I’ve been thinking about contentment a lot in recent days. Whether the sermon last Sunday, a devotional reading, or a bible passage in my daily quiet time, the topic keeps coming up. Not knowing if I had a full grasp on the words meaning, I looked up the definition of contentment. The American Heritage Dictionary says,
“That degree of happiness which consists in being satisfied with present conditions; a quiet, uncomplaining, satisfied mind.”
Wow! If I’m prayerfully analytical, the lack of a quiet and uncomplaining mind has to be the genesis of all of my problems in the area of contentedness or lack thereof. The definition hits particularly hard when I consider a few conversations I’ve had this week! Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
I know I’m not the only one. It is a sin issue which is common to all man.
Discontentment IS What It Is
Almost anything can become a source of discontentment in our lives: our spouse or lack of a spouse, our children’s behavior, a family member’s over involvement or lack of involvement in our lives, the decay of our health and physical well being, the amount of money in our bank account, where we live and who our neighbors are, our working conditions, the vehicle we drive or the clothes we wear. Even the food we eat and what we drink has the potential to influence the degree of happiness and satisfaction we are feeling at any given moment.
I’m guessing at least one of the areas listed above, if not more, struck a chord in your heart. If not, praise God! However, if like me, the words, “It is what it is” roll off your tongue too easily and too often in regard to one of the above mentioned areas of life, discontentment is probably lurking right beneath the surface of this trite saying.
“I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”Philippians 4:11-12
So apparently, contentment is something which can be learned. That means there is no magic wand to wave and no “white knuckling it” through undesired circumstances. Like Paul (who suffered more than most of us ever will), it is possible to learn to be content no matter the situation we find ourself in. But how?
The best place to start is by getting to the heart of the matter in the struggle with finding contentment. Then, with the means of grace given by God, we can find satisfaction no matter our circumstances.
At the core, I believe discontentment is a heart issue which arises when I don’t trust the Lord’s goodness in my circumstances. I believe there is some good thing God is withholding from me. If I just had X,Y, or Z, life would be perfect. This is the oldest lie known to mankind (see Genesis 3). Thankfully God has given a way to combat this lie.
In every thing give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.1 Thessalonians 5:18
Reading those words, it seems so simple. And it is. However, it takes a work of the Holy Spirit to move us in the direction of a godly response to anything in our life we deem undesirable. Apart from His working, my natural response is to white knuckle it! I can feign contentment for a time but ultimately it won’t last. Then the “it is what it is” attitude sets in; a pious but defeated sort of false surrender to God’s will for my life.
Thankfully I no longer have to walk in falsity, hoping to fool myself into satisfaction with the undesired circumstance. I know God’s antidote (and command) is thanksgiving. He also provides the power to be pleasing to Him as I walk in whatever He has ordained.
The often quoted out of context passage from Philippians 4:13 says it all…
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me
The “all things” includes all things. Specifically, in the context of the letter he wrote to the saints at Philippi, Paul was referring to suffering. That said, my suffering looks significantly different from the audience Paul was writing to.
Mine tends to fall into the very light and very momentary afflictions category, at least up to this point in my 48 year history. Your suffering will look different than mine. Our suffering looks different than our brothers and sisters in Christ who are in Israel, Gaza, Palestine, China or any other place currently in the headlines. However, the answer for any Christian who wants to honor God no matter the circumstances is the same.
Philippians 4:6-8 says,
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.
By God’s grace and design, the act of giving thanks does something to my heart and my mind.
- Giving thanks to God in the midst of life’s disappointments or trials dethrones self and exalts the One to whom all praise is due.
- In giving thanks, I am acknowledging God’s right to establish His world and all that is in it as He sees fit. Because His plans and purposes for my life are only good, whatever circumstances I find myself in are also good.
- Giving thanks causes my mind to shift from what I don’t have onto what I do have. My focus turns to reality… my kind and gracious God has actually provided what I need for whatever situation I may be walking in. Even in the worst trial, we have what we need if we are a child of God. Ultimately, we have God Himself (Hebrews 13:5).
Discontentment Be Gone
Having a thankful heart in the midst of life’s difficulties or disappointments is not easy. If it was, we wouldn’t need the help of the Holy Spirit. God has graciously given us means of overcoming the temptation to grumble and complain when circumstances are not the way we would hope or view as good. To reiterate, the act of giving thanks and meditating on our circumstances with a right perspective will help us immensely as we desire to honor God in our thought life and our actions.
If you need a little extra encouragement in this area, give this sermon a listen. The Lord used this greatly in my life this month and I know you will be blessed as well!
If you need a song in your heart as an anthem of thankfulness this Thanksgiving season, this song will do the trick!
Happy Thanksgiving dear reader! May we all grow in this area of giving thanks to God in the days and years to come, for our good and His glory!