The Secret of Contentment
I can think of countless times when I wished things were different. Times when:
- I longed to be engaged
- I was worried and unsettled about life after college
- I was unhappy with my job or salary
- I craved the next season of life more than anything
It seems that throughout my life, there has always been the opportunity to be discontent. While there are countless areas in our lives that could be improved or more comfortable, God never said we would always be comfortable. Instead, He called us to be content despite the circumstances. Let me be the first to say… contentment is HARD.
I am confident in saying that we are all guilty of lacking contentment from time to time. So what’s the reason for this? Why is contentment so hard to obtain? If God calls us to be content, what is the SECRET to overcoming discontentment?
Before answering these important questions, I first want to consider another: What is God’s reaction when we fail to be content?
Let’s consider the history of the Israelites. Time and time again, God listens to and provides for His chosen people. But within no time, they fail to be content, much less thankful for what He has given them.
We see in Exodus the account of God sending Moses to bring the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and into the land He had promised them. The Israelites had been mistreated, overworked, and enslaved by Pharaoh, King of Egypt (Exodus 1:11-14). Throughout their rescue from Egypt, God shows His faithfulness by keeping them safe and providing everything they need. You’d think that after seeing God provide for them over and over again, they would trust in Him to provide once more when they faced the Egyptian army…Unfortunately, their response was this: “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Ex 14:11-12)
While there is a lot to learn from this passage, what I want us to focus on is God’s response. After the Israelites expressed their lack of contentment, Moses made this statement: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Ex 14:13-14).
Although I’m sure God was disappointed and hurt by their discontentment after consistently proving His faithfulness to them, He remains faithful by caring for them and fulfilling His promises. He shows continual grace and mercy. Doesn’t this apply to us just as much as it applies to the Israelites?
Here are a few hard questions to ask yourself:
- How often have you approached God through prayer with your desires and needs, which He generously provided?
- How often do you forget to thank God for the blessings He’s given you?
- How often do you receive a blessing and continue to complain and grumble about the other things in your life that are not satisfactory?
I want us to recognize that God hears our grumblings, whether they are justified or not. I also want us to remember that God longs for us to trust Him and it hurts Him when we don’t. Most importantly, I want us to recognize how blessed we are to have a God that tasks us with the responsibility of being still and content while He continually provides for us despite the times when we fail (Ex 14:14).
After looking at an example of how God reacts when His people are not content, let’s focus on learning how He desires for us to be more content.
In my experience, it’s easy for Christians to view contentment as a singular turning point in our lives in which we become content and maintain that contentment throughout the rest of our lives. However, I believe this is not what we read about contentment in scripture. What if we changed our perspective to view contentment as a continuous mindset rather than a one-time achievement? I want to focus our attention on Philippians 4:11-13 and discuss Paul’s secret of being content. Paul says, “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.”
Here are some key takeaways:
First, Paul recognizes that contentment is something to be learned (v. 11). By nature, humans are discontent. As mentioned before, the Israelites are a prime example of this. It is easy to hold ourselves to the standard of reaching a place in our lives where we are content. Not only that, but we often have the expectation that once we are content, we should be able to stay content. As Paul did, we should give ourselves grace and room to grow in our mindset of contentment. No one learns to ride a bike by simply reading a book about it. It takes time, application of knowledge, and continual practice to master contentment.
Second, Paul acknowledged that whether or not he had his physical wants and needs fulfilled, he has the ability to choose contentment (v. 12). He emphasized that contentment is not based on circumstances. This is only possible because his strength to overcome discontent comes from Christ. When we allow our contentment to be determined by our circumstances, we are choosing a rollercoaster of emotions that are dictated by everything except for ourselves.
Last, Paul shows us that contentment must drive our work for God’s kingdom (v. 13). When our mindset is focused on being content because all we need is salvation through Christ, we have ample opportunity to glorify God no matter the circumstances. In other words, when Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” he is focusing his mind on the joy, strength, and peace that comes from our contentment with what Christ has done for us. When we keep Christ as our focus and decide to be content because He is all we need, our behaviors and emotions are dictated by our confidence in Christ.
Therefore, we mustfoster a continual mindset of contentment because Christ is sufficient.
2 Corinthians 12:9 “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”
This mindset leads to a full commitment to living like Christ, even through adversity.
Philippians 1:21-22 “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.”
These actions then influence our emotions and allow us to experience joy, peace, and satisfaction,unlike anything the world can provide.
1 Peter 1:8 “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.”
My prayer is that, like Paul, we allow ourselves to be learners of contentment. I pray that our mindset of contentment in Christ enables us to do more for Him and experience inexpressible joy no matter the circumstances. Lastly, I pray that we never take for granted the grace that God continually shows us when we fail.
Just like the Israelites, contentment will be a continual struggle. As Christians, it is our responsibility to change our mindsets, act like Christ, find our joy in Him, and be still while he works.
by Micah Turner