Paul: A New Address Spells Contentment
What can God’s peace teach you about contentment during military relocation?
Paul wrote about contentment from prison while awaiting a death sentence—talk about a stressful situation! His message is that God is a sustainer when life brings us a lot of challenges. Wherever you go, the Lord has something special in store for you. He wants to use you—a lot—even through the challenges of another move. May Paul’s words fill your heart with God’s peace when you become anxious.
About This Journey
Relocation is one of the top stressors in Military life. Learning to be content in our circumstances is hard, and too often we allow complaint and comparison to rob us of daily joy and peace. In “Determined to Thrive in Relocation”, we study how God’s presence and direction during times of relocation can bring peace in the midst of change.
This Week's Readings
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.-Philippians 4:11
In how many cities have you lived? Into how many homes have you moved? How many times have you received PCS orders?
Numbers do not stay in my head, so when I’m asked the questions above I usually respond with, “A lot!” I connect the years we lived in a place not by dates, but by the age of my children at the time. My ineptness with numbers is embarrassing and is one of the reasons I trained to be a kindergarten teacher. The point is, as a military wife, I moved a lot, and I have lived in a lot of different houses.
The life Scripture of a military wife could easily be the American Standard Version of Philippians 4:11: “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therein to be content.” Yes, whether the state was North Carolina (twice), Georgia (twice), Virginia (twice), Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Kansas, or even beyond our U.S. states to Germany and Korea, I learned to be content. PCS moves can only be successful if you learn to find satisfaction “in whatsoever state” you find yourself.
The apostle Paul did his share of moving from place to place as well. In how many cities did God assign him to work? A lot. He was the one who wrote Philippians 4:11 on the topic of contentment—from prison—while awaiting a possible death sentence!
Paul continues in Philippians 4:12–13, “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.”
People are prone to misuse Paul’s words as a biblical magic lamp to rub and have “all things” made better. That would make God a magic genie who instantly wipes out difficulties. In The Most Misused Verses in the Bible, Eric Bargerhuff writes that Philippians 4:13 “is about having strength to be content when we are facing those moments in life when physical resources are minimal.” PCS season brings with it a lot of stress, a lot of confusion, a lot of frustration, and a lot of weariness. Paul’s message in Philippians 4:11–13 is that God is a sustainer when life brings us a lot of challenges.
Over the next few days, we will trace some of Paul’s journeys and the challenges he faced. One thing I can guarantee we will discover is that wherever Paul went God had something special in store for him. Sister, wherever you go the Lord has something special in store for you. He wants to use you—a lot—even through the challenges of a PCS.
Notice the key word learned in Philippians 4:11. What has military relocation taught you about contentment? In what ways do you struggle to find contentment in relation to military PCS?
Lord, forgive me when desires overwhelm my heart. Give me a teachable spirit that I may apply your Word and be content in every situation. Fill my heart with your peace when I become anxious. Amen.
A Traveling Testimony
When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.-Acts 13:6-12
Every major U.S. military headquarters has a mission to engage with military leaders from other nations. When units are stationed OCONUS (Outside the Continental United States), American units commonly have a connection with a sister unit from the host nation. In addition to the formal military and political discussions between the organizations, informal exchanges and sharing take place covering social customs, sports—and religion.
Paul, Barnabas, and a team journeyed to Cyprus, an island a bit smaller than Connecticut. In the city of Paphos they met Sergius Paulus, the Roman official over the province. The Scripture states that he was an intelligent man and wanted to hear Paul and Barnabas talk about the Word of God.
We have lived in a few places where my husband had the opportunity to talk about faith with other military personnel. During one foreign exchange training exercise, a Muslim officer sought out my husband at a social outing and spent several hours in discussion about my husband’s faith in Christ. One neighbor in Germany declared herself an agnostic, yet she had many questions about my faith and gave me the opportunity to share my story. In Korea I had many invitations to talk with Korean women, most of whom were Buddhists, about American culture, which, for me, included my faith in Christ. Each assignment holds unique opportunities to share your faith—not in what is called cold-turkey Bible-banging, but in conversation with those, like Serguis Paulus, who have a genuine interest in the faith they see in you.
We don’t know the degree of Sergius Paulus’s belief. Likewise, we may never know the level of our life’s influence on others, but we can be confident that the Spirit can use our words and testimony to facilitate an eternal change in someone’s life.
Have you had an opportunity to share your experience with Jesus? Describe the moment. If you have never shared your testimony, write it down in your journal so you will be ready when the opportunity comes. You can find a worksheet to help you at: cru.org/train-and-grow/how-to-tell-your-story-worksheet.html
Lord, open a door for me to declare the mystery of Christ. You’ve brought me to this place to be a light for you. Give me clarity to share the story of my salvation. Amen.
Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem...-Acts 13:13
Later in your life you will probably reflect on your military assignments and realize they were less about place and more about people. BRAC (Base Closure and Realignment Commission) might shut down an installation where you had fond memories of living in historic government quarters. You might take a personal trip to Europe only to have trouble finding the fenced compound on which you lived because it has been converted to a local neighborhood with new apartment buildings and businesses. But bulldozers cannot take from you the memories and relationships with people you met there.
Not all our memories of people are fond. In fact, some initial encounters can make you wish there were such a thing as a human bulldozer to move them out of the way. Paul’s response to John Mark likely fell into this category as John abruptly left the team at Perga. The Scripture passage does not state why John Mark left, but Paul did not find his reason to be acceptable. In fact, Paul had such strong negative feelings about him that he refused to allow John Mark to travel with him on the next missionary journey. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark, but you can almost hear Paul responding with an insistent tone, “Remember Perga?”
