The Secret of Contentment

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.  Philippians 4:11

Have you ever been more in love with the idea of something more than its reality?  You probably have.  It’s just a different spin on the old familiar “the grass is always greener” theme.  You buy that dream item only to suffer from buyer’s remorse and find yourself now dreaming of how wonderful it would be if you didn’t have it.

It is well illustrated by the boat owner’s confession.  “The happiest day of my life was when I bought a boat and an even happier day was when I sold it.”  I’ve known people like that and I’ve been there myself.  One glorious dream I had was to have a backyard swimming pool.  After my kids grew up that dream morphed into a nightmare when I finally realized that no one but the birds were using it and it was costing me tons of my time, energy and money to keep it running.   

Why is that such a familiar story?  An ideal becomes an ordeal and we find ourselves looking for a new deal.  The Apostle Paul knew all about the battle for contentment.  The chronicle of the unsettling circumstances of his life with its imprisonments, beatings, shipwrecks and survival from all manner of dangers is material for a doctoral thesis on contentment. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28)  What better person to give us critical insight into dealing with discontent? 

Writing more on contentment than any other New Testament writer, Paul reveals three things that can help us be triumphant when our ideal becomes an ordeal.

1.  Contentment is something you can learn.  “I have learned” Paul writes “to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.”  (Philippians 4:11)  The learning process is not always an easy one, but it is possible and promises to be rewarding.  Just ask anyone who has gone back to school after a long hiatus or the person who married the mate they loved only to find they had to learn to love the mate they married.

2.  The secret to attaining contentment is drawing on Christ’s strength.  Paul tells us “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 can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Philippians 4:11b-12) 

There are two things we need Christ’s strength for in becoming content when we face difficult circumstances.  At the outset we need His strength to endure it.  That is usually our threshold cry when faced with a tough situation that we cannot change.  “Lord, help me grin and bear it!” 

But true contentment is not simply grinning and bearing it.   The Greek word for contentment which Paul uses means “self satisfaction” or “independence.”  That conveys a state of mind way beyond gritty endurance. 

The strength we need to move to that satisfaction level of contentment is found in resisting the temptation to want something different and letting go of all the escape options.  That is hard to do.  It is hard because it requires reckoning with the death of a dream or our idea of a preferred outcome.  It is hard because it requires a funeral and burial for the things we wanted or hoped would one day bring us contentment.  Ultimately letting go of the options is only possible by turning to Jesus and asking for His strength.  Freedom in Christ comes through letting go.  “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”  (John 12:24)  The comforting factor is that Jesus holds the key to resurrection power and life.  He can resurrect our dreams if He so chooses, but it is our responsibility to first bury them.

3.  Contentment is profitable both in terms of money and time.  “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6)  The context of this verse is dealing with money and contentment.  The principle Paul is conveying is that you can save a lot of money and hardship, by being content with what you have.  We all know this is true living in a culture that continually bombards us with the latest and greatest must-have purchases.  Contentment empowers us to say “no” to the voice of temptation always whispering “More, more, more, you want it, you need it, you gotta have it, more, more!”

But contentment is also a time redeemer as well!  Discontent robs us of time.  It keeps us from enjoying the present moment and lures us into wanting to fast forward time, effectively shortening our lives.  Contentment on the other hand allows us to gain time by savoring every moment as a gift and making the most of each tick of the clock. 

When are you really going to start to live?  Don’t keep putting it off until sometime in the future waiting for your circumstances to be just right.  Learn to enjoy the moment you are in rather than looking for a moment to enjoy.  Contentment is the pathway to enjoying the now.  It is possible through Christ’s strength to release your ideal and turn an ordeal into His new deal.

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