This material was first posted in 2008 at BC4Women.blogspot.com.
If you are discontent today you are not alone! Discontent is at an all time high in many quarters of life, even among Christians. The worship and passionate pursuit of Christ has become a desperate search for material things. Our hearts have become focused on acquiring all kinds of stuff! And sadly enough, those hearts of ours are quickly discontented even when we get all that we desired.
Why is it that we are not a content people? Why do our hearts continue to long after things that are so meaningless? I think it is because many of us have hard lives. I was listening to a sermon by John MacArthur one day, and he said that most Christians are poor and that it is by God’s design. Jesus said that we will have many troubles in this world, and our lives bear that out don’t they? How do we become or remain content in a world that is calling us to have more, do more, be more every waking minute; a world that tells us that what we have and who we are is somehow inferior? How can we have contented hearts? It is a question I ask myself all the time and I have made a study of it as I meet with women each week who ask me the same question. In 1 Tim 6:6 , Paul said, “…godliness with contentment is great gain.” It is God’s desire that we are content in the place and position in which He has us. In Phil 4:11, Paul says, “I have learned to be content…” Have you learned the secret of a contented heart yet? I meditate on this constantly.
My heart contains my thoughts, emotions, desires, will, mind, soul, feelings, beliefs…the essence of what makes me “me” – and it also contains the Holy Spirit of the Living God. My heart is the place that becomes discontent with things in life. The heart is the seat of our grumblings and complaining. It is the heart that must learn to be content.
Let me draw you a word picture: Imagine your own heart and picture it filled with “self.” Next to your heart, picture a box with an arrow coming from your heart to that box. The box would contain the thoughts, beliefs and desires of your heart as it is filled with self. What would your heart contain? Would there be thoughts like: I want…. someone should give me…. if only he would…. Why can’t I have, be, go… I should have…. If I would not have…. Why does she….and not me…. Next to that box, picture another box with another arrow from the first box to this one. In this box would be all the results or behaviors of thinking those kinds of thoughts: Anger, frustration, irritation, sorrow, self-pity, greed, idolatry, covetousness, jealousy… discontent.
We may all have been there at some time, and maybe you’re there right now. It seems tax time brings out the discontentment that lurks in our hearts. The media – television and newspaper–exist to tell us that what we have is not good enough so we want more.
The apostle Paul said this: “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” (Philippians 4:11-12). You are perhaps very familiar with this passage of Scripture and its context. Paul was in prison when he penned these words to the church at Philippi. He was nearing the end of his life and had experienced many horrible things at the hands of both Jews and Gentiles. Paul says in 2 Cor. 11:23-28 he has been “…in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” And yet he says he has learned how to be content.
As I was preparing for this entry today, I was looking at these verses and really picking them apart, Particularly Phil 4:11-12. I looked at several different versions and looked at the Greek to be sure the translations were faithful to the original. Something really struck me about verse 12: “in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.” The Strongs version says this: “everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” Can you say that today?
Albert Barnes, in his commentary on this passage, says: A contented mind is an invaluable blessing and is one of the fruits of religion in the soul. It arises from the belief that God is right in all his ways. Why should we be impatient, restless, discontented? What evil will be remedied by it? What want supplied? What calamity removed? “The cheerful heart has a continual feast” (Prov. 15:15). One of the secrets of happiness is to have a mind satisfied with all the allotments of Providence. Paul learned contentment through trials. He learned the secret of being filled and having abundance despite going hungry and suffering need. How did he do this, and what message is there for us in the text?
First, learn to give thanks in all things. Paul learned that one aspect of contentment is thankfulness. This is perhaps the most important thing in life and also the most neglected, I think. “…in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18).
Second, Trust God. A couple of years ago on the day before Thanksgiving (and 4 weeks before our son’s wedding), my husband came home from work in the middle of the day. He had been let go from his job. This was the third employment disaster to hit us that year, none of which were his fault. When I came downstairs and found him in the kitchen and he told me what had happened that day I had two choices: I could be angry or I could be thankful. I was thankful. The job had been very difficult for him ethically. He is a counselor and the place he had been working was more interested in financial gain than integrity. While it was really bad, it was also a relief to know that God had taken care of this decision. Being thankful did not mean I left my fears at the curb. This left us with a whole set of very difficult problems—like how we were going to pay the mortgage and eat—not to mention our son’s upcoming wedding which was to be the week before Christmas in another state!
I had to practice this second principle. I had to learn how to trust God. I am still learning how to trust Him, but the difficult events of my life particularly over the past 7 years have made it easier. I have learned that in spite of how impossible and terrible things may look, God is always in control of the events of my life.
