A flight holding pattern is a delay tactic airports use when planes cannot land for different reasons, like congestion or bad weather. If you’ve flown enough, you have probably experienced one of these. In fact, you may have looked out your window and saw the airport but wondered why on earth you were flying around it in circles.
Depending on the type of delay and number of incoming aircraft, planes can be stacked in holding until air traffic controllers can land them one-by-one, starting with the lowest plane.
God’s way with us is like holding sometimes, can you agree?
Who doesn’t love that great Pauline verse—“I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Ph. 4:13). But I’ve found that many of us don’t understand its context. It is definitely deeper than the Christian self-help it has become in recent times. Paul refers to his ability through Christ to keep at an even keel while facing the highs and lows of his life. He expresses how the grace of God offers him contentment.
So let’s back up a little. Paul, a prisoner now and finalizing his letter to the Philippian Christians, thanks them for their generosity to him. Then, he quickly clarifies that he doesn’t bring up the matter for any new need he has…and this is where the important context begins.
“For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (vs. 11b-12, ESV).
Is Contentment Satisfaction?
This is a revealing glimpse at Paul’s life. His words comfort us in our trials today because someone as sage and godly as he is transparent enough to share his own holding patterns in the will of God.
What does Paul mean by content? Surely he desired to be out of that prison. His churches were better served by his presence among them; after all, he’s sending them a letter here. Certainly he preferred a full stomach to a grumbling one and peaceful presentations of the gospel instead of violent protests.
If we’re not careful, we will make Paul say that he was satisfied with his circumstances. But consider yourself: perhaps there was a time when you didn’t have the things you needed. Did that cancel your desire to have more or better, especially if someone depended on you? No, it didn’t.
Think about the plan God has shown you for your life. Maybe you’re in a hard place right now and simply cannot fathom how he will make good on his promise. Although it’s difficult now, God showed you his plan at the start to provide you hope for when the good times turned. He doesn’t mean for you to build a home in the wasteland.
Something on the Inside, Working…
Instead, Paul’s contentment means he was inwardly self-sufficient, not requiring outside support. It means that he was indeed satisfied with the grace of God that propelled him forward in the divine will despite his external circumstances. In fact, it was knowing that wherever he was in life somehow accomplished the will of God for him; and because of that he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him. The scope is pervasive, all-inclusive.
Herein we are offered a deep lesson about what we possess and don’t possess. The highs and lows enter our lives to lend us perspective and never to disturb our rest in God. For whatever may come, we cling to grace, not things.
Let me sum it up this way: Contentment is to not worry about anything you see around you or off in the distance, whether it’s your natural sustenance or the very promises of God. But it is to learn and progress right where you stand. And it is to trust God—who knows exactly where you are in the holding pattern—until he lands you where he wants you next.