Contentment – Introduction
In our gotta have bigger, gotta have better, gotta have more society, we tend to look outward for happiness. We generally believe we’ll be happy if could just get “X”…whatever “X” is. We live our lives in search of that illusive “X” that will, when obtained, bring us happiness. Unfortunately, all to often, even when “X” is obtained, the happiness derived from external sources is short-lived – there’s always another new “X” that we believe will bring us happiness. Worse, if we lose “X,” or “X” is taken away, our happiness goes right along with it. Contentment, on the other hand, is inward, and deeply spiritual. And, because contentment spiritual in nature, it’s a choice, a state of being that can never be lost or taken away.
“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.”
We tend to use many words interchangeably. Often, though, the words that we interchange with others have very different meanings. For instance, happiness and contentment are often interchanged. But they have very different meanings.
Happiness means: the state of being delighted, pleased, or glad.
Contentment means: the state of being satisfied with what one is or has.
Proverbs 15:16 tells us, “Better is a little with reverence for the Lord than the great treasures of the wicked.” (Aramaic) In Hebrews 13:5, Paul advises, “Do not be carried away by the love of money; but be content with what you have…” (Aramaic)
In our search for happiness, we tend to always look for what is coming next. We want a job, or a better job, or a better boss, or more money. We want better relationships, a new relationship, a new car, or a better car. We work during the week looking to the next weekend, the next vacation, the next thing we can buy, or the next experience. In short, in our quest for happiness, we’re never truly satisfied, and we’re often envious of what others have and we do not. Even when we do get what we’ve wanted, the happiness soon fades, and is replaced by a new want – some “thing” that, if we could just obtain it, would make us happy. Things, by their very nature, come and go – nothing lasts forever. When our focus is some elusive state of happiness, our journey is a cyclic, endless ride of highs and lows.
Contentment, however, being spiritual in nature, is achieved through faith. Unlike happiness, contentment is not tied to the accumulation or acquisition of “things.” Once a state of contentment is achieved, it remains constant. It is always a choice – we can choose contentment or we can choose discontentment; but it can never be purchased or supplied by another, nor can it be lost or taken away by another.
Contentment Stems From Faith
In Philippians 4:11, Paul wrote, “…I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” (New King James)
Remember, when he wrote his letter, Paul was a Roman prisoner. Remember, there was no cable TV, no air conditioning, no comfy bed, no indoor plumbing. It wasn’t “three hots and a cot.” I’m sure Paul wasn’t deliriously happy about being chained to a wall in what was probably a cold, damp cell with a brick or dirt floor. So, how could he make such a bold statement about being content? Because he knew that contentment is a deeply spiritual state of being brought about by faith.
Pastor Rick Ezell puts it this way*:
“When I come into a relationship with God through his Son, Jesus Christ, I understand whose I am and what I have. A lack of contentment causes me to look horizontally – at what others have so I am never satisfied. Contentment invites me to look vertically – at God. When I look in his direction, regardless of my possessions or lack of or status or lack of, I know that he is enough.
A man once went to a minister for counseling. He was in the midst of a financial collapse. “I’ve lost everything,” he bemoaned.
“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve lost your faith.’
“No,” the man corrected him, “I haven’t lost my faith.”
“Well, then I’m sad to hear that you’ve lost your character.”
“I didn’t say that,” he corrected. “I still have my character.”
“I’m sorry to hear that you’ve lost your salvation.”
“That’s not what I said,” the man objected. “I haven’t lost my salvation.”
“You have your faith, your character, your salvation. Seems to me,” the minister observed, “that you’ve lost none of the things that really matter.”
We haven’t either. You and I could pray like the Puritan. He sat down to a meal of bread and water. He bowed his head and declared, “All this and Jesus too?”
