Learning to Be Content in Every Circumstance

This interactive sample chapter has been edited and reformatted from lesson 4 of a new Women’s Study from RBP, The Secret of Contentment by Juanita Purcell.

Lesson 4

“I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (Philippians 4:12).

Even unbelievers recognize that gratitude is a powerful source of health and well-being. “Mind and Body . . . published an article entitled, ‘Twenty Ways to Feel Calm, Happier, and Healthier,’ and the number one answer was ‘to be thankful for all the good in your life.’ ”1

A Grateful Attitude

The apostle Paul was thankful not only for the good in his life. In Philippians 4:11 he said he had learned to be content in every situation: “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”

1. What does “in every thing give thanks” mean (1 Thessalonians 5:18)?

2. What does “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” mean (1 Thessalonians 5:18)?

More than 250 years ago, [Matthew Henry] wrote these words in his diary after he was robbed of all the money he had in the world. “Let me be thankful first, because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, let me be thankful that although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed and not I who robbed.” No doubt about it; thankfulness is a choice.2

3. A professing believer once told my husband that he was thankful for the affair he was having because he felt it was God’s will for him to be happy. How was his view of God distorted (Exodus 20:14)?

It is never right to violate God’s commands.

4. Ephesians 5:20 says, “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” What two words in this verse are hard to accept and believe? Why?

Being grateful is a choice we make.

There is a legend of a man who found the barn where Satan kept his seeds ready to be sown in the human heart, and on finding the seeds of discouragement more numerous than others, learned that those seeds could be made to grow almost anywhere. When Satan was questioned he reluctantly admitted that there was one place in which he could never get them to thrive. “And where is that?” asked the man. Satan replied sadly, “In the heart of a grateful man.”3

5. Read Psalm 107. In this psalm, how many times does God say, “Oh that men would praise the Lord”? What does He want us to be grateful for?

If you ever read the book Robinson Crusoe, you know that the main character was shipwrecked and lived alone on a tropical island for twenty-eight years. How did he survive? Robinson Crusoe kept a journal of the comforts he enjoyed and the miseries he suffered. He made a deliberate choice to find things to be thankful for based on the reality he was facing.

6. Are you in a miserable situation with no known hope of escape? Maybe you should do as Robinson Crusoe did. List your complaints and your thanks below.

Complaints                             Thanks

7. Read Numbers 11:1. How did God feel when the Israelites complained? How does God feel about our complaining?

8. Read verses 14 and 15 of Numbers 11. How did the Israelites’ complaining affect Moses? How does our complaining affect others?

If we are ever going to learn to be content in every situation, we must learn to think right.

Sinful Thought Patterns

9. If we think sinful thoughts, how will they affect us (Proverbs 23:7)? If we think godly thoughts, how will they affect us (Philippians 4:8, 9)?

10. How can we learn to stop unbiblical and sinful thinking, according to 2 Corinthians 10:5?

11. What does it mean to take into captivity every thought
(2 Corinthians 10:5)?

12. Why should we take captive our unbiblical and sinful thoughts?

How are strongholds destroyed? Patterns of negative thinking and behavior are learned, and they can be unlearned through disciplined Bible study and counseling.4

13. Philippians 4:8 gives us a list of things to think on if we want to live a worry-free, peaceful life. What is the first thing we should think on?

14. The word “true” in Philippians 4:8 could mean “real.” Why would worrying about tomorrow be wrong, according to
this verse?

15. How could thinking “if-only thoughts” about a past circumstance be considered thinking on something untrue, or unreal?

We need to remember that the future is not real. The future exists only in our imagination. . . . And the past is no more real than the future. . . . “If only I had done that differently.”. . . Such “if only” thinking is counterproductive, first, because it doesn’t address what is real. The past is gone. It is beyond repair or restructuring. What is real is what is happening today, and God calls us to deal with what is now.5

16. Listed below are some principles and promises from God’s Word. Replace your unbiblical thoughts with these truths. Look up each verse and write the principle or promise.
Psalm 103:13 and 14 and 1 John 1:7–9; Psalm 130:1–8; Isaiah 40:11; 1 Samuel 16:7;  Jeremiah 31:3; Psalm 91:14–16; 1 Peter 5:7

Daily Mental Exercise

Each day this week think on a truth from God’s Word when you find yourself thinking unbiblical thoughts.


Sunday—God is my protector.
“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust” (Psalm 91:1, 2).

Monday—God always does what is right!
“Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25).

Tuesday—God hears me and wants to help me.
“I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4).

Wednesday—God is near me.
“Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?” (Psalm 139:7).

Thursday—God has good things planned for His people, including me.
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Friday—God will not give up on me.
“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

Saturday—God will never give me more than I can bear.
“But God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be [tested] above that ye are able; but will with the [testing] also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Don’t forget, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). You can’t be discouraged unless you are thinking discouraging thoughts. Biblical thoughts lead to an attitude of gratitude, and an attitude of gratitude leads you to contentment.

From My Heart

Having been a pastor’s wife for over forty years and dealing with hundreds of women, I have come to this conclusion: many women have never enjoyed a contented life. Their emotions are controlled by their circumstances, and their contentment depends upon how people treat them, how much money or how many things they have, and the list goes on. They find no contentment in God and how He works in their lives. It’s as if they forgot God is in control of what they have or don’t have. As a result, they also forget He is working all things together for their spiritual good (Romans 8:28, 29).

Understanding God’s sovereign control keeps everything in perspective. Failure to understand this truth robs us of contentment.

Palms-up living has helped me learn to be content and to say, “Whatever, Lord!”

From Your Heart

Are you discontent and discouraged? Have you been dwelling on unbiblical thoughts most of the time? How do you need to change your thinking? Did you try the seven-day exercise? If not, will you start today?


1 James MacDonald, Lord, Change My Attitude Before It’s Too Late (Chicago: Moody Press, 2001), 50.

2 Ibid., 61.

3 Mrs. Charles E. Cowman, Springs in the Valley (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1968), 250.

4 Neil T. Anderson, The Bondage Breaker (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1993), 152–154.

5 Elizabeth George, Loving God with All Your Mind (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1994), 36, 38.

Juanita Purcell and her husband, J. O., have been in pastoral ministry for over forty years. Along with her role as a pastor’s wife, Juanita speaks at ladies’ retreats, mother-daughter banquets, and other seminars and conferences. Juanita and J. O. have three adult sons and ten grandchildren.
Juanita is the author of seven other books in RBP’s Women’s Studies series, as well as
the author of Women’s Ministries Handbook and Be Still, My Child: 366 Devotional Readings from the Psalms (available as a book or desk calendar).

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