Sometimes when you’re reading the Bible, you can blow past phrases that are so simple you actually miss how profound they are. For me, one of those comes in 1 Timothy 6, as Paul warns his young protégé, Timothy, against the spiritual dangers of pursuing wealth, beginning with this admonition in v. 6: “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”
It’s so easy to underestimate the depth of Paul’s teaching here, in part because it’s so self-evidently true: godliness is good. So is contentment. And growing in both is a good thing. Despite the deceptively simple thrust of Paul’s teaching, however, growing in both of these things, godliness and contentment, is hardly a simple or sure thing. Today I’d like to focus a bit on the latter.
The Grass Isn’t Greener
I’m not naturally a content person. It’s far easier for me to fixate on what I don’t have than what God has graciously given me. I’m sure I’m not alone in that, given the fact that we live in a culture that continually stirs up our desires for more — more of almost anything we can desire or imagine.
On top of our consumer culture’s constantly agitating influence, I think there’s another sneaky little lie that steals into our hearts that quietly pilfers our lives of contentment. That lie goes something like this: I’ll be more content when I finally have what my heart desires most.
Let me illustrate that lie with a story. I remember a time in my 20s when I was deep in the throes of discontentment, desperately longing for marriage. I was talking about that struggle with an older, wiser and godly mentor who told me that contentment wasn’t contingent upon our life circumstances — specifically, whether I was married or not. “If you’re not content as a single person, you’re likely not going to be content as a married person, either,” he said. Contentment, he suggested instead, was a spiritual discipline and mindset we cultivate every day, regardless of our circumstances.
In the moment, I bristled. It absolutely wasn’t what I wanted to hear. And, frankly, I thought he was crazy. “Of course I’ll be more content when I’m married,” I thought.
In the years since, however, I’ve come to recognize his wisdom: Every season of life has challenges that can undermine our contentment. I can get exactly what I want in one area and still find myself ruminating on my lack in some other area. Indeed, contentment has very little to do with our circumstances — what I have or what I don’t have — just as my mentor pointed out.
That said, I think that the seasons of singleness and marriage pose decidedly different challenges when it comes to growing in contentment.
As a single, I struggled to keep surrendering my desire for a wife to God. It was an ongoing battle, one that was further complicated by the fact that I had to make all my decisions on my own. When discontent gripped my heart tightly, it was difficult for me to see the relative freedom and open-ended nature of the single life as a blessing. I longed for someone to share my life and sense of mission with.
Opportunities to Trust
The enemies of contentment in married and family life look different — and they’re perhaps more mundane. The other day, for example, I came home early from work. My wife and three children were out for a couple of hours. It was a rare, rare window of time to myself. I was tired and just wanted to relax. But as I looked around the house, I could see there was a lot that needed to be done: picking up toys, unloading the dishwasher, etc. I didn’t want to do those tasks, but I knew it would serve my wife and children well to do them. Even as I started cleaning, a whiny voice rose up inside and started bellyaching. I had to consciously ask God to help me yield my desire for some me-time to Him and choose — willingly — to do what was best for my family.
It’s in those moments of decision — Am I going to focus on my unmet needs or am I going to yield them to God and ask Him to help me? — that we grow in contentment. And though the particulars may change, each season of life includes opportunities to trust God with our unmet needs and desires, all of which He can use to help us to grow in godliness and contentment.
Copyright 2012 Adam Holz. All Rights Reserved.