Those of us who know Christ understand that God is 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. We know that God is aware, God has a plan, and God is in charge. He determined before the foundations of the world were set in place that we would be conformed to the image and likeness of Christ. We must be confident and trust that He uses our trials to accomplish our transformation. 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 there is 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, God is sovereign. Phil 4:6 touches on both giving thanks to God and trusting Him: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” This does not mean that God will provide everything you want. He is not the genie in the bottle, nor is He a cosmic Santa Clause. God promises to provide what you need and because He is all knowing He knows what we genuinely need better than we do. Oh this can be very hard to accept. It takes us to our next principle of contentment
Third, learn to be satisfied with little. In our excessive, super-sized American culture, of the idea of having “less” is looked down on. We shake our heads at families who have only one car or live cheaply when they may not have to. The prevailing attitude seems to be, “Well, sure you could live with less, but why would you want to?” again revealing the desires of the heart. Do you know that greed is considered idolatry in the Bible, and how little it takes to be considered greedy? Paul understood that covetousness and contentment are mutually exclusive. In 1 Timothy 6:6 he told Timothy, “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.” I grew up lacking nothing, and so did my husband. Our children have not had that luxury. I have had to learn to be satisfied with less; sometimes I have had to learn to be satisfied with nothing at all. Paul had learned to make the choice to be satisfied with little, and he knew it was important for others to learn to make that same choice. Satisfaction is a heart issue.
Contentment is a heart issue. It is something we must truly choose for ourselves. We must come to the place where we believe that He is enough. That even if all of life should fall away we would still be content with Him, with who we are in Him. Our God is completely aware of what we have and don’t have. We have to make a choice if we are going to slap at His provisions with a thankless heart or graciously accept what He provides with gratitude. So often I have to remind women that what is in the closet to wear is not important! The kind of car is not important! To be thankful there is anything to eat in the pantry when they want something that is not there! To be glad they can go to Aldi when they would rather shop at a fancier store. Too often I meet women who are so unhappy with their lives. They have placed their focus on things and people not performing to their expectations or desires. Husbands that don’t pay them enough attention, or children that are difficult to raise. Perhaps they have a physical problem that causes them to live in pain or a relationship problem that brings heartache. To be content in such circumstances is difficult but not impossible.
We will experience contentment as we learn to live above life’s circumstances. We each have our own set of heartaches and we can rise above them and live joyful and content lives in spite of them. It involves changing your focus from self to God and His glory. At the beginning of today’s blog I asked you to picture a heart that is focused on self and the thoughts, beliefs, and desires of the heart that result from that focus. Now I would ask you to see another heart: This one with God and His glory in the center of it. The first box, with the arrow from the heart to the box that contains these thoughts as a result of a heart that is focused on God and His glory, would be something like: Trust, confidence, faith, long suffering, patience, kindness, love, selflessness and probably many more things. The second box would contain the results or behaviors of these thoughts: they might look like: Joy, peace, grace, mercy, patience, confidence…contentment. You see; the heart that makes its goal the glorification of God is going to manifest these things. It is going to be able to live above the circumstances life, not focused on them.
This woman will make it her goal to please Him and to do what 1 Cor. 10:31- 1 Cor 11:1 says: “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved. Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” Christ and Paul lived sacrificial lives. They thought little to nothing of their own comforts or selves. It was all about the will of God for them, about bringing others to salvation in Christ, finding God, the eternal goals.
If in putting all of this into practice, you are still struggling with contentment I would urge you to put all of the thoughts of self aside and begin to focus on others. One assignment I give to my counselees is to choose three of the “one anothers” of Scripture each week and put them into practice. I have an extensive handout I created that lists them all and they can have their pick on which ones to put into practice, but they must choose three each week and then report to me the results. This is in keeping with numerous passages of Scripture, but most notably Phil 2:3-4: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
There is, of course, no way we can do this in our own power. We must rely on God. Does this bring Him glory? YES! This is why in every way we can be content. We only need to have a willing heart, and God promises to equip us to do the rest! Phil 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” you can be content, you can imitate Christ, you can move beyond the discontentment 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). The inner man is where the heart resides.
Do you see how it all goes back to Him? The promise comes from Him, the strength and power to succeed come from Him, and all of this is for glory to go back to Him. Contentment flows out of this kind of heart, out of these attitudes of the heart, and the glory goes back to God.
Even in the midst of the trials and problems of these days, even these days that are so prone to revive our discontent, we can find refuge for our souls. We can find the contentment we so long for. We can and will find it in hearts that are satisfied in Him and Him alone.