From my husband Bob (also posted on his Brevis blog) ~
Christians struggle with contentment. I struggle with contentment. I’m ambitious, driven, and competitive by nature, so I struggle to take time off or slow down, and am always looking for something better. When I miss a goal, I mope; when I start a project, I’m already looking on to the next thing that I want to do. I hate to get stuck in a rut. These tendencies have led me to think about contentment, and being satisfied in Christ alone.
What is contentment? Is contentment the opposite of ambition? Can someone be ambitious and be content at the same time? How are joy and contentment related? Can you make it a goal to be more content? How does one practice contentment?
Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have.” It seems like there is a link between money and contentment. And, when I say there’s a link, I mean a reverse correlation: the more money you have, the less content you are.
John MacArthur goes so far as to say that most Americans don’t experience contentment because we are a rich society:
“Most Christians don’t experience it, obviously, to the degree that God desires us to. We tend to be a very discontent people. And I have this sort of personal theory that the more you have the more discontent you become. If that is true, then this must be one of the most discontent societies in the history of the human race. We are called to contentment. We are called to be satisfied. We are called to say I have enough. Most of us don’t experience that. Paul did. Paul was a satisfied man. He was a contented man.”
Jeremiah Burroughs defines contentment this way: “Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”
Sinclair Ferguson says that “contentment is the direct fruit of having no higher ambition than to belong to the Lord, at His disposal.”
The Opposite of Contentment
The opposite of contentment is covetousness. When we desire something so much that we lose our contentment in God, we elevate that worldly object above God, and place it as an idol over him. When we grumble to God that he hasn’t given us the perfect job, or the perfect family, we show ourselves to be discontent.
My study of contentment led me to a small study of covetousness. In his sermon, “Battling the Unbelief of Covetousness,” John Piper states that “the opposite of covetousness is contentment in God.”
Have you ever found yourself wanting something other than what you have? Have you looked at your neighbor’s house, and said to yourself, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have that house?” Or, have you looked at your job and thought, “I really don’t like my job… if only I could be a _______, then I would be happy”?
Christians battle covetous thoughts every day, myself included. There have been many times when I’ve thought that the grass might be greener on the other side of the causeway. There have been times when I’ve gotten down on myself in each of the following things:
- My job—could I be doing something that I enjoy more?
- Living in a condo, instead of a house
- Driving 10 year old cars, instead of 5 year old cars (or new cars)
- My income
- My kids (why on EARTH can’t they be well-behaved like the Bauer kids??)
- My lifestyle
- My physique (though there’s really nothing to complain about here… I’m pretty ripped J)
- My wife
The phrase “practicing contentment” seems a little bit ironic. One can be discontent with their discontentedness, and then make a goal to practice being content more often.
Practically, how do Christians practice being content? We live in the most discontent culture in the world, and we’re called to be content in the midst of it. That’s kind of weird (see my past post about being Weird as Christians). Here are a couple of lessons that I gleaned from different sources as I read about contentment (most of these summary points are from John MacArthur):
- Contentment begins with confidence in God’s providence – believe in God’s sovereign control.
- Contentment involves knowing your own heart. John Ryle says, “Few know their own sin; few feel their desert; and so few are content with such things as they have. Humility, self-knowledge, a clear sight of our own utter vileness and corruption, these are the true roots of contentment.”
- Contentment has an element of satisfaction with little.
- Contentment is living independently from circumstances, not letting yourself be swayed by your circumstances.
- Contentment is being sustained by a divine power – you can be strengthened by the Holy Spirit to be more content.
- Contentment has an element of being concerned with the well-being of others.
May we all know contentment, and be able to echo Paul when he says in Philippians 4: “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 can do everything through him who gives me strength.”