The Art of Contentment
Philippians 4:11-13 11...I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 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. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
I am a person who likes to be busy. I love to live life fast-paced and full of adventure. However, being currently incapacitated with a broken foot, I am being forced to slow down. My frustration at having my summer plans suddenly changed and my boredom after only 3 weeks of limitation have got me thinking. How seriously am I taking the challenge posed by Paul to learn the secret of being content in any and every situation? Now, I am writing this very aware that I am blessed to be in the situation that I am, and there are far worse things in the world than a broken foot. I do not for a moment want to deny or diminish the realness of any of the truly terrible circumstances that are faced by many. This brokenness and pain was never intended by our Creator but is the tragic consequence of the Fall. And it is in this fallen world that we find ourselves, so bear with me as I write of that about which I have so much more to learn.
“If this was my lot for every day of the rest of my life, would I be content?” My honest answer would currently have to be, “No.” I have not yet worked out how to get to the place where I am so fully satisfied in Christ that my day to day circumstances make no difference to my state of contentment. Why not? What am I missing? The conclusion I have come to is that I am failing to fully believe the truth that Christ is enough. I am failing to make the choice of faith. Christ is all in all; in, through and for him all things were made. He is the very reason for and purpose of our existence. It is a blatant lie from the enemy that if I am truly in Christ it is possible for me to yet be unsatisfied and unfulfilled. But herein lies the apparently paradoxical truth: in Christ we are fully satisfied and, at the same time, will always be yearning for a fuller revelation of him.
How is it possible that we can always, for the rest of eternity, be longing for more? How could it be that we will never reach the end of God? The answer is found in his infinite nature; he is a being that never ends. He is beyond time and space, and our minds are far too small to comprehend him. Even in the resurrection life when we are fully united in perfect harmony with Christ, we will never know the full extent of his mysteries. We have the greatest joy and astounding privilege to spend eternity discovering more of him. He is the infinite mystery that is gradually revealed as forever stretches on but is never depleted. We could simply never be bored with this God. So remains the coexistence between true delight and satisfaction in God with earnest desperation to taste and see more of his goodness. I believe the two are not mutually exclusive.
I seem to easily forget that it is normal and natural to desire more – more of the Lord in this broken, fallen world. Readily harsh on myself, I often conclude that I am a ‘bad Christian’ or doing something wrong if I don’t feel fully satisfied every moment. But the truth is that a lot, or arguably all, of the situations we face are so far from the perfection God created. Our reality is flawed, and my soul knows it. I am made for more, and so I will earnestly desire God’s kingdom on earth. Yet, even in the midst of this soul-aching yearning for things to be better, I can still be content. Whilst desperate for more of God, I can still be fulfilled by the fractionate revelation I have of him thus far.
Satisfaction and contentment are often used interchangeably and confused with one another. However, there is a subtle but vital difference between them. Satisfaction is only achieved following the process of being satisfied. To satisfy is a verb and satisfaction depends on outside influences which either satisfy or fail to do so. One cannot, however, be ‘content-ed’ by another; one simply is contented, or not. Contentment is a state of being. It is entirely independent of external influence and instead comes from within. Whether or not we recognise this truth, no one can control our contentedness except ourselves. I am coming to believe and know that contentedness is a choice. As beings filled with the strength of the Spirit of God we have the gift and power of choice. This is something that, no matter how hard he may try, the enemy can never rob us of. He may disable us into believing that we have lost our freedom and authority of choice, but he can never take it from us. And so, the solution to a feeling of discontentedness is to make a choice.
Choosing contentment does not mean that one must become blind to brokenness or pretend that it doesn’t exist. Contentment is not denial. It is a state of rest and fullness in the knowledge of God in the midst of any and every situation. It is not removed or distant but is firmly rooted in reality. It is able to look full in the face of hardship and suffering and say that God is good and faithful. In choosing contentment I must also challenge the false belief that I have any right to or ownership over myself. All that I have is from God. ‘My’ time is not mine in that I do not own it. ‘My’ body belongs to God as a vessel to display his glory. Although I often feel that I am, and the enemy would have me believe it, I am not entitled to a single second. Every breath is a gift. Realising this, and being set free from the burden of feeling short-changed when expectations of ownership and control go unfulfilled, I am no longer bound in slavery to my circumstances. I am free to renounce all claims to myself and thus enter into a contentment so blissful and free none could ever steal.
Contentment means that we are sure in the knowledge of him in whom we find our hope. I know the God whom I serve; I have tasted and seen his goodness and so I can and will be content in him. This is the secret that Paul has discovered, that contentment is far more within reach than is commonly believed. It is already on offer to us by the grace of God, and in Christ we find all that we need. Contentment is a choice, and the strength needed to renounce a discontented spirit is given by the fruit-bearing Spirit alive in us. It is nothing of our own works or striving; it cannot be achieved or bought, but overflows from a yielded heart. Contentment is the freedom found in accepting that I do not have control over my circumstances, but neither do my circumstances have any control over me. My God alone defines me, and he is ever in control. Resting in the knowledge of his goodness and the sureness of his promise to always be with me, I am beginning to discover and marvel at the mystery of which Paul speaks. When all else is loss but Christ, and knowing that I already have all of him, then I am truly content.
What has it looked like for me to choose contentment?
Create space. Intentionally declutter your mind and soul. Seek out silence that you may hear the whispers of God more clearly. Carve out time to sit with him and soak in his presence. Taste and see that he is good.
Give thanks. Open your eyes to the beauty and joy found in the little things of every day. See that every good thing a gift from God. Count your many blessings and never cease to be grateful for each one.
Be generous. Know that all things are from God and so all belongs to him. Give freely out of the abundance that you have freely received. Be filled with the joy of the Lord that comes as you pour yourself out.