Contentment – a state of being satisfied or easy in mind
Are you content? Part of the time? All the time? Never? What makes you feel content? I enjoy quiet, unrushed moments when I’m alone with the Lord. They give me a sense of contentment. Finishing a task I had been dreading to tackle can also give me a feeling of satisfaction. Of course, being with family, a peaceful vacation and many other circumstances can bring contentment. But when those circumstances are past, the feeling of contentment goes with them. And what about the days when there are no quiet moments, the work load is overwhelming, the family isn’t around and our circumstances have left us alone and afraid? We need something that never changes if we want true, lasting contentment. Situations change. Relationships change. Our needs change. The contentment they offer today may be pulled out from under us tomorrow, leaving us discontent. But we can have an abiding contentment, regardless of our circumstances.
Paul had a firsthand understanding of the complexities and even brutalities of this world. But he had a greater understanding of the realm of God’s kingdom. In Philippians 4:11 he made this statement: “for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Paul had learned from experience to be content regardless of his condition or status. His comfort level was not the prerequisite for his contentment. Whether he had plenty to eat or was hungry, he knew God would not let Him down. If everyone else was against him, God was for him. Paul knew what it was like to have to restrain people from worshipping him, but he also knew what it was like to be tracked down, hated, stoned, persecuted and thrown in prison without a cause. Yet he said whatever his status, he had learned to be content with it.
To ‘be’ is to exist in the present. When troubles come, it’s easy to long for the pleasant days of the past or try to block out the present by looking to the future as we ‘wait it out’. But even in the hard times, the unfair times, we need to be present in our existing circumstances and look for the purpose of God in them. We can look around us and say, “What is God’s work here? He has me here for a purpose, so what is it?” It may be to turn our attention back to God. It may be an open door for ministry. When we find it, we need to move with it. That is where Paul found contentment. Knowing and doing the will of God. That is where we will find it, too.
How could Paul be content when his circumstances contradicted everything we consider essential for contentment? He gives us the answer in verse 13. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” That scripture is not just a mantra that if repeated over and over will come true. It is much more than that. Paul had learned from experience that it is a rock-solid truth he could count on. Paul accepted the will of God, but not without the strength and ability of God. We can, too, but we have to choose to set our focus and goals on a higher realm of living.
Paul had learned that real, lasting contentment is found only in Christ. Before his encounter with Jesus, he was a Pharisee. He had enjoyed prestige and the best this life has to offer. But he learned contentment was not found in the long, repetitious prayers prayed in public, or being called “Rabbi”, or even in having the esteem of the people, his peers and his superiors. The pride of the position he had earned by a well-disciplined life fell short of bringing contentment. He found contentment in giving everything for the cause of Christ. And Christ became everything to him.
Paul was always fully engaged in his present circumstances. When he stood in chains before Festus and king Agrippa, he seized the opportunity to give testimony of how Jesus had appeared to him on the road to Damascus, and how his life was changed. When he was shipwrecked on an island, then bitten by a poisonous snake, it was all for the glory of God. It led to the salvation of those on the island. When he was arrested in Jerusalem, it was his ticket to Rome where God had called him. Even during his imprisonment there, he continued to write and share the gospel with everyone who came to see him. Paul did the work of the kingdom of God wherever he was. He didn’t need a formal invitation. His circumstances were his invitation.
Because of the hardships in his life, Paul stood before kings, worked miracles, shared the gospel with most of the world, and wrote a large portion of the New Testament by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He was content in the will of God.
Jesus is the perfect example of finding joy and contentment in doing God’s will. Even as He struggled in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, He was set and determined to do God’s will. He had the power to free Himself with one word. So, how did He find the resolve to give Himself over to the torturers? It was for the joy of doing the Father’s will. It was for the joy of knowing He was buying our redemption.
Hebrews 12:2 speaks of Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” He knew what was ahead, and He allowed Himself to be tortured, humiliated, ridiculed and crucified for the joy that was set before Him, and for the joy He brought to those who believe on Him.
I know this is a poor example in comparison to what Jesus has done for us, but it will give us a picture of the principle involved. I don’t like to clean house. Scrubbing sinks, bathtubs and toilets and vacuuming, dusting and mopping don’t really bring excitement into my life. I dread it, but I do those things because I know what will happen if I don’t. It would leave us in unhealthy living conditions, and all the clutter would overwhelm us. I do it because I know the benefits and the light feeling that comes with a clean house. The work is worth it. It leaves me with a sense of contentment.
We were worth it to Jesus because He loves us. He knew our sins had overwhelmed us and would destroy us, and there was nothing we could do to redeem ourselves. He saw the end result – our redemption. He also found joy in pleasing the Father by accomplishing His plan. We can find that same joy and contentment, knowing we are in the will of God.
We are called to lay aside anything and everything that will take us away from accomplishing God’s will. If we will give up the struggle and give in to walking in God’s will (following His Word), we will find contentment there. If we offer ourselves up as living sacrifices, being transformed by His Word and refusing to be conformed to this world, we will walk out the perfect and acceptable will of God in our lives. Even our harshest circumstances can prove to be of great value to us and the kingdom of God.
First Timothy 6:6 tells us, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” Godliness is holiness and righteousness that is ours only through Jesus’ sacrifice and the abiding Spirit of God in us. It cannot be earned. We can have the life of Christ in us and be free from the guilt of sin, all because Jesus walked in the Father’s will and paid for our freedom. Now we need to set ourselves to walk in the Father’s will and see what He will do through us.
Jesus said, “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21, emphasis mine) We live in the kingdom of God by doing the will of the Father. We can have the Spirit of God alive in us, changing us to be more and more like Jesus, guiding us, giving us understanding of God’s Word. That is the epitome of contentment – living the full life of freedom in the kingdom of God, the perfect will of God. We can be satisfied even in the most difficult of times, because we know the One Who has promised to provide everything we need. When we learn to trust in the all-powerful hands of God, we can have a mind that is at peace with its lot in life, hands that are ready to seize every opportunity, and an assurance that we have more than enough of whatever we need. We can go through the hardships with joy because we are accomplishing God’s plan.
What are you leaning on to make you content? Is it a relationship, a promotion, a bigger house or retirement? If it is the things of this world, I can assure you it is not enough and it won’t last. It’s amazing, that most things we think will bring us contentment are dreams for the future that will probably never come to pass. But, we can start being content here and now, in our ‘present’, wherever that may be. Because only following Jesus will bring contentment that weathers the storms of this life and ushers us into His presence. Only by His Spirit can we recognize the will of God and walk in it. That is contentment.
Are you content?
Do you want to be?