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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Phil. 4:11-13; NIV
I try to avoid watching commercials; it's pretty easy now, with digital recorders and services like Netflix. I remember when I first bought a Tivo — the biggest excitement for me wasn't the ability to schedule recording. What I loved was that I could fast forward through commercials. They bug me, and they exist purely to convince me to buy something, which also bugs me. Commercials have no other purpose than that — to create some sense of emptiness or neediness which can be fulfilled by purchasing their product.
In our culture, advertising gets results because we're all looking for something. It's either the hope of happiness or the promise of personal success. We feel like we'd be happier if we lost a few pounds, had whiter teeth, or had a more expensive car to drive. It's hard to know if, over the history of western culture, advertising is the very reason why we feel that way (if it's changed the way we think of life), or if advertising exists as a response to some other cultural shift. It's probably some of both. Consumer society makes us empty, makes us feel like we need things, and provides a solution which does meet our needs, but only temporarily.
The passage in John 4, where Jesus meets the woman at the well — my pastor recently brought it up with me. Jesus tells her that if she drinks of the water, she will thirst again, but if she drinks of the living water, she will never be thirsty. This is how it is with the things of this world — they satisfy us for a bit, but we always need more. What God offers us is something that will satisfy us forever, if we will drink of it. It is the thing that Paul mentions, the secret to be learned. The secret that he learned. The secret we also can learn.
We can get through any and every situation in life by placing our cares into the hands of our God, trusting that he is in control. He provides us the strength to endure any circumstance we face. We don't need the temporary relief that this world provides. He is enough.
At times of extreme pain and hardship, it's difficult to remember that. I have been through some times where I couldn't bear how much pain I had, and anything that could make me feel better, even for a short while, sounded good to me. The end result, just like buying things to fill the void inside of us, is just more emptiness when the temporary relief fades away.
Paul sits in prison as he writes Philippians. Circumstances were not looking up for him. The precise nature of his imprisonment is debated among scholars, but the words of this book speak of the greatest joy, purpose, and love for Christ in the middle of hardship of any book in the Bible. I want to be like this man, when I face the challenges and discouragements of life.
Over the years it's become easier, but I have to admit, it's only because of long, painful times when things were not going well for me. I had no choice but to turn to God, nothing else worked. He planned it that way, he needed me to learn the secret. That's the way Paul learned it. When you face difficult times and trust him, it becomes increasingly easier to do so. I am not sure there is any other way, but it is certainly the case that we can suffer and choose not to trust him. You must view the circumstances of your life as an opportunity to give your cares to him, release your fears, and experience his peace. He provides you the strength that you need. No meds are needed, no alcohol, no frivolous distractions. He is enough.