The Ups & Downs of Life

I am currently helping out a friend by serving as an assistant coach on our local 7th-8th grade baseball team. The friend is the head coach. Actually, it was my eleven-year-old son, Ryan, who got me involved. Being a 6th grader, he volunteered to help out as one of the team’s managers until he can play next year. From there it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to me becoming an assistant coach.

Our last two games have been kind of fascinating to me. We lost the first one 11-2 and set baseball back at least a century with our poor play. But then the very next day we won the second game 10-0. In that game, we hit well, fielded well, and pitched well. It’s hard to believe that the same team could play such vastly different games. What should I expect from here on out? My guess is, more ups and downs. 

Forrest Gump’s mother is famous for saying, “Life is like a box of chocolates.” With all due respect to Sally Field, I might say that it is like a 7th-8th grade baseball team. Some days everything goes your way. You hit what you swing at, catch what comes at you, and throw strike after strike. Other days you look completely overmatched and inept. You strike out, make errors, and fall way behind in the score. I don’t know what the secret is to having all good days. If I did, I’d go around hawking it and become a trillionaire.

In Philippians 4:11, the apostle Paul instructs the Christian on how to handle life’s ups and downs. He says, “For I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” Those words “whatever state” cover anything and everything that life can throw at you. Winning 10-0, be content. Losing 11-2, be content. (You don’t have to be happy about losing, but you should be content with what a sovereign God has allowed to come your way.)

I’ve always thought the key word in Philippians 4:11 is that word “learned.” Paul says, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” The point is, living with such contentment doesn’t come naturally to us. Even the great apostle had to learn how to do it. And if he had to learn it, it goes without saying that we have to as well.

But what are we trying to learn? The lesson is two-fold. First, when we are riding one of life’s ups, we mustn’t get greedy and demand more. A “state” of 10-0 is plenty of score cushion. There’s no need to become obsessed with running up the score to 15-0 or 20-0. That’s not the way of a contented person. Second, when we are riding one of life’s downs, we mustn’t get mad at God and start railing against Him. A “state” of 11-2 isn’t fun, but at least we are still able to head out onto the field and play the game. We’re not on the disabled list. Blessings are all around us if we will just acknowledge them. Griping about the bad things isn’t the way of a contented person either.       

Do you know what my friend, the head coach, said to me after today’s landslide victory? He said, “When you win, don’t get too high. And when you lose, don’t get too low.” That’s not only sound advice for a baseball season; it’s sound advice for life. I don’t know what kind of a “state” you are in right now, but strive to be content in it. If you are abased (the word Paul uses in Philippians 4:12), don’t let yourself get too low. God is still on the throne, and He isn’t finished with you yet. On the other hand, if you are abounding (the other word he uses in that verse), don’t let yourself get too high. Nothing will bring you down quicker than pride (Proverbs 16:18). When you start throwing out your chest and saying, “Look at all the great things that are going on in my life,” you are headed for disaster at breakneck speed.

In the end, what you are after is a proper balance, and that balance, as we have seen, involves being content in whatever state you find yourself. You say, “Oh, Russell, I could never learn such contentment. It’s beyond my ability.” Okay, fine, I believe you. But now let me leave you with one more thought that is found in the overall context of the Philippians 4:11 passage. In Philippians 4:13, Paul says confidently, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Does that mean, Christian, that you can learn to be content during life’s highs? Yes, it does. Does it mean that you can learn to be content during life’s lows? Yes, it does. You see, the contented balance that you need is found in Jesus. He is the One who taught it to Paul, and He will teach it to you as well.

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