LEARNING TO BE CONTENT
Pastor Vernon Giesbrecht
Contentment – In the city of one of the churches we served, we became fairly good friends with unbelieving neighbors. One day, he backed a shiny new boat on to his driveway. Being the “caring” person I was, I went over to congratulate them on their new purchase. What I said on the outside, however, did not match what I was feeling on the inside. I’ll admit, just a “little bit” of covetousness rose to the surface, along with a rising sense of discontent. Why were we unable to afford a boat like that and all the pleasure it represented? I tried to squelch that feeling by reasoning: “Well, they don’t give to a church or to other ministries like we do. We could save a whole lot of money if we didn’t and get a boat! Or, afford whatever! (Oh, boy!)
Someone has said,” Each of us live in two tents –content or discontent. Those who inhabit the second are anxious, restless, and seldom satisfied. Those who dwell in the first tent are happy people, accepting whatever life may bring and grateful for even small blessings.” Interestingly, many poor people live in the first tent, enjoying deep satisfaction, while many wealthy people live in the second one, miserable and unhappy. Webster’s Dictionary says that to be contented is “to be satisfied with one’s possessions, status, or situation” That’s not too far off from how the Bible portrays contentment.
The Apostle Paul said, “…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 can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13)
Did you note the key word – “learned”? It should give us some encouragement. If the Apostle Paul had to learn to be content, it implies he had been on a journey to arrive at “destination contentment”. So it is for most of us; we are in process of learning to be content with whatever circumstances, possessions, or status God allows into our lives. The secret in reaching the “destination” is seen in the final sentence. Often this verse is used when facing a challenging goal or new experience. That is true. But, it also applies to times of seeming failure, financial stress, deprivation, ill-health, etc. Paul had experienced it all. The strength to be content comes from the Lord who provides the necessary spiritual resources. We learn more and more to draw from His wisdom and strength.
What is the basis for lasting contentment? Isn’t it, first of all, to be at peace with God. He must become our satisfaction. In the beginning, He created us to have perfect community with Him, but gave us the opportunity to question His wisdom and authority and rebel against His guidelines. When Adam and Eve sinned, although eternal separation from God was the consequence, the longing for that relationship remained. It remained with God as well. So, He set in motion a plan of rescue culminating in offering His perfect Son as a sacrifice and payment for our sin. Now, to all who place their trust in Jesus can again begin to enjoy a relationship with God. His justice was satisfied by Jesus’ death and resurrection; now we can find our satisfaction, our contentment, in Him.
To learn contentment, we must also learn to hold material things at arms length. They do not bring lasting satisfaction. Comfort and convenience? Yes! But, a new car, a bigger house, the newest gadgets, a new boat can never cure restlessness, anxiety, or guilt. In fact, they often increase if we haven’t found our deepest contentment in Christ. He promised to take care of our needs; not all of our desires. (Matthew 6:19-34) A Spanish proverb puts it like this: “Since we cannot get what we like, let’s like what we can get.” The writer of Hebrews gives us some vital advice:
“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”’ (Hebrews 13:5-6)
Here are some good questions to ask ourselves. Do I buy on impulse or after careful thought and prayer? Do I become overly upset when something is lost or destroyed? Do I always feel the need to buy something in order to be happy? Do my material possessions hinder my testimony? Does what I want make it easier for me to serve the Lord? Are my difficult circumstances affecting my relationship with Christ?
More could be said about contentment. The key, however, is in how satisfied we are with Christ and what he graciously provides. “How contented we are will be in direct proportion to the vitality of our relationship to Jesus. The more we are satisfied with Him, the less we will seek the stimulating substitutes of earth.” (Dennis De Haan) By the way, regarding our neighbors with the boat, we subsequently learned after leaving for another church ministry that they had come to faith in Christ, for which we praise the Lord. I must have hid my discontent really well!