How Did Paul Handle being "Sheltered in Place"?

David Burchett
David Burchett

Most of us have been “sheltered in place” for a month or longer. I think that 99.9 percent of us are ready to resume normal activities. Maybe that will happen soon but I do not want to miss any lessons that I can take forward after this uninvited isolation ends.

I am going stir crazy after 30 days of limited socialization. I fight off frustration over a litany of truly minor inconveniences. And then I pick up my Bible and I read these extremely annoying words from Paul written from prison!

I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. (Philippians 4:12-14, The Message)

I could wrap this article up with that one thought. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who me makes me who I am.

Wow.

Backup a bit in his letter and we find that Paul is almost giddy that the prison thing has been an unexpected positive.

I want to report to you, friends, that my imprisonment here has had the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of being squelched, the Message has actually prospered. All the soldiers here, and everyone else, too, found out that I’m in jail because of this Messiah. That piqued their curiosity, and now they’ve learned all about him. Not only that, but most of the followers of Jesus here have become far more sure of themselves in the faith than ever, speaking out fearlessly about God, about the Messiah. (Philippians 1:12-14, The Message)

This is actually a little discouraging when I realize I am fighting despondency over toilet paper shortages. How can one learn to be content in prison? Why did Paul not remind God of the work he had accomplished? The churches he had planted. The men and women he had discipled faithfully. How could a loving God place him in such a circumstance near the end of his life? What is fair about this? The answer?

Nothing.

My lesson plan is to study how Paul prepared his heart to write his amazing message about contentment when circumstances dictated anything but that response. This letter is even more perfect for this season in our lives because Paul was forcibly separated from those believers he longed to visit and hug. The Romans sheltered him in place and Paul used his time to glorify God. Here are just a few of the steps Paul suggests to get us to the place where you and I can be content in whatever comes our way.

1. Contentment starts with having the attitude of Jesus who gave up His divine privilege to serve.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. (Philippians 2:3-4, NLT)

2. Contentment starts with rejoicing in Christ.

Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith. (Philippians 3:1, NLT)

Paul didn’t say to rejoice when things are hunky-dory. He writes that no matter what happens we should rejoice.

3. Contentment starts with pressing toward the goal in faith.

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.  No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (Philippians 3:12-14, NLT)

4. Contentment starts with believing the promise that Jesus is with you.

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (Philippians 4:6-7, The Message)

It truly is wonderful if you can displace worry with Jesus. Not easy to be sure but so amazing when you turn your eyes on Him in times of sadness and stress.

5. Contentment starts with your thoughts and attitude.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9, NLT)

I often overlook that the passage above is the lead-in to Paul’s incredible declaration of contentment. Here is how the Message relays it.

I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

These are challenging times. Many are suffering. But most of us are in a better place than Paul when he wrote this amazing letter of encouragement. The message to the church at Philippi is a pretty good place for me to learn a powerful lockdown lesson. I can be content in Christ no matter my circumstance.


Originally published April 20, 2020.


David Burchett is the author of When Bad Christians Happen to Good People and Bring'em Back Alive:  A Healing Plan for Those Wounded by the Church.  In his blog, he discusses the issues of the day from a Chrstian perspective.  He is also a television sports commentator.  He discusses politics, culture, seasonal events, and other relevant issues here!