As I was in the checkout line the other day, a few magazines caught my attention. They touted successes and accomplishments in the lives of various stars, which got me to thinking about my own life. I began to think about Paul’s words about contentment and wondered, If I were talking to my grandchildren today, how would I demonstrate contentment to them? Am I really content?
In my day-to-day life, I have the opportunity to talk with many employees, and they often let down their guard. I find myself struggling with the conversation as they express their dissatisfaction with their work arrangements, supervisors, etc., and I hurry to excuse myself, lest I be tagged as a malcontent, as well. While some are merely venting, some are chronically discontented, not only with their employment, but their lives, as well, so much so that not one positive thought is expressed. Again, I ask myself, Am I contented?
There are many areas where we can find contentment, or a lack of it—work, home, relationships, church. Some might say that being content is having no ambition, no desire for improvement or advancement. One dictionary definition of being contented is being “satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else.” Are we called to be without ambition, or is there more to being contented in the Christian life?
In the book of Philippians, Paul writes to the believers there to thank them for their support of his ministry. He is grateful for their concern for him, but he is quick to express that he isn’t in need:
“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 all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).
Paul’s words give us the answer to the contentment issue. It isn’t a matter of not having goals or aspirations, but rather a sense of inner peace that carries us through every situation in which we find ourselves. Contentment is the acceptance of this day, this time in our lives where God has placed us, accepting that for this moment we are in God’s hands and will and can serve Him, whatever the situation.
I am not always satisfied with where I am. I want to grow and change, to be more than I am, and that is a commendable goal. So how can I be contented while having aspirations beyond where I currently stand? Am I being unfaithful to God if I want something more?
The key is in Paul’s words: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Wherever he found himself, Paul was reminded that nothing could overcome him if he was relying and leaning on God’s strength to withstand it. Whether in lack or in much, Paul learned to be satisfied with the moment, to accept that God was working in his life and would carry him through. Contentment, biblically, “arises from the inward disposition, and is the offspring of humility” (dictionary.com)
God instructs us to pray for provision and for God’s movement in our lives. Solomon prayed for wisdom. Paul prayed for God to direct him as to where he should travel and preach. Finding satisfaction or contentment requires submitting ourselves to God and to God’s working in our lives each new day, asking him for grace to grow, but finding joy and fulfillment in the times where we find ourselves.
Being content requires God’s grace. Paul prayed for God to remove a “thorn in the flesh.” He wanted relief. However, God answered: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). It is in the down times, the times of loss or need, the times when we are not where we want to be, that we can find God’s grace and power in our lives, and thereby find contentment.
Some years ago now my husband bought me a CD with a song about a couple who never found the dreams of their youth. They sing in the chorus, “This cup filled up so quickly / There’s too much on our plate /Between the living and the dying / Some things must wait / So we never got to Paris and found the cafe of our dreams / But our table holds a whole wide world of memories No, we never went to Venice / And strolled the streets alone / But we built our worlds together and we got the best of both” (Out of the Grey, So We Never Got to Paris).
The secret of contentment is not that we eliminate dreams or goals, but that we make peace with the days in which we live, find happiness in the now, knowing that God is working in our lives and will bring us joy wherever we find ourselves. The secret is submitting our dreams to God and allowing Him to bring them to pass in His way and will. May God give you joy and contentment today.