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Contentment (2) The Secret

This is the second post in a series. Read the first post here.

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to feel content. I’d love to feel fulfilled. At peace. Like I’m not missing anything. I’d love to feel satisfied with my life.

And that’s exactly what contentment means. If you look in a modern dictionary, it means “happy” or “satisfied”. The word usually translated “contentment” in the New Testament means “enough”, “sufficiency”, or even “self-sufficiency”. Contentment means to be satisfied with what we have.

In his famous book , the Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs goes a little deeper. He says,

Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to, and delights in, God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.

That’s a beautiful picture, isn’t it? Not to want more. Not to complain about our burdens. But to freely and gladly accept what God chooses to give us, at all times and in all places. Now contentment.

But how do you get it? In Philippians 4:2, Paul says he learned the “secret” of being content in every circumstance. What’s the secret, the key that unlocks the door to contentment? Here’s what some people have to say:

Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough. (Oprah Winfrey)

When I’m worried and I can’t sleep / I count my blessings instead of sheep. (Irving Berlin)

And my favourite, by Dr Seuss:

Just tell yourself, Duckie,
you’re really quite lucky!
Some people are much more...
oh, ever so much more...
oh, muchly much-much more…
unlucky than you!


Be thankful. Think about what you have. Count your blessings. Remember there are people worse off than you.

Advice like that can be helpful. The Bible encourages us to be thankful (Eph 5:20; Col 2:7; 1 Thess 5:16-18), and thankfulness is a great help to contentment. But our problem with discontent runs deeper than something that can be fixed merely by helpful reminders and healthy habits. We don’t just need the spiritual equivalent of an apple a day; we need open-heart surgery. And that’s because contentment is about what’s going on in our hearts. It’s about what we truly value.

Surgery

At this point it can all start to sound too hard. I can imagine you saying – I can imagine saying! – “You mean you’re not going to tell me what to do? You’re going to tell me to dig into the motivations of my heart? If that’s true, I’m not sure I want to read on. I’m pretty happy the way I am. Discontent might make me feel a bit miserable, but it’s no big deal. It’s just a little sin. It doesn’t hurt anyone but me.”

Well, it’s time to change our perspective. Discontent is more like cancer than the common cold. Its tendrils reach into every part of our lives. It eats away at our happiness, our relationships, our very selves.

We’re going to think more about that next time.

1. Do you think of discontent as a little sin or a big one? Why?

2. What techniques have you tried to become more content e.g. being more thankful, making lists of your blessings, thinking of those worse off than you? How effective were they?

Photo: Deutsche Fotothek‎

Jean Williams is the part-time woman’s worker at her local church, supports her husband in university ministry, and looks after four kids and a rambling house in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. Her job suits her perfectly because it involves two of her favourite activities: chatting about life and Jesus, and teaching the Bible to women. Her great joys include walking, staring at trees, musing about life, writing in her journal, reading books, and sipping a spiced chai (she can do up to three of these simultaneously). Not so long ago, she fulfilled a 15-year dream when she helped to start Entrust Women conference. An impossibly long time before that, she did a PhD on the Puritan experience of enjoyment of God. You can read more of what she writes at gotherefor.com and her own blog, "in all honesty".


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