I was out shopping this weekend and as I was standing in the check-out line with my lipstick and lotion, I couldn’t help but notice the contents of the carts of people all around me. They were loaded with all kinds of “after Christmas” sale items. Clothes, computers & phones, housewares, even a couple of people buying TVs. Most Americans were probably showered with gifts on Christmas morning, yet here were so many people out buying more things less than 2 weeks later. While I’m sure some were motivated by a desire to find a bargain on legitimate needs, our culture feeds on a seemingly insatiable desire for more and more. It occurred to me that the root problem is deeper than materialism; It’s a wild weed that springs up in the fertile soil of discontentment.
Of course, this is not a new problem. All through the scripture people struggled to be content with what they had. Eve wanted a better position (to be like God) (Gen 3:1-6). Achan wanted more stuff (Jos. 7:20-21). David wanted a forbidden relationship (2 Sam. 11:1-2). And the prodigal son wanted to control his own choices. (Lk. 15:11-12)
Knowing this, the Apostle Paul gave us the remedy for discontentment in Philippians 4:11-13. He wrote, “…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.”
Contentment is a process.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could recognize the presence of discontentment, then simply pray a prayer and be satisfied for the rest of our lives? Too bad it doesn’t work that way. It’s much more likely that this attitude will be something we have to battle with on and off for our whole lives. The good news is that through Christ, we’re able to rise above it, but since Paul clearly says that contentment was something he had to learn, we can be sure we will have to learn (and relearn) it too.
Contentment isn’t contingent on circumstances.
Most of the time we act like contentment is dependent on having things our way. That is, if I can get the right job, right spouse, fix my kids, lose 10 pounds, and have just a little more money, then I will be fulfilled. But Paul tells us that there is not necessarily a correlation between having what we want and lasting contentment. (vs12)
Christians love to quote Phil. 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” But, grabbing hold of it as a promise that Christ will bolster us to do the things we want to do is clearly not the context of this verse. A glance at the surrounding sentences shows even a casual reader that Paul’s familiar declaration is specifically dealing with contentment. He says “I can do all things”… that is go through all kinds of extreme situations (vs 12) with perfect peace, joy and free of anxiety because it is “Christ who strengthens me!” So, remember that your contentment isn’t dependent on outward things being the way you hope them to be; it’s dependent on Christ who lives in you!
Contentment is internal.
Galatians 5:22 gives us a concise list of the fruits of the Spirit, but those nine qualities become evident in our lives only when we choose to live in concert with the Lord. That means that peace is not the fruit of a calm, supportive work environment… Joy isn’t the fruit of a new, exciting relationship… Patience isn’t the fruit of obedient children… Self-control isn’t the fruit of having more money… These attributes are fruit of the Holy Spirit! As we walk with Him, we can have all these qualities regardless of what happens around or to us. Now did I say this was easy? Go back to the first point. Even though contentment IS a process, it’s encouraging to realize we are not at the mercy of our ever-changing circumstances.
Contentment is a matter of trust.
One of my favorite passages of scripture is Psalm 62. In the first 2 verses, the psalmist gives us the true source of contentment and rest. “My soul finds rest in God alone. My salvation come from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation. He is my fortress. I will never be shaken.” When we’re upset, anxious and striving for change, remember that there is no other source of true rest than God Himself. Everything else that promises contentment is like a house of cards that appears steady, but shifts and buckles with only the slightest pressure. The rest that comes from trusting in the Lord’s faithfulness transcends our experiences and gives us a sure foundation that will never be shaken. (vs 2)