“I’ll be happier when…”
Sound familiar? It’s easy to spend our entire lives only looking forward to the next thing. We feel unhappiness and discontentment and think that we’ll be happier only when we graduate, get a new job, get a promotion, get married, have children, buy a house, get the new iPhone, lose 10 pounds, retire, etc. If we never take a second to gain some perspective, we can spend all of our time in the vicious cycle of discontentment. Christ offers us a way out of the cycle. He offers complete fulfillment. It is in the power of Christ that Christians can experience contentment.
The “What” of Contentment
Paul, when thanking the Philippian church for their concern though they didn’t have the opportunity to give to him, explains his own contentment:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:11-13).
It is in this section that we find the what, how, when, and why of contentment. Starting with what contentment actually is. It is pretty well defined in verse 12 above, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” Contentment is, in essence, a sufficiency that transcends circumstances. Literally, it means to “have enough.” But, this “having enough” isn’t referring to our bank accounts or food pantries, it’s an inner sufficiency, something within us that results in the reality of us always “having enough.”
The “How” of Contentment
An inner sufficiency—easier said than done, right? However, in the above section from Philippians, Paul explains how he gained this inner sufficiency. In verses 11 and 12, Paul explains that he “learned” the secret to contentment. Paul didn’t become content in the face of hunger and emptiness overnight. Likewise, if we are to be content, it won’t come overnight. Like most spiritual disciplines, contentment is the product of constant training.
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Paul learned contentment through experience. So often we shudder at the thought of struggles and hardships, not realizing that these hardships will make us “rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9). Our trials in life create in us a genuine faith more precious than gold that will result in “praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7). If we seek to be content, we must be willing to learn contentment, keeping our focus on the One who sustains us.
The “Why” of Contentment
Why can we be content in Christ? Not because God will certainly bless us with riches and we’ll never be lacking anything, but because even when we are poor and destitute God lavishes upon us true riches in Christ. Even on our worst days, we are Christ’s, and his strength working in us brings contentment. Christian contentment transcends all circumstances because the power of Christ transcends all circumstances. Our source of sufficiency lies with our heavenly riches which are “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:4).
While the world struggles to be content in the face of weakness, hardships, and destitution, the Christians’ contentment is stone-faced during these times., because when we are weak, then we are strong. As Paul plead for the thorn in his flesh to vanish, the Lord responded, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). This caused Paul to exclaim, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Ultimate contentment, therefore, is not found only in abundance or in a perfect life. Ultimate contentment is found in a dependence upon the Lord. Contentment is found in the conscious awareness that we can do all things by the strength Christ gives us. In Christ, we are strongest when we are weak, most independent when we are dependent upon Him and feel that we have enough even when we are brought lower than ever. When the world looks on our contentment, may it result in the glorification of God!