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My mom makes the best baked beans on the planet. But, like the Bush family, her recipe is a well-guarded secret. You might not be interested in knowing my mom’s secret for the perfect pot of baked beans. Even if you are, I hope no one would encourage me to breach a confidence. But, on the other hand, if someone held the secret to surviving the Christmas holidays, this may be one secret you would definitely want to hear.

Fortunately for all of us, the Apostle Paul not only holds the secret to surviving Christmas, but he also shares it wholeheartedly in the fourth chapter of the book of Philippians.

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned   but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Phil. 4:10-20).

Ahh! There it is… did you catch it? Tucked within these verses, Paul shares his secret for not only surviving the hustle and bustle of Christmas, but also for living contently in 2017 (and beyond).

We have all seen the TV commercials, read the books and listened to the sermons. Christmas should bring joy, right? Regrettably, for many, the Christmas holidays offer the opposite. As a matter of fact, statistically, the rate of depression is higher during the holidays than at any other time of the year. Anxiety and stress creep in while we attempt to create perfect Instagram memories for the entire family. Depression only increases as we search for the perfect gift for the boss who has everything, or plan the perfect holiday gathering that will go viral on Facebook. We are completely overwhelmed by the challenge of finding some way to pull off the perfect holiday, while at the same time, remaining within budget and not strangling our mother-in-law who is “just trying to help.”

It seems the Christmas star shines more light on what we lack than what we’ve already been given.

How depressing.

Wait! Don’t switch off of your Sirius XM channel 783 just yet. According to Paul, there is still hope.

Through the verses found in Phil. 4:10-20, the Apostle Paul tells us he knows we are experiencing some hard times, and he can relate. He has seen some drama in his day too, and he has a secret to share with us.

His secret: finding contentment by not looking to the gift – but by looking to the gift GIVER.

Yeah, I know. You are probably thinking this sounds more like dialogue from a Hallmark Christmas movie than a life changing secret. Keep reading.

When Paul was in need (great need) verse 10, 14, 18 tell us he found contentment (gratitude, serenity, satisfaction, pleasure), the very opposite of anxiety – not with the gift(s) but with the fellowship (companionship) of the gift giver.

Paul found joy in knowing his friend Epaphroditus took an interest in his wellbeing. Paul’s heart is content, filled with gratitude over Epaphroditus personally taking the opportunity (verse 10) to show his love, concern and support. Verse 14 says, “Yet, it was good of you to share in my troubles.” In verse 18, Paul tells us he “is amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent.” Not amply supplied by the gifts themselves, but by what he received from the one bringing gifts – time spent with his friend.

Here is the first part of the secret. Find contentment, be satisfied and amply supplied (in your heart) this Christmas with the ‘presence’ of those you love, not by the presents under the tree.

Look to the giver not the gift.

The second part of Paul’s secret, to surviving Christmas, is found in verses 12, 13, 19-20. Paul knows no matter what this crazy world offers, God the ultimate gift-giver offers more. How does he know? Verse 12 says, “I have LEARNED…” – having much knowledge acquired by study. Paul learned, studied, experienced, spent time with his God.  As Paul fellowships with God, the secret is revealed.  Through relationship with our God, over time, the characters of God, the promises of God, the secrets of God’s love and provision are revealed to us. Peace, at last (which makes no sense in the natural) and contentment can be found in any and every circumstance (even at the mall).

When looking to the gift giver, we can not only make it through the holidays, but we also can rejoice, knowing God will meet all of our real needs (verse 19). The truth is, we do have real needs, even at Christmas. No matter the circumstance we face, (even if God chooses to take us home) we will find strength in our fellowship with Him and through the companionship of others to make the journey.

Be the gift givers this Christmas season. Take the opportunity to offer your presence, care and fellowship. Bring someone in need the gift of hope, love, and contentment found only in the one true Living God.

Share the secret! Merry Christmas~ John 3:16