Those who know me know that I do not go to the movies very often. Taking one trip every two or three years is my average. That’s not to say I don’t watch movies, it’s just that I tend to watch the ones I really like over and over (and over!) again at home. Anyone who has sat through my recitations of various scenes from Jaws (Quint’s speech about the USS Indianapolis), Caddy Shack (Bill Murray’s Cinderella Boy) or just about any part of Godfather II is well aware of my quirky viewing tendencies.
There is another to add to this list, and it (hopefully) will give some direction to this blog: Clint Eastwood as Inspector Harry Callahan in the movie Magnum Force: “A good man has got to know his limitations” has been a long-time fave of mine. Though this dialogue from early in the movie was used by “Dirty Harry” as an insult toward his lieutenant, I believe we can find something useful in it by taking this iconic line out of the movie context and applying it to our own lives as we run it through the biblical filter.
2000 years before Clint, the apostle Paul wrote about the wisdom a person can gain when they take honest stock of their experiences:
I know what it is to have plenty, and I know what it is to be in need. I have found the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. Philippians 4:12 NIV
Paul knew his human limitations. He knew that the plenty he had experienced was a blessing from God, as well as having the faith to believe that no temporary hardship meant an absence of God’s presence. The Apostle understood that current circumstances did not define him. They are merely the reality of our human existence.
Being honest, I don’t often have this clarity of vision. My pride wants to leap up and declare that seasons of abundance are a direct result of my own hard work. Like many, I suppose, I find it easy to take credit when things are going well. I tend to consider the rewards of my efforts as being limitless, thus clouding my perception of my own limitations.
Likewise, I am usually far from content when I find myself in need. When in this place, I tend to focus on the particular need to the exclusion of almost everything else. There is little to no consideration of my own limitations here, only a deep desire to have my need met. If I allow this thought process to have full reign, two things normally pop into my head. First, I will decide that the situation is hopeless and will never end (insert whiny voice here). No need to concern myself with limitations, because my world is collapsing, taking me with it. The other non-helpful thought is to take extreme measures to rectify the situation on my own. Just as in my pity-party, this approach discards any possibility of my own limitations, leaving me blind to any other courses of action.
Thankfully, I have discovered a far better way to proceed: Learning to follow Paul’s example. He wrote of the secret of being content in every situation. What’s great is that the secret really isn’t a secret. Paul’s message for us is to get and stay focused on Jesus first and always. This gives us the chance to grow beyond the surface level existence of our fleeting experiences. As we do, the contentment that the great Apostle found can be ours as well.
As usual, I find the application of this truth simple, but not easy. The difficulty arises from having to admit my limitations. I proclaim (and sometimes even am able) to live my life totally dependent upon the Lord Jesus. Though I am sincere in my desire to do this, in my heart of hearts I know my pride still often gets I the way.
Which brings me back to the not so secret ‘secret’ Paul wrote about. As I read that verse again, he says he has found the secret of being content in any and every situation. There it is! He found it! How? I assume by learning from the differences of how he managed things on his own through his various challenges and comparing that to how things went when he sought the Lord’s guidance.
Now that I have a better understanding of how this works, I’m still lacking in ways to make it apply to my day to day life. That is, until I read my devotional this morning (January 17th). For 2019, I’m reading Jesus Calling, written by Sarah Young. (I recommend it highly!). On this day she is writing about the very thing I have been pondering in this blog: knowing the secret of having God’s contentment each day. Young says that by staying in continual contact with Jesus throughout the day, you can live above your circumstances even while you are in the midst of them. The secret to godly contentment is to stay in constant communication with the Almighty! With my eyes and heart focused on Him, I am immediately and always able to live above the circumstances I am in.
There you have it; a new quote I will carry with me and repeat often! Nothing against all those movie lines I’ve committed to memory, but meditating on the fact that it is possible to live above your circumstances even while you are in the midst of them is going to have a greater impact on me than anything Dirty Harry ever said.