John Stott wrote, “Contentment is the secret of inward peace. It remembers the stark truth that we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it. Life, in fact, is a pilgrimage from one moment of nakedness to another. So we should travel light and live simply. Our enemy is not possessions, but excess. Our battle cry is not ‘Nothing!’ but ‘Enough!’ We’ve got enough. Simplicity says, if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.””
As Christians, our contentment comes from knowing that if we have Jesus, we have enough.
How Can We Be Content?
We attain a state of contentment when we, like Paul, can say, “I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret – whether well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:12-13)
Contentment cannot be purchased, acquired, or given. We’re not born with it. Contentment is learned. And we learn contentment through our faith in Jesus.
Let me share an example (also from Pastor Ezell*):
“Doug McKnight could say those (Paul’s) words. At the age of thirty-two he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Over the next sixteen years it would cost him his career, his mobility, and eventually his life. Because of MS, he couldn’t feed himself or walk; he battled depression and fear. But through it all, Doug never lost his sense of gratitude. Evidence of this was seen in his prayer list. Friends in his congregation asked him to compile a list of requests so they could intercede for him. His response included eighteen blessings for which to be grateful and six concerns for which to be prayerful. His blessings outweighed his needs by three times. Doug McKnight had learned to be content.”
Contentment Resides In The Heart
It’s not wrong to want or desire something more than what we have. Contentment isn’t about denying those feelings. Instead, contentment is a spiritual state of being that frees us from being controlled by those feelings. It’s not about pretending things are wonderful when they’re not, or pretending to be happy when we’re not. Contentment is about living in a state of inner peace that comes from having a deep relationship with God without being contingent on external circumstances or situations. Contentment resides in the heart.
“The majority of people in our society is like thermometers and suffers from pseudo happiness – a counterfeit high that quickly evaporates. They hope the next superficial satisfaction will last, but external happiness is like cotton candy. It’s sweet for a moment and dissolves an instant later. A person who is happy because she is vacationing on Maui is a person who has only a few days to be happy. But a person who has learned to cultivate deep-down contentment will be a consistently joyful person wherever they are.
Most people thirst for what the apostle Paul had: enduring contentment, a deep-down, soul-satisfying contentment. That kind of contentment can only come from within. Contentment is always an inside job. It has everything to do with what is going on inside you, not what is going on outside. It has only one source. That source is found in a soul satisfying relationship with our Heavenly Father that cares for us and promises to meet us where we are.”*
What’s The Secret?
Contentment is not something attained through money, relationships, or status. Contentment is a deep, heartfelt state of being born of our faith. There are, however, things we can do, as Paul put it, to be content in all things.
1. Stay Close To God
God will always provide for our needs. Spending time with Him every day, letting Jesus’ teaching guide us, and the Holy Spirit inspire us deepens and strengthens our relationship with Him. The stronger our relationship with Him, the more we realize that the spiritual is eternal, and the material/physical is temporary.
We then focus more on what’s really important, and we focus less on what is transitory. In Matthew 6:31-34, Jesus put it this way, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
2. Appreciate What We Have
Instead of focusing on what we don’t have, we should appreciate what we do have. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul advises, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” Paul is saying that, in all circumstances, there are things to appreciate. He’s not saying that God’s will is that we have tough times. He’s saying that God’s will is that we live our lives with an attitude of appreciation.
My dad was a living example of appreciation. When times are tough, I think of him, and the example he set. When he was diagnosed with cancer, and throughout his treatment, Dad certainly wasn’t thankful for the cancer, or the horrible effects of the radiation. Now, he could have sat around feeling sorry for himself, and he could have played the “why me” game. Instead, he remained, and focused on, what he did have – he was married to the woman he had loved all his life, he had had a fulfilling career, he had children and grandchildren who filled his life with joy, and he had the opportunity to live where he had always wanted to live – here, in Grants Pass, in the midst of the forest and the mountains and the trees.
3. Let Go Of The Past
“Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead” (Philippians 3:13). We’ll never attain a state of contentment by focusing on mistakes, decisions, or events of the past – ours or someone else’s. We must learn to forgive the past, and let it go. We can’t change it anyway.