When moving to a new location, getting everything set up takes work. Sometimes my husband has to move the couch to all four walls of the living room before I decide which location is best. Energy and effort always go into getting my children settled in the right classes and groups. Likewise, most new friendships do not come easy. At first encounter, you may not foresee a close friendship with a new acquaintance. The possibility exists that a first encounter may even be negative to the point that you do not want that person around, just like Paul felt about John Mark.
But don’t be too quick to permanently write someone off your potential friend list. If you stay in the military long enough, there is a chance you will run across them again. People can change. You and I can change. Relationships can change.
In fact, if you do further investigation into the relationship—maybe non-relationship would be a better description—between Paul and John Mark, you will find an interesting twist. Near the end of Paul’s life, while confined to prison in Rome awaiting a likely death sentence, he sent for John Mark. Considering Paul’s circumstances, why would he call for John Mark? Obviously, their relationship had changed over the years, and for the better. In asking for John Mark, Paul told Timothy, “He is very useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).
Who knows whom you will meet during your next assignment? Who knows with whom you will easily hit it off and with whom you won’t? Who knows who will end up being a friend for life?
Have you ever been quick to write someone off your potential friend list? Describe the situation. What does the change in Paul’s attitude toward John Mark teach you about friendship?
Lord, help me be humble, gentle, and patient, bearing with others in love, as I make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Amen. (See Ephesians 4:2–3.)
After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.”-Acts 13:15
The assignment was a town called Antioch in Pisidia. Paul and Barnabas went to the local synagogue for worship. The leader recognized Paul and Barnabas as visitors and, according to custom, gave them an opportunity to speak. Paul accepted the invitation and began to talk about Jesus in the context of historical Judaism. After what was evidently an eloquent and interesting presentation, the congregation begged Paul and Barnabas to come back the next week and talk more about Jesus.
By the next week, word of mouth caused almost the whole town to show up (Acts 13:44). Then it happened. The Jews became so jealous of the crowds that they began to contradict and bad-mouth Paul (Acts 13:45). When the Jews rejected the message, Paul took the message of Jesus to the non-Jews. The Gentiles were receptive to the gospel and many became Christ-followers. The good news spread throughout the region. This got under the skin of the Jews and they stirred up the city leaders to persecute Paul and Barnabas and run them out of town (Acts 13:50).
What lessons can we learn from Paul’s experience for when we move to a new place and make an effort to get involved? First, religious people normally invite newcomers to participate in their group. But if you are more successful than those in charge, you might encounter jealousy. Third, jealousy can cause people to act rudely toward those they feel are encroaching on their territory.
Can this happen among Christians in a church or chapel? Only if humans make up the group. Even humans saved by grace can be distrustful of anything (or anyone) new. When you are the new person, get to know others before you show everyone a better way to do things. When you are the one offering welcome, be open to the gifts God has given others and practice hospitality.
Note Paul’s response: “But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium” (Acts 13:51). Jesus used this phrase in Matthew 10:14. The act symbolized ridding oneself of impurities picked up from walking through the land of those who would not believe. Sister, when you meet rejection or distrust after reaching out, don’t allow resentment, offense, or defeat to settle in your soul. Beware the “why try?” syndrome.
In her wonderful book, After the Boxes are Unpacked, my friend Susan Miller writes:
To let go allows God to mend you.
To start over allows God to mold you.
To move forward allows God to mature you.
Paul and his team did not let rejection keep them down. They kept moving forward, joyously: “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52). Move forward in joy today, my friend!
In what ways have you let a lukewarm reception or rejection keep you from becoming involved after a PCS? Is God asking you to let go, start over, or move forward?
Lord, keep me from childish thoughts. Help me to cooperate with the process of spiritual maturity and be filled with joy today. Amen.
‘Cause Your Friends are My Friends
To Timothy, my true child in the faith:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.-1 Timothy 1:2
The more we get together, together, together,
The more we get together, the happier we’ll be.
’Cause your friends are my friends,
and my friends are your friends.
The more we get together, the happier we’ll be.
The lyrics of this children’s song remind me of military friendships. Often when our family moved to a new duty station, I had names of people to call, or someone had been given my name to call me upon arrival.
Friends of friends became my friends. When I met Susan, I did not know if we would have anything in common. We seemed very different. However, she was a good friend of my friend Ruth, so I thought chances were that Susan and I could become good friends as well. I was right! Susan became, and remains, a great friend. We found that we had much in common and Susan is someone with whom I do not allow too much time to pass before making a connection.
Paul’s journey to Derbe and Lystra put him in contact with a young man named Timothy. Scripture informs us that Timothy’s reputation preceded him, no doubt because he had friends in adjoining communities. Paul heard about him through his friends and wanted to take him along on his journey.
Paul mentions Timothy several times throughout his writings. Two books of the New Testament are letters Paul wrote to Timothy. Over time, Timothy became like family to Paul. Paul addresses him as “my child,” a close and intimate term of endearment. Theirs was a relationship grounded in their common faith in Christ.
You do not know which assignment will bring friends who will eventually become like family. The song is true though, “The more we get together, the happier we’ll be.”
Make a list or graph of some of the friendships that military life has brought you. What does Paul pray for the believers in Colossians 1:9–12?
(Use the list you wrote from Colossians 1:9–12 as a guide to pray for your friends today.)
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