How to Find True Contentment
True contentment in today’s world is a rare commodity.
In all honesty, I have a computer that suits my needs, but for the next several hours that didn’t matter. My computer wasn’t a MacBook. My mind swirled with all the ways a MacBook would make my life better. I thought about all the reasons I wanted a MacBook. I was no longer content with my computer. It was too slow, and it wasn’t a MacBook. I began to plot the emails I would send and the conversations I would have to get the thing I wanted.
I had lost my contentment, and that was a bigger problem than I would like to admit.
What Does True Contentment Look Like?
True contentment in today’s world is a rare commodity. We throw the word around because it sounds good, but how do we know if we are really content? Contentment will show itself through four heart postures.
1. A Heart at Peace
When our hearts are content, we will know the peace our Lord promised us in John 15: “My peace I give you.” We will have learned through both easy and hard circumstances how to maintain our peace. The peace of Christ gives us the ability to sleep in a boat as the storms rage around us. Anchored into our trust in God’s fatherly care for us, we can rest in whatever circumstances we find ourselves because we believe God loves us and is working all things for our good (Romans 8:28).
2. A Heart Full of Grace
When we are truly content, we have learned to see and enjoy God’s grace in our lives. We recognize even the smallest pleasures as a gift from His hand. Like a fountain, the more our hearts fill with gratitude for God’s grace to us, the more grace overflows into the lives of those around us. Content people do not receive and hoard, but receive and freely give as needs arise. We hold things loosely in this world, looking for ways to meet needs with all we have.
3. A Heart Ready to Submit
The content heart is a heart ready to submit anytime, anywhere. The moment we discover our happiness is more firmly rooted in God’s pleasure than in our circumstances, we are set free to abandon worldly pursuits and set ourselves wholly on the love of God. We know that “[t]his is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). Few things are greater in the Christian life than to grow to a place where God could ask anything of you, and regardless of how difficult it may be, it becomes a joy to you.
4. A Heart Overflowing With Worship
The greatest gift that true contentment brings into our lives is a heart of sincere worship. The content heart receives everything as from God’s hand, always thankful for the good and always patient through the difficult. When we learn with Joseph that even what others meant for evil against us, God meant for good, we will have hearts that overflow in worship in all places and at all times.
If your worst fears came true today, could you still worship God? Would you? The content person says, “Yes!” because he knows his heavenly Father is in absolute control, and He will bring him safely home in the end.
The Tragic Life of Discontentment
As beautiful as true contentment is, it is very uncommon. It is easy to look across the street, across the office, and even across the internet and want something someone else has. Our world strains against contentment. With each new thing that comes into our lives, there is someone wishing to be in our place.
One initial gateway into discontentment can be through comparison. This is probably more prevalent in your life than you realize. Every time we get on Facebook, our friends and acquaintances parade before us. They show us their experiences, relationships, outfits, meals, friends, beauty, family, muscles, possessions, etc., and it’s tempting to let ourselves harbor secret jealousies. Why don’t we have what they have? Why aren’t we as happy as they seem? The Bible calls this desire to have what others have covetousness, and yes, it’s one of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not covet” (Deuteronomy 5:21).
Why does God care about these hidden desires? The problem is that a covetous heart is a wandering heart. The covetous heart says to God, “You are not enough for me. What You have given me in this world is not enough. I want more.” Our discontentment shows that we really don’t enjoy God. We are more interested in the gifts than in the Giver.
This leads to a second tragic mark of the discontent life: complaining. Oh, how easy is it is for us to complain when things don’t go our way! We complain about the traffic, weather, taxes, bills, food, prices, bosses, family, and so much more. Complaining is tragic because it’s really impossible to complain without bringing charges against God. If God is sovereign and in control, then complaining is ultimately a form of rebellion. We think we’re complaining against people or circumstances, but isn’t it possible we’re complaining against the God who brought those people and circumstances into our lives? I believe that is exactly what we’re doing. We simply can’t complain in a way that makes much of God.
The root, then, of discontentment is a lack of faith in God’s goodness. When we go through difficulty, adversity, or even seasons of waiting, we can be lulled to start to doubt that God really cares for us like He says He does. We begin to misunderstand God’s plan in our pain, and slowly we forget. The first temptation in the history of mankind was the temptation to be discontent, to question God’s goodness. And so discontentment is the ultimate offense, the belief that God is not good, that God cannot be trusted, and that we must look elsewhere for our happiness.
Cultivating True Contentment
Thankfully, we are not left to such a tragic perspective on life. God’s Word is powerful in fighting against this sinful attitude. There are several things we can do to cultivate contentment in our hearts.
First, we must believe that God is a good, caring Father. As Jeremiah Burroughs explained, “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.” We recognize that every circumstance calls us to be either thankful or patient. The content heart is full of thanksgiving for all of God’s good gifts and is patient through adversity, recognizing even when we don’t understand, we can trust His hand. As Hebrews reminds us, “[B]e content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you'” (13:5). If Christ is with us, we can be content, and we know He’ll never leave.
Secondly, contentment is a gift from God. One of the ways we grow in contentment is by asking God to make us content. We recognize that Jesus Christ died to make us holy, and that includes our contentment. Our striving after contentment is a striving for what Christ has purchased for us by His blood. Praying, “God, help me to learn with the Apostle Paul, ‘in whatever situation I am in to be content'” (Philippians 4:11). As we start to ask God to fill us with contentment for Christ’s sake, we will experience that grace flowing into our lives.
Third, we must learn to practice the discipline of self-denial in a world of self-indulgence. The world’s message is get as much as you can and enjoy as much as you can. But the Christian life is a life of intentional denial of self for the sake of the Gospel. We don’t deny ourselves because things are bad or because enjoying them is bad. But we sometimes deny ourselves to set our hearts on God alone.
Fasting is consistent with this principle. We fast to show that God is more precious to us than food. If you are struggling to be content, giving up something you really love for a time might be just what you need. When you deny yourself, do it for the advantage of another. Give up a meal and provide a meal for the poor. Give up that gadget and give more to your church or a cause you care about. Cultivate contentment by denying yourself and giving to others.
Lastly, cultivate contentment by renewing your blessed hope. The New Testament is full of commands to meditate on the hope of the Gospel. One day, this life will be over, and we who are in Christ will go to the place prepared for us by our Lord. No more death; no more cancer; no more tears; no more heartache; no more unfilled desires. We will be full of peace, joy and love forever and ever. I love how Joni Eareckson Tada puts it:
For me, true contentment on earth means asking less of this life because more is coming in the next. Godly contentment is great gain. Heavenly gain. Because God has created the appetites in your heart, it stands to reason that He must be the con-summation of that hunger. Yes, heaven will galvanize your heart if you focus your faith not on a place of glittery mansions, but on a Person, Jesus, who makes heaven a home.
Dear brothers and sisters, the time is short. Our Lord will not delay much longer. Be content with everything He gives you in this life. Show yourselves to be at peace and content under His fatherly care, knowing that one day He will overwhelm you with pleasures forevermore. We can trust Him. He is a good Father. May He make us as content as sinful men and women can be made content through the purifying blood of Jesus Christ.
Copyright 2015 Andrew Hess. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Andrew Hess is the senior editor of ChurchLeaders.com at Outreach Media Group. He teaches Bible and Psychology classes at Colorado Christian University and is a graduate of Denver Seminary. His writing has been featured on The Gospel Coalition, Leadership Journal and Boundless. When not working, Andrew is usually enjoying scenic Colorado, teaching Sunday school, or buying a priceless antique at a local garage sale.