“If only I could get that job….”
“Ugh. When am I ever going to have enough free time to do what I want to do?”
“When I meet ‘the one,’ then I’ll feel loved and appreciated.”
What do these statements above all have in common?
They are expressions of discontentment.
Not being content is one of the biggest problems humanity faces. While it is natural to experience discontentment in the moment, its lasting effects are damaging. The void left by unsatisfied wants and unfulfilled desires leads to ambitious striving – all as an attempt to fill the emptiness inside. Instead of loving people and using things, people are used to acquiring bigger, better or more things. The nagging sense of dissatisfaction can lead a person to pretend to be someone they are not – just to be accepted by their peers. Achievements completed are ‘never enough’ as the next big mountain to climb is on the horizon, all in an attempt to ‘be somebody.’
While accomplishing goals and pursuing your dreams is a beneficial endeavor, it’s a problem if achieving that goal is the end game. The reason? If that goal is not accomplished, then discontentment reigns since happiness is determined by whether you completed it or not.
With so much dissatisfaction in the world, how can I ever be content? Thankfully, the Word of God has the answer! In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he thanks the church for the generous and voluntary gift while in prison. Paul then shares what true contentment is in Philippians 4:10-12:
“I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 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 cannot help but scratch my head with confusion as I read Paul’s letter. Paul is content even when he is hungry? I can understand contentment when life is good, but when in need? And to think, Paul is in prison chained to a guard while writing this… and he is content?
It shows for myself, and I can imagine for you, that we need a biblical understanding of contentment before we learn how Paul achieves it.
What we find is that contentment…
- MUST BE TAUGHT
Paul “learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11). It is not natural to be content, but rather, quite the opposite. Children are born, and one of their first words out of their mouth is ‘NO.’ They do not want to do what you tell them, but what they want to do. They are not satisfied; otherwise, they would say ‘YES’ a lot more often! Our discontentment continues into adulthood as a typical response is to:
- Complain – “There’s no one who can relate to me…” as the person expresses their dissatisfaction with the status quo
- Covet – “They seem so happy…” as a person scrolls through an Instagram post that depicts the life that they want for themselves to somehow bring them joy.
- Be Complacent – “There’s nothing I can do about it…” as the person falls into depression.
As you can see, our natural tendencies of discontentment show that there is a steep learning curve ahead of us! It’s not the learning you get from a classroom setting but through experience. Think about this: I can only trust a new driver if she has experience behind the wheel. If all she has is the written portion completed, her knowledge hasn’t been tested yet. She hasn’t anticipated yellow lights and how to fight the 405 freeway (not that anyone is looking forward to that). Experience comes through real-life application. Paul is speaking not out of head knowledge but practical wisdom.
- IS NOT BASED ON YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES
Remember, Paul went through a lot for the Gospel- he was shipwrecked three times, beaten with thirty-nine lashes, sleepless nights, facing death… (there’s more in 2 Corinthians 11:16-33). From experiencing the worst of the worst, he realized that his happiness is not found in what he goes through. Otherwise, Paul would have died in his misery! Contentment is not equated with circumstances, whether good or bad.
- IS NOT HAVING ALL YOU WANT
The ‘American dream’ says that the more you have, the more successful you are. The more success, the happier you are. Culture assumes that if only I have/get a ______ (you fill in the blank), then I would be content. This is far from true as the desire for more continues onward because it is an inward problem. Otherwise, Americans would be the happiest people on Earth because we have the most stuff. But we’re not (It’s Finland for the 4th year in a row). True contentment is being satisfied with what you have and where you are.
- IS A PROCESS
Paul said he ‘learned the secret,’ but it wasn’t a one-time prayer. He learned it and put it into practice every day. We cannot bank on the happiness of yesterday to get us through today. We cannot worry about the future since each day has its troubles (Matthew 6:34). Instead, we learn the ‘secret’ of contentment which is…
‘I can do all things through Him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13)
This verse is more than a slogan for motivation to win the big game; it ties into the secret of contentment. It means that regardless of the circumstances, Paul’s joy remains unchanged because he fixes his eyes on the One who never changes – Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:8).
Here’s the reality – trials WILL come (John 16:33). And with that disappointment, discouragement, and disillusionment. Valerie and I have been waiting for years to get pregnant, but it hasn’t happened yet. While each time of the month reminds us of our expectations not being met, our joy is not determined by an outcome that we want. The real test is, can we worship God while we wait? Can we praise Him when we don’t see the promise yet? While it is not easy, we can be content knowing that Christ is more than what He can give us.
Therefore, the secret of contentment is not saying that you will never experience hardships and dissatisfaction, but what you do with it when it comes. You don’t stay in those feelings; you give it to the One who cares! A few pointers:
- Be thankful for what you do have rather than what you don’t have. Everything you currently have is a blessing from God. Remember, giving thanks in all circumstances is part of God’s will for your life (1 Thessalonians 5:23 – see Grumble to Grateful).
- If tempted to be discontented, immediately give it to God. God wants you to come to Him not only when life is grand but when you’re in the grind. Your Heavenly Father says to ask, seek, and knock so the door will be opened to you. God gives good gifts to His children! (Matthew 7:7-11).
- Enjoy and experience Christ. Paul said earlier in Philippians 1:21 that “to live is Christ.” He set his eyes on Jesus. Everything he had and did, including his accomplishments, was considered a loss compared to knowing Christ Jesus as Lord (Philippians 3:7-8). Nothing else mattered! Jesus should be the focal point of our lives, and everything else flows out from that. If we are prone to distractions and busyness, it might be time to reevaluate if Christ is centered.
You can do ALL things through Christ, who gives you strength! When you are weak, He will provide you with the power necessary to carry on. When you feel stuck, He will give you the solution to break through or the resolve to wait until the opportune time. When you feel empty inside, He will fill you.
That’s the secret to being content – Focusing on Christ so that you cannot be swayed by your circumstances. May you learn this secret to be satisfied regardless of what you are facing so that you can continue to live the Spirit-filled life in fullness of joy.
Have a blessed week!