Discontentment is at an all-time high in the lives of many Christians. If you are discontent today, you are not alone! We have become focused on acquiring all kinds of stuff instead of the worship and passionate pursuit of Christ. And sadly enough, even when we get the things we desire, we are quickly discontent! So why is it that we are not content people? Why do we continue to long after things that are so meaningless? So how do we become or remain content in a world calling us to have more, do more, be more every waking minute?
I have studied developing contentment for myself and the women I meet with each week who ask me the same question. For example, discontented people often think thoughts such as, “I want (blank),” “Someone should give me (blank),” “If only he would (blank),” “Why can’t I have/ be/ go…,” “I should have (blank),” “Why does she have (this or that) and not me?” We have all had thoughts similar to these at some time, and maybe you are right now. These thoughts produce the emotions we experience in discontentment: anger, frustration, irritation, sorrow, self-pity, greed, idolatry, covetousness, jealousy, depression, and envy.
The Bible and Discontentment
The language of the Bible helps us understand that the human heart is not only our feelings and emotions. The heart is considered to be the immaterial or inner man, the core of our being. The heart contains our thoughts, emotions, desires, will, mind, soul, feelings, beliefs, and desires. The heart includes the essence of what makes us who we are. If you are a regenerate believer, your heart is also the home of the Holy Spirit of the Living God. Even so, the heart is the place that prompts us to become discontent and provokes our grumbling and complaining. It is the heart that must learn to be content.
In 1 Tim 6:6, Paul said, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” How did Paul learn this? Look at what he said in Philippians 4:11-12,
Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.NASB 1995
You are perhaps very familiar with this passage of Scripture and its context. Paul was in prison at Philippi and was nearing the end of his life while he penned these words to the church. He had previously experienced many horrible things at the hands of both Jews and Gentiles (2 Cor. 11:23-28). Yet, having been beaten to the point of death, stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked, in every possible form of danger, hungry, thirsty, and cold, Paul says he learned how to be content (Phil. 4:11-12). He learned contentment through trials and suffering, through having little or nothing. Paul says he knew the secret of being filled and having abundance despite going hungry and suffering needs. God used all of Paul’s travails to teach him that contentment doesn’t come with getting what you want; it comes with being satisfied with what you have. Contentment is a heart issue, and it is something we must choose.
Give Thanks in All Things
To be content in difficult circumstances is challenging but not impossible. First, learn to give thanks in all things. Paul realized that one aspect of contentment is thankfulness. “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thess. 5:18 (TLB) Gratitude is perhaps the most crucial aspect of contentment and the most neglected in life. If we struggle to be grateful for times of plenty, how much more difficult will it be to be thankful for the lean times? So how do you give thanks for problems and trials? By practicing the second principle: learning to trust God. I have learned that despite how impossible and terrible things may look, God is always in control of the events of my life.
God is Omniscient (all-knowing), and He is directing the universe and the events of our lives with wise and gracious care. We know that nothing takes place outside of the scope of His sovereignty. Therefore, we can trust in the fact that God is aware, God has a plan, and God is in charge in every circumstance. God determined before the foundations of the world were set in place that we would be conformed to the image and likeness of Christ. He uses our trials, and the Holy Spirit works in our sinful hearts to accomplish His divine plans for our lives. This is definitely something for which to be grateful!
Phil. 4:6 touches on both giving thanks to God and trusting Him. Because God promises to provide what we need and because He is all-knowing, He knows what we genuinely need more than we do. If we truly know God, we can rest and trust in Him. We can be content even as we struggle or suffer because we believe that what we are in the midst of has a purpose and reason beyond what we can see today. Our hearts can be satisfied in knowing and believing God is at work in them. That despite how grim our present circumstances are or appear to be that God is sovereign.
Be Satisfied with Little
Albert Barnes once said, “One of the secrets of happiness is to have a mind satisfied with all the allotments of Providence.” So it takes us to our final principle of contentment- learn to be satisfied with little. The prevailing American attitude seems that while you could live with less, why would you want to? This again reveals the idolatrous desires of the heart and fuels discontentment. Paul understood that greed and contentment are mutually exclusive (1 Tim. 6:6). If you struggle with greed, the only response can be repentance (Phil. 4:13).
Because of Christ, you can be content. It will not be easy to change the thoughts and intentions of your heart from self-gratification to God-glorification, but the Holy Spirit will help you (Jn. 14:26; 16:7-8; 1 Cor. 2:10-11; Eph. 1:17-20). He will work in your heart by convicting you of sin (Jn. 16:13). You can imitate Christ and move beyond the discontent the world tries so hard to build into your heart and cause to overflow into your life. Just as Paul did, we can trust the promises of God, and we can do it in the power and strength of Christ. Like Paul, we can learn to rely on Christ’s promise, that “He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” Eph. 3:16.
Contentment flows out of this kind of heart, out of these heart attitudes, and God is glorified. Thus, even amid the trials and problems of these days, which are so prone to revive our discontent, we can find refuge for our souls- we can find the contentment for which we long. We can and will find it in hearts that are satisfied in Him and Him alone.