The Secret of Contentment
If anyone is qualified to talk about contentment, it is the Apostle Paul. He was a man who experienced what it was like to have power, wealth and prestige among his people. Yet he also was knew what it was like to be beaten, abused, flogged, and thrown into the cold, dark depths of a jail cell. How could someone who had enjoyed the pleasures and luxuries of life, give it all up in the snap of a finger and still be filled with the joy of the Lord?
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty,” Paul says, ‘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…” (Philippians 4:12)
What is the secret? The answer is in the verse that follows: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Contentment, according to Paul, does not come from relying on one’s environment, but rather on God alone. No matter what he was facing, whether it was extreme highs or lows, God was the One who would be there with Him and provide all he needed to make it through. I believe Paul let this truth sink so deeply into his heart that it truly catapulted his spirit into a realm few of us ever experience. A realm that says, “My satisfaction in life truly comes from my relationship with Christ, and there is absolutely no one or no thing that can take that away.” What a liberating thought.
But is it really possible to live with Paul’s level of contentment in the world we live in today? It’s tempting to think that Paul must have been some kind of super human gifted by God in some super special way. And besides, he was living in a totally different time period. Sure, but it is important to remember that the God that gave Paul contentment is the very same God we know and serve today. Therefore, the level of contentment Paul experienced in his life is available to all of us. We must simply choose, as he did, to live with absolute dependency on God no matter what life brings our way.
What does absolute dependency on God look like in real life? It means…
Choosing to be thankful in ALL things. Paul instructs us to “…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Not sometimes or when we feel like it, but always. This is putting our trust in God, not what we see with our human eyes. When we actually live this out, whispering quiet “Thank you’s” to the Lord as we go about our ordinary days, a deep level of extraordinary contentment is sure to follow. A grateful heart has no room for envy!
Choosing not to Compare Yourself to Others. I grew up as a twin and this taught me a great deal about the destructive nature of comparison. The second Kelli and I stepped foot in school, people instantly began to compare us to each other, “So and so is prettier…but the other one is smarter…more athletic…more popular…” There was this constant pressure put on us by our peers to measure up to each other. As long as we were being compared at one entity, rather than being treated like the separate human beings God created us to be, one of us would always feel like we were falling short of the other. It was an exhausting and discouraging cycle that never ended.
God never meant for us to ‘measure up’ to anyone else. We are all created equal in His eyes, each with a unique and special repertoire of talents and giftings to be used for His purposes. When we compare ourselves to others, it’s like saying, “Sorry God, I don’t really like how you created me, so I am going to try to be like someone else.”
In a culture of striving to get more, attain more, achieve more, accomplish more, acquire more… we need more than ever to ask God to help us stay grounded in who we are in His eyes, not who we think we should be in the worlds eyes. God says, “For I know the plans I have for you… plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Do we truly believe that? When we let this promise sink into our souls, we will be content in ways we never thought possible. We will focus on how He is leading us, rather than comparing to how He is leading others.
Choosing to Resist the ‘Grass is Greener’ Mentality. When I was living in Asia, my Asian friends would say, “Why would you choose to live here when you could be living in America? Life is so much better over there!” Then, when I moved back to the U.S., my American friends would say, “Why would you move back here when you could be living in Asia? Life is so much more exciting there!” Funny isn’t it? From wherever you are standing, life can always look greener on the other side. But is it really?
This mentality is really a trap to keep you from finding the fullness of joy and purpose in the present moment. It makes you think that somehow there are better things, with better people, in better places. But let me tell you this: there aren’t! God is the God of the universe, the Creator of the heavens, the earth, and everything in it. Therefore, we should never say, “Life must be so much better over there.” As long as we think in terms of ‘over there’ we’ll never be content with what’s ‘over here.’ The grass is green on the side you are on right now, it’s just a matter of choosing to see it!
Contentment is one of those things you can’t really describe in concrete terms. You just know when you have it. And oh what a gift it is!
How content are you?
Ask yourself these questions:
- Is my level of happiness dictated by what happens in life?
- Do I have a habit of being ungrateful, comparing myself to others, or thinking the grass is greener on the other side? If so, ask God to help you to reverse the habit and live in the fullness of each moment.
- Do I focus more on the blessings in my life or the lack? How can I apply Paul’s ‘secret’ for living a life of contentmenr, relying on God’s strength in any and all circumstances?