise or gratefulness. They are gifts that come to us through Christ. So those times in our lives when all is stripped away and laid bare, the true source of our strength is revealed and therein we can rest – in Christ alone. I think it is easy to find rest in those times, because we have no strength of our own in which to stand.

Where I seem to struggle is when I am trying to operate in my own strength and make my own decisions and my own choices. I struggle when I think I know what I need to be happy and yet I feel powerless to obtain it.

James tells us in chapter 4, “Ye lust, and have not…yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” Why do we seem to continually ask for the things that we think will make us happy – money, possessions, even circumstances, but we fail to ask for the things that teach us to rejoice?

So why do we not ask for joy, faith, contentment? Or when we do ask, why does it seem that they are still missing from our lives? Perhaps joy, peace, and contentment, is somewhat like asking for patience. (Funny how we seem to have got it on this one) We are told -don’t ask for patience – God will send you trials that will build it, but we don’t apply that same truth to joy.

When we go back to Philippians, Paul tells the believers to rejoice in the Lord. So where is our joy? Our joy rests in the Lord.

If true joy, true peace, real contentment is in the Lord, then perhaps the Lord must strip away all other joys from our life until there is nothing left but Him and Him alone so that we can find the real source of peace about which Paul speaks. I think it is the stripping away that we find uncomfortable or even painful because we try so desperately to cling to that which we think is necessary for our happiness.

Perhaps if we could tune our hearts to ask for greater gifts, like the faith to which John refers in 1 John 5 and remember John’s words, “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he hears us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.” And believing this, we see those circumstances and trials that we find difficult, those things that seem to steal our joy, as God’s hand peeling back temporary pleasures, we would learn to quickly and freely surrender them knowing that the greater joy lies in the Lord- in the surrender of all to Him. Then perhaps we could be more like Paul and say with conviction, “…for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”