I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.
We learn in these verses how pleased Paul was to receive the Philippians’ gift and he reassures them that he knew he was in their thoughts and prayers even though they were not able to support him in other ways. He explains that he has learnt the gift of content in all situations. He no longer has earthly desires, but seeks only to serve God.
These words of Paul reminded me of the introduction to the Spiritual Exercises of the 16th Century Spanish priest and theologian, Ignatius of Loyola. These are a set of meditations and prayers written to help people discern the will of God in their lives. Here Ignatius said that all things in this world are gifts from God, given so that we may know God more and be more able to return the love that God has showered on us.
We know that everything we have comes from God – my tablet computer, my bank account, my job, my friends and family. So we appreciate and use all these gifts from God as they help us develop as loving persons. But if any of these gifts becomes the centre of our lives, then we hinder our growth towards our goal of loving God more and more. We need to sit lightly with worldly gifts, not allowing our desire for them to overwhelm our desire for God.
There are similar thoughts too in the Methodist Covenant service. All these words – of Paul, Ignatius and John Wesley are about a commitment to being disciples and putting God first in our lives and in everything about our lives – what we do, what we say and who we are. If we have found true love, then we love no matter what happens and always choose the better option for our love to thrive. It’s all about trusting God who loves us to the uttermost.
(One version of the Methodist Covenant prayer)
Lord my God, when your love spilled over into creation you thought of me.
I am from love, of love, for love.
Let my heart, O God, always recognise and cherish
and enjoy your goodness in all creation.
Direct all that is in me toward your praise.
Teach me reverence for every person, all things.
Energize me in your service.
May nothing ever distract me from your love,
neither health nor sickness, wealth or poverty,
honour or dishonour, long life or short life.
Give me only your love and your grace – that is enough for me. Amen
The Rev’d Sue Henderson, retired URC minister, member of Central Bath URC.