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The Secret of Contentment

Is the secret of contentment to have more than we need? Or does having more than we need prove that no amount of material success can keep us from wanting more of what we have enough of already?

Thoughtful people have offered many suggestions for dealing with addictions, jealousy, covetousness, and the problem of envy we talked about in an earlier post. I’ve tried to list some of those perspectives below. See if you agree, that when considered together, it’s possible to conclude that, while contentment is not always a virtue, and while none of us ever masters the desires and fires of emotional hunger, contentment may be more of an option than we think it is.

Ask for help. Let’s start with the obvious that is easy to overlook. Experience has shown that those who struggle with serious addictions have discovered the wisdom of not trying to deal with runaway desire on their own. The prayer of many recovery groups is the well-known: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” With this request, many have begun to find peace in the middle of chaotic and stormy circumstances. It is advice which parallels the teaching of Jesus, who asked His disciples which of them, by worrying, could add length to their life or height to their stature (Luke 12:25).

Put a price on what you already have. Someone has said, “There are two ways to be rich. One is to have all you want. The other is to be satisfied with what you have.” While some would consider such a comment bad for the economy, I remember the words of a friend who observed, “I have found that the desire to have is soon replaced by the fear of losing.” He echoed the words of Solomon, who said, “When goods increase, they increase who eat them” (Eccl. 5:11), and “Better a handful with quietness than both hands full, together with toil and grasping for the wind” (Eccl. 4:6).

Change your expectations. Some have linked dissatisfaction to frustrated expectation. According to them, “Unhappiness is not found in what we experience, but in what we expect.” Pushed to an extreme, “Nothing is more discouraging than to expect ‘heaven’ now.” With this truth in mind someone has wisely observed, “The only way to find satisfaction is to have this expectation: Each day is an opportunity to delight in the Lord.”

Put trouble to work for you. Consider these sayings: “The happy person is the one who can enjoy the scenery when taking a detour,” and, “The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.”

Paul gave us his own example of someone who in terrible circumstances found that what is good about weakness is that it gives an occasion to depend on the strength of God. So he wrote, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

Worship God alone. Through the ages some have found contentment in a simple belief that, “When God is all we have, we will find that He is all we need.” The New Testament seems to indicate something like that when it says, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you, nor forsake you'” (Heb. 13:5). Beyond that Paul also wrote that covetousness is idolatry (Col 3:5). The implication seems to suggest that there is a relationship between the first and last of the Ten Commandments. The first is to worship only the one true God. The last seems to warn against the mirror opposite of worshiping God alone– thinking instead that our life lies not in God– but in something we don’t yet have.

Know what to be content about. Contentment is not always desirable. According to the Bible, there’s no virtue in being satisfied with this broken world (Rom 8:18-22), with our own accomplishments (Phil 3:12), or even with the approval of others. Nor should we be content when we see others in need and living without justice or mercy. The Apostle Paul acknowledged the he was often troubled by the needs of others, and had found himself in situations where he even despaired of life– so that, in his words, “we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2Cor 1:9).

Yet on another occasion Paul wrote, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” (Phil. 4:11).

So let me ask you, do such perspectives sound like just so much theory to you? Along the way, have you found these or any other insights to be especially helpful?

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7 Responses to “The Secret of Contentment”

  1. brownsfan1642 says:

    I would suggest that, on the point, “put a price on it,” we could also say, “understand the value of it.” Cost and worth are not always pure equals, and if our thinking can go to something’s worth, it could help us in this area.

  2. hal.fshr says:

    I found the insights on contentment especially helpful this morning. A quick look at a commentary gave this additional insight. “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” (Phil. 4:11).The words “have learned” are in a construction which speaks of entrance into a new condition. Paul had not always known that. He may have been reared in the lap of luxury, and had not known want as a young man. – Adapted from Wuest Word Studies

  3. B Murphy says:

    Thank you for this opportunity to share my most heartfelt belief.

    Be content with what you have but never with what you are. This is a note I wrote to myself when I was sixteen years old. By Gods grace I have counted my wealth in my love for the Lord, family, friends, and community. Some of the richest people I have known had no money. Some of the poorest people I have known had wealth beyond my imagination. God blessed me with a husband who shares my obsession with contentment. We live each day in wonder and awe surrounded by the gifts our Lord has bestowed on us.

    We have committed ourselves to being debt free and healthy. We have not kept up with the styles and drove new cars. The blessing is that we are not working jobs we hate to pay bills. I find it difficult to go to lunch with my fiends because I eat such a counter cultural diet. The blessing is that we do not get sick.

    This didn’t come about by sheer grace. God tested us and taught us that we are weak. In our surrender, He came and gave us His strength. I encourage everyone to stop shopping and read the Bible. I encourage everyone to realize that our bodies are the temple of God and treat it as such. Just as the Trinity is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, so are we body, mind, and soul. When all three are in harmony true wealth that only Lord can provide will fill your days.

  4. Gale L. Jarvis says:

    Good Morning everyone, Mart I believe this is such an important subject, as nearly every thing else you bring up for others to think about is.
    I agree with hal.fshr, contentment must be learned from a desire to be content, and then asking the Holy Spirit for guidance in how to be content in the things in life i need to be content with.
    The word ( ask ) has been so important to me over the years, the Holy Spirit desires for me to learn how to trust, lean on, rely on Him more and more, and me continually asking for help and recieving it has given me more contentment than i can ever explain.
    Contentment comes in many packages, not just material things.

  5. Mart De Haan says:

    Thanks so much for your thoughts. I hope some of the rest of us will share some of the struggles and insights– depending on where we are…

  6. r elliott says:

    Hi, Everyone…I especially appreciate B. Murphy’s comments. In its simplicity, it is poignant and very vibrant. And…I am grateful for this very timely forum on contentment. I am striving to practice it daily and failing, at times, then getting refocused again. I share B. Murphy’s values of living out of debt and not having to go to a job which I don’t like. I just returned from a beautiful trip to Kauai with my mother and brother. There, I did not drive or take my cellphone. I spent alot of quiet time with God and was reconnected with these spiritual and economic goals.

  7. daisymarygoldr says:

    Contentment in a Christians’ life is not about the material stuff or the circumstances. When we accept Christ, we don’t cease to be Human nor are we transformed into superhuman beings. We continue in this world as needy creatures and will have numerous desires which God loves to fulfill. Depriving ourselves of the wonderful things that God wants us to enjoy is also not going to help. Therefore, like Paul we learn to be content ‘in’ every situation though we may not be content ‘with’ our circumstances or our material needs. We ought to be always thankful whether we ‘have’ or we don’t. This is achieved by knowing God (I Timothy 6:6) and learning to trust Him for everything!

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