I’ve been thinking a lot about contentment lately. Most of my counselees struggle with it, and so do many of the people I love. Are you content? The first step in answering that question is to agree on a definition of the word. The dictionary says that it means,
“Satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else.”
When was the last time you felt satisfied with what you have? When was the last time you didn’t want anything else? Most of us, if we're honest, would have to think about that one. Maybe there was a goal toward which you worked very hard, and when you succeeded, you had a sense of satisfaction in having accomplished it. Or, perhaps you finally were able to afford the house, car, or outfit you had wanted for a long time, and once you got it, you were sure you didn't need or want anything else.
But, inevitably, new desires began to creep in after the accomplishment or the purchase. The thrill of the achievement began to fade, and you started to desire something else. This is the condition of the human heart. We want what we want, when we want it. When we don't get it, our hearts become discontented, and our minds begin to dwell on those desires. The good news is that God can use these sinful desires to test us, and to reveal the errors in our thinking.
What is God using today to test your heart and mind? What do you want that you don't have? What do you have that you don't want? Paul has something to teach us about contentment. He lacked many things, even the necessities of life at times. He suffered greatly, at the hands of many: Beatings from the Jews and abuse and imprisonment by the Romans; betrayal by His own friends and co-workers; he was shipwrecked, stoned, beaten with rods, abandoned, hungry, cold, and often in pain. You can see a detailed list of Paul’s excuses not to be content in 2 Corinthians 11.
Yet he says, in Philippians 4,
“I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”
What is Paul’s secret? If you're at all familiar with this passage of Scripture, you know it. Paul’s secret to contentment is Christ. Paul puts it very simply in Philippians 4:13:
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
The secret to Paul’s contentment was his relationship with Christ. It didn't matter whether the Philippians sent him money for food, or if he even had a place to stay. It didn't matter if he had the praise of people, or if he accomplished great things in the eyes of man. All that mattered to Him was to preach the Gospel, and to share the secret of his success with people who needed it. Paul’s greatest desire was that Christ would be glorified.
So, with Paul in mind, I will ask you the same question I'm asking myself right now: What is your greatest desire? Do you want people to like you? Do you want to be rid of some pain or problem that you don't like? Is your life difficult, and you wish you could change it? I challenge you to defend your discontentment in the face of Paul’s trials. He asks us here, “who is weak, and I am not weak?” It’s not likely that you have suffered for Christ in the ways or to the degree that Paul did, yet he was content and you are not! What is the problem?
The problem, at least for me and maybe for you too, is that our focus is on ourselves and our own desires, and not on Christ. We are more concerned for our own comfort and happiness than for the kingdom of God. When we are discontented because of our circumstances, we are poor witnesses for Christ. How many lost people will look at us and say, “Wow, I want what she has! What’s her secret?” when we are always sad, discontented, irritable, or depressed? We are called by the writer of Hebrews (13:5) to “be content with such things as [we] have, for He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’”
So, how do we become content in Christ? By taking the focus off ourselves and putting it onto Christ and others. We can meditate on the mercies of God, and cultivate a thankful heart instead of dwelling on what we lack. We can reach out to someone who may be suffering and offer to pray with them, or just listen and help them to think biblically about their trial. We can spend time in prayer for our lost loved ones, begging the Lord to save them.
Are you content today? If you know Christ, you can be. Ask the Lord to give you a godly perspective on your life. You were created to glorify God (Is 43:7). How are you doing right now?