I have wondered often about that “thing” called contentment. The dictionary definition is: “The state of being contented, satisfaction, ease of mind, the act of making contentedly satisfied.”
Okay. Kinda helpful. Yet as always, I must turn to Scripture. How does Christ define contentment?
See, when you’re single, “helpful” people are always telling you to “just be content, and God will bring you a spouse as soon as you stop wanting one”. I’ve not found any Biblical basis for that theory . . . but what does the Bible actually say? For in our culture of ease and plenty, it’s easy to confuse the issue and have all sorts of false ideas about God and suffering and what is required to be content.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul tells us about his “thorn” (some kind of suffering, not specified), which he repeatedly asked God to take away. This is what follows:
“But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10
Oh. So when the thorn is not taken away, we’re actually supposed to be glad? And be content with what? Read the list again. Weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. That doesn’t sound fun.
What if it wasn’t about our “happiness”? Something deeper is at play here. “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Somehow, displaying and living by the power of Christ is better than the thorn being removed.
So what does it mean to be content, according to this? It means to embrace weakness/suffering/lack as an opportunity for the power of Christ to be made perfect in me.
An opportunity. For the sake of Christ. But, Paul, what about the thorn? Does contentment mean I’m supposed to pretend that it’s gone or has no effect on me anymore? Perhaps this will be a relief to those of us who wonder if Paul truly “gets it”:
“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13
So. Paul was brought low, and hungry, and in need. Contentment didn’t mean that his stomach didn’t growl. It is okay to accept the need as such. But, by the strength of Christ (sound familiar?), we can face it, with contentment.
It requires learning, even for Paul. He calls it a secret. So I must keep digging. Here’s this:
“But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” 1 Timothy 6:6-8
Godliness is a rather significant part of the key. What is godliness? “Reverence for God and a life of holiness in the world.” Could it be that as I revere God, knowing Him to be Sovereign Lord, and pursue holy conduct, living in a manner pleasing to Him. . . He will provide for everything else?
Food and clothing is just general terminology for basic needs. And we have that familiar passage in Matthew 6 that refers to it as well, ending with the idea of seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things (basic needs) will be added to us.
But what if, like Paul, even those basic needs are lacking? After all, he says he learned to be content when he was hungry. Did God not keep His promise?
I’m not a theologian. God is certainly capable of providing all manner of things for us, and He is also fully sovereign. Yet the world is not as it should be. People far wiser than me have explored “the problem of pain”, and I shall not try to tackle it here. But perhaps this verse will help us:
“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”Hebrews 13:5-6
Why be content with what I have (which might include hunger or any sort of suffering)? “For He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Immanuel. God with us.
If that is not the very best gift, I don’t know what is. So because He is with me, because He loves me perfectly and perfect love casts out fear, because when I am weak He is strong . . . I will not fear. I will be content.
This verse takes on new meaning now:
“But godliness actually is a source of great gain when accompanied by contentment [that contentment which comes from a sense of inner confidence based on the sufficiency of God].” 1 Timothy 6:6 AMP
Inner confidence based on the sufficiency of God.
Not a denial or stuffing away or forgetting of the lack. Not playing some kind of game with God (like “I don’t want it now, so You can give it to me now”). Not thinking that God is anything less than fully sovereign and completely good.
No. Inner confidence based on the sufficiency of God. For God will never leave us nor forsake us, and His grace is sufficient.
That, my friends, is Biblical contentment. Or, phrased another way:
“The soul that has learned the blessed secret of seeing God’s hand in all that concerns it, cannot be a prey to fear, for it looks beyond all second causes, straight into the heart and will of God, and rests content, because He rules.” – Susannah Spurgeon
I am learning that to be true. I’m a slow learner and will need many repeats of the lesson, I know. But, in acceptance with joy I have found peace and contentment. Where I am today is where He has willed me to be. It is not an accident and He has withheld nothing that I truly need. Rather, He has given me lavishly of Himself, of His grace, of His truth, of His presence.
“What I do not have now, I do not need now,” says Elizabeth Elliot, and it is true. Christ is enough.
For me, it hasn’t been some dramatic surrender. But rather a secret that I am learning. A day to day yielding. A deliberate choice to accept with joy. Looking upon Him, and allowing Him to make me radiant. Spending every possible moment in His presence, turning my thoughts continually upon Him, praying and giving thanks always.
The sweetness I have found in knowing Christ at ever-deeper levels is incomparably precious. So very worth it. I have found a living hope in a living God. Though circumstances have not changed – I am finding great gain. I am humbled and grateful. The Lord is leading me so very faithfully.
I pray that for you too, dear friend. May you learn the lesson of contentment, inner confidence based on the sufficiency of God, whatever your season, whatever makes it hard today, and may you know Christ.
Learning right along with you,