We can’t move forward by always looking in the rear view mirror of our lives. Dredging up the past only keeps us tied to the past. And all that does is stir up our heart in ways that prevent us from attaining contentment. And that discontentment can lead us down a pretty dark path of greed and covetousness.
I have a relative who has had many disappointments in the past, many of her own making. Rather than acknowledging her mistakes, and the mistakes made by others, forgiving them, and moving forward, she constantly dwells on and talks about all of the awful and mean-spirited things of her past. She’s lost so many material possessions that she is deathly afraid someone will get something that she feels entitled to – not because she has any particular right to it, but simply because she wants it. When going through my Dad’s things, I came across some items that were very important to one of my brothers, and my dad had wanted him to have. This particular relative decided she wanted them, and she stole them. She was the only one there at the time, and the only one who could have taken them. And, of course, she denies even seeing the items, much less taking them. She’s so afraid someone might get something she wants, and feels entitled to, she resorts to theft and dishonesty. Until she let’s go of her past and what she’s lost, and develops a sense of appreciation for what she has, she will never be content.
4. Day By Day
Psalm 37:7 reminds us, “Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.” And Paul, in Philippians 4:19 tells us, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” We must spend devoted time each day in fellowship with God. And we must remember that all things happen at exactly the right time. We may want certain things about our life to be different, but sometimes something else in our lives needs to change before what we want can be actualized. We must be patient, taking things one day at a time. If we focus on our spiritual needs, the physical needs will come; and in the meantime, we will live contentedly.
5. Find Sufficiency In Jesus Christ
In Philippians 4:13, Paul tells us, “I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Through the powerful presence of Jesus dwelling in our hearts we experience His peace. It is through that peace that we gain unlimited strength. He gives us the strength to make it through the tough times like job loss, health issues, financial difficulties, and relationship problems. In order for that to happen, though, we must go back to living Day by Day and spending time with Him. Philippians 4:7 tells us, “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Through communion with Him, we experience His peace; and it is His peace that brings contentment.
Contentment is a state of being – it resides in the heart. It is a choice – we can choose, like Paul, to be content in all things. In closing, I’d like to share a personal example of true contentment that has served to inspire me.
My father had a very deep faith. He never really spoke of it. Instead, he lived it.
When he was diagnosed with cancer…
When he was undergoing radiation…
When he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and his memory began to fade…
No matter what was going on, even in the darkest of times, whenever someone asked, “how are you today?”, his response was “I’m wonderful.” And he was.
Like Paul sitting in a Roman prison, Dad wasn’t thrilled with having cancer. The radiation left him internally scarred for the rest of his life, causing extreme pain and discomfort. The Alzheimer’s slowly took away every memory of his entire life. But his contentment was so much a part of him that, even when he couldn’t remember that I was his son, he couldn’t write his name, and he had no idea who his wife was…when asked how he was, he would respond with, “I’m wonderful.” For him, it was a state of mind so powerful that it was his state of being. Regardless of what he was experiencing externally, his response never changed. Even when Alzheimer’s took every memory he had, it couldn’t take away to core of his being – He was wonderful.
Happiness is largely gained or lost through external things, situations, or circumstances. As a result, happiness is fleeting. Contentment, on the other hand, is available to us regardless of external circumstances, through our faith in Christ. Through our faith in Him, we learn that He is enough. In knowing Jesus, we know that God hears us, loves us, and is always with us. He is our anchor, our compass, and our light. With Him, we have everything we need.
Let us Pray…
I’d like to acknowledge Pastor Rick Ezell for his thoughts and basic outline for today’s message.
- Proverbs 15:16
- Philippians 4:11-13
- Matthew 6:31-34
- Philippians 3:13
- Philippians 4:19
- Psalm 37:7
- Philippians 4:13
- Philippians 4:7
- Hebrews 13:5
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