In the weeks prior to October 29, 1929 Wall Street stock brokers were a contented bunch. The stock market had been on a bullish run that looked like it would never end. In fact, its value had increased ten-fold over the previous nine years. No one could have imagined that it was all about to implode in a stock market crash that dwarfs the 2007 Global Financial Crisis. That disastrous day—Black Tuesday, October 29—brought an abrupt end to the prosperity of the Roaring Twenties and triggered the Great Depression.
Those who were at ground zero were completely unprepared for the sudden change in financial circumstances. History records that many stockbrokers jumped to their deaths from their skyscraper offices. For them, death was a preferable option to the discontentment of poverty.
The apostle Paul never dealt with the sudden changes of the stock market, but he did understand the vagaries of this present world. And he refused to let his contentment ebb and flow with the changing tides of circumstance. In fact you could argue that, at least in natural terms, the circumstances of his life in ministry were perpetually bad. His résumé included multiple imprisonments, innumerable beatings, three shipwrecks, exposure to the elements, hunger, thirst, and a life constantly under threat from spiritual enemies and theological wolves (2 Corinthians 11:23–28).
But Paul learned to be content amidst all of the pressure and adversity he faced—and so can we. John MacArthur, after many decades of pastoral ministry, made this observation:
The one thing that steals our contentment more than anything else is trying circumstances. We crumble and lose our sense of satisfaction and peace when we allow our circumstances to victimize us. No doubt Paul was human and suffered that way too but then he learned a different way: remaining content no matter what his circumstances were. “I have learned to be content,” he said, “in whatever circumstances I am” (Philippians 4:11–12). And he really meant whatevercircumstances, for in the next verse he ran the gamut of extremes from great poverty to great wealth.
It’s possible for us as Christians to learn to be content in facing any situation in life. And we don’t have to wait for the next life to be able to do this. We do need to keep one foot in the next life, however. Paul said it this way: “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2). “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17–18, NIV). Paul endured many horrific circumstances but through them he learned to be content by having an eternal perspective.  John MacArthur, Anxious for Nothing (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2006) 137.
Few of us would argue with Paul. We marvel at his contentment that transcended any and every earthly circumstance. But a hearty amen doesn’t immediately translate to a life faithfully modeled on Paul’s example. Our flesh is defiant to biblical subjugation, especially in the heat of battle. For that reason John MacArthur urges Christians to focus on renewing the mind, that it would be increasingly impervious to the volatility of life:
Realize any circumstance you face is only temporary. The energy you’re tempted to expend on it by getting anxious isn’t worth being compared with your eternal reward. Learn to be content by not taking your earthly circumstances too seriously. Anxious for Nothing, 137.