The Secret of Contentment
October 1, 2017
After forty-five years of serving as a Pastor, I have asked myself what is the key to successful Christian living? Having served in small towns and large, churches of different backgrounds and styles, with Christians young and old as well as rich and poor, along with people from all kinds of personal experiences, one trait seems to cross all the individual, cultural and religious lines. It is one most often desired and available to all, but yet remains out of the grasp of those who do not seek it the right way.
Can you guess what it is? Paul said it was a secret. He didn’t mean God doesn’t want all believers to have it, but rather, that it is available only to those who learn it. Listen to his words, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:11-13)
As I prepared to write this last article one subject kept coming to my mind. I became keenly aware how few really enjoy the blessings of contentment. Contentment is an illusive commodity. Tragically, Christian and Non-Christian alike fall for the world’s lies about the secret of contentment. Never, it seems, have so many wanted so much and found so little contentment once they got it. This is hardly surprising when we consider that we are bombarded on a daily basis with advertisements whose sole purpose is to breed discontent so that we will buy their product. We live in one of the most prosperous nations on the face of the earth and yet, still struggle with contentment. It appears that the more people have, the more discontented they are. In marked contrast with the widespread discontent of our world, Paul has given us urgently needed words about how to enjoy the blessing of contentment.
Let me offer just a word of caution. Do not misunderstand this word. To be content does not imply a lack of effort to be successful, to establish worthy goals in life or to enjoy blessings received. It is not against fulfilling your potential, but rather, possessing a God-given peace in your life without regard to outward and earthly circumstances.
Paul tells us contentment is a learned state, not something that comes naturally. His contentment was not instantaneous; it was the fruit of many years of faithful fellowship, learning from the experience that he could trust the Lord to provide what he needed.
Part of our problem is that we do not understand what contentment is nor where it is found. On one hand we have been taught to understand that contentment comes from people we know. Hope is expressed in seeking to meet the right people or in making a new set of friends. Yet people can’t meet false expectations.
The world also teaches us that contentment comes from positions we hold. “If I could just get the right job, that allows me to make a good income, drive a nice car, live in a nice house, I would be content.” But what happens if we don’t get that job or we get it and lose it?
Neither is contentment found in possessions. Read his words again. He is saying that regardless of our circumstances, whether we have money or not, whether we have abundance or find ourselves in very strained circumstances, we can still have contentment because the secret is something other than what we do or do not possess. Contentment is not about what we accumulate, it is about what we accentuate in our lives.
Remember, the apostle told us it is something we learn by practice. If you want to be more content, to have the inner peace in life God wants to give you, you have to start practicing it. If the best athletes have to learn to practice, if the best airline pilots still have to practice their skills and if the best musicians keep practicing to be their best, so must we in the areas we desire to success.
The question often comes down to “how”? Here are three suggestions to start.
First, avoid comparing yourself to others. Start by looking at what God has given you and how He made you. What are your gifts? How can you bless others and His work? Quit worrying about what others have that you do not have? When you start feeling deprived recognize that is not a feeling inspired by God.
Second, accept people as they are rather than the way you want them to be. You can’t fix people. Either accept them as they are or you will be miserable. The same thing is true of churches. Some of you may have a fantasy of what a church should be or do. Reality never measures up. It can’t because you are measuring it against a fantasy. Someone has said, “Churches are like people; they do not change in order that they might be accepted, they must be accepted in order that they might change.”
Third, accept things as they are and not like you would want them to be. Many people confuse circumstantial happiness and genuine contentment. “Happiness is based on feelings. Happiness depends on the actions of other people. Happiness is temporary. Contentment is born out of faith. Contentment finds peace no matter the circumstances. Contentment allows others to live their life. Happiness is based on things that are external. Contentment is based on things that are eternal.”
Please note Paul’s final words. This contentment is only possible with the strength the Lord gives us. Contentment is His gift to those who seek it by faith, not the product of our efforts alone. Along with Paul’s great affirmation that we can do all things through Christ, let me close this article with another of God’s great promises from the Old Testament in Lamentations. “Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”
I hope this article sums up what I have sought to convey in the years of writing in this place. God can be trusted. He will never fail you. The greatest expression of His love and our only hope in this life and the one to come is Jesus Christ. May you know Him by faith and never have to wonder if you are safe and secure in this life and forever no matter what may come. My prayer for you is that the contentment Paul found in His Lord might be multiplied in your life.
Dr. Rick Marshall
Eastern Hills Baptist Church
(Author’s note: I want to express my sincerest thanks to all who have been so kind to read, respond and affirm this ministry during the years of writing this article. It has been an honor to share thoughts about life and faith with you each month. I also want to thank Loretta Grant and the entire Gazette staff for their cooperative spirit and giving me this privilege.)