The Secret to Contentment
Contentment is defined by one dictionary as: “the state of being mentally or emotionally satisfied with things as they are.” In our day and age it is rare to find anyone who is truly content with their condition in life. Our society lives in a constant state of discontentment. If the American dream has engrained in us one thing, it is that we “deserve” the biggest, the best and the most of everything. The quote “the grass is always greener on the other side” is very telling of our human nature- we always want what we do not have. This is nothing new, a brief look through the Old Testament will reveal that people have struggled with this sin for centuries. The children of Israel, when wandering through the wilderness, were quick to forget the miraculous way in which God had delivered them from their oppressors. They were quick to forget their previous sufferings and the miracles God worked for them, longing instead to be back in Egypt. They were quick to forget how good God was in providing bread from heaven and wishing instead, that it was meat. I believe it is there that the problem lies- we as humans are so quick to forget. We forget God’s past faithfulness. We forget His provision. We forget His goodness. We forget His many blessings and graces. We simply forget.
What would happen if, instead of complaining when we don’t get what we want or things don’t go our way, we were quick to remember? Remember God’s faithfulness to us in the past. Remember the many ways He has provided for us, having faith that He will continue to provide, believing His promise to supply everything that we need. What would happen if, instead of wishing we had more, we would remember how good God has already been to us? What if we were to remember that, even if we were to lose all things, we would still have infinitely beyond what we need and deserve in Christ Jesus? What if we were to remember the way in which He promises to grant the sufficient amount of grace for every circumstance. If we were to “count our many blessings” as the hymn says. What if we replaced our forgetfulness with remembrance and substituted our complaining for gratitude?
Could we learn to say, as Paul did, “I have learned in whatever situation 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. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”? Is it possible to cultivate the same kind of attitude towards life that Paul had? This man endured: “many imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death.” “Five times receiving forty lashes less one”, “three times beaten with rods”, “once stoned”, “three times shipwrecked; a night and a day adrift at sea”. He was in constant danger on his missionary journeys of: robbers, his own people, the people he was attempting to take the gospel to, the wilderness, the cities, and the sea. He had faced “toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” Yet the very same Paul who endured all these calamities wrote to the church at Ephesus exhorting them to be “giving thanks always and for everything…” Notice how he said not only to always be giving thanks but also to be giving thanks for everything.
Everything includes those circumstances we may find ourselves in that are less than desirable. When Paul said that he had learned in whatever situation to be content, he was in prison, talk about less than desirable circumstances! Perhaps, you too find yourself in a season less than desirable. Maybe you long for marriage and are wrestling with the struggles of singleness. Maybe you long for children and are wrestling with the heartache of infertility or miscarriage. Perhaps you are in a difficult season of motherhood, longing for a night of uninterrupted sleep or just a minute to yourself. Perhaps you desire a better job, more money to add to your savings account, a nicer car, a bigger home, cuter clothes, a newer phone etc. Maybe you are enduring some great trial which you wish would simply go away. Whatever it is you long for, whatever it is that causes you to wrestle with discontentment, thank God for it.
Thank Him? you may ask. Yes, that is what the verse says, “for everything”. You see, the root of discontentment is ultimately pride. We think we know what we need better than the all-wise God. We think our plans are better than His even though Scripture says that, “His ways are perfect” (Psalm 18:30). When things aren’t going our way and we begin to grumble we are in essence saying, “I really don’t trust you, God. I believe my way is better, I know what I need better than You do.” But do we? Do we really know better than the God of the Universe? The very God who created us?
Remember that ultimately, everything God allows in our lives is to make us more like Christ. Those small inconveniences and petty annoyance serve a purpose- your sanctification. Those days where you have a million interruptions and nothing seems to be going right, serve a purpose- your sanctification. Your season of unfulfilled longing and unmet expectations serve a purpose- your sanctification. That great and seemingly unbearable trial you are walking through serves a purpose- your sanctification. Thank God for these things. Thank God for all the ways He is able to grow you through these inconveniences. Thank God for the aching and longing, remembering that He can use those desires to teach you to long for Him even more. Thank God for the trial you have been called to endure remembering that God can use it to teach you humble dependence on Him. I’m not talking about mustering up some phony acceptance of your trials. Of course you shouldn’t pretend your day is going great when it’s not, or act as though your very real longings and desires no longer exist. There is nothing wrong with making your requests known to God, in fact, it is biblical to do so! Remember though, that in the midst of these things, His grace is sufficient and He is working all things for your good. Let Him use your less than ideal circumstances to mold you into His image and transform you into His likeness. Let Him use your bad days, heartbreaks and shattered dreams to sanctify you. At the end of our lives when we stand before Jesus, that is all that will matter- being like Him.