THE MYSTERY OF CONTENTMENT
The problem inherent in living in an affluent and materially prosperous country, is that we tend to draw our joy and happiness from that which we possess materially. Consequently, when we lack the vain things of this world, we are apt to become petulant and dissatisfied. Obviously, this should not be the case, and the Apostle Paul sets a good example for us in the following scripture:
“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” Phil 4:11 (NKJV)
The word used for content here in the Greek is “autarkes”, and it means “sufficient for one?s self, strong enough to need no aid or support”. The secondary meaning is “independent of external circumstances.” Paul certainly did not mean with no aid or support from God, for in the next several verses he said that he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him. However, he does mean that he can have contentment without external, material things.
Because the church in America has failed in this area, in the 1960?s we began to see eastern religions showing how we could be content by mentally transporting ourselves into another sphere of existence. In an old movie called “Tribes”, a young man goes into the Marines, where in boot camp they attempt to “break” him. However, through eastern religious ways, he is able to withstand the physically difficult training, and overcome it. Millions in America have been attracted by this notion, but its root, which is in Hinduism, has nothing to do with overcoming the world through God?s help ? it is a rather a denial of reality.
How Can We Accomplish This?
We read the words of Paul and think, “Well, of course, that is the Apostle ? and we all fall so very short of what he was able to do.” Can anybody really attain this inner contentment? The truth is that there is an art to learning to become content ? and some might conclude it to be a lost art among Christians. Nevertheless, this art or skill is definitely attainable.
Consider the skilled craftsman. We have fewer of them these days because of our technology, but think of how the craftsman in Bible times hammered out the metal furnishings for the temple. In a more mundane example, look at the modern carpenter. Once I tried to hang a door when we were building our house. After fiddling with it for a long time, a skilled carpenter took the hammer from my hand and squared it in a matter of moments. If we think about specialized trades and arts we may see that what a trained person can accomplish seems amazing to the layman.
Hopefully what we learn in the school of God?s contentment will also be amazing to non-believers so that they may realize there is truth in Christianity. But the fact is that learning contentment is not as straightforward as a worldly trade ? it is rather a mystery. In fact, the Greek word Paul uses for “learned” in the passage above is “manthano” which is derived from the Greek word “mueo” which means “to initiate into the mysteries”. Therefore we see that contentment in this world is a mystery. Certainly we all know that when we as Christians appear content in adverse conditions, such as Corrie Ten Boom did when imprisoned in a concentration camp, the world will marvel and consider us mysterious.
Get Your Mind Right
There are some basic mindsets that we must accomplish to even reach the threshold of contentment. But I am referring to achieving contentment that is not based on the world. There is a degree of contentment that one may possess from the material world ? but it is a deceptive contentment which has no foundation. It will crumble as quickly as material circumstances change. First, we must realize that it is through the mind that we reach a place of contentment, not through our physical bodies or the five senses. The battle, which is for the mind, is where our contentment will be determined. Consequently, we must be careful to control our minds, and not let external things control them.
Sometime ago I saw a sign which said, “Life can be happy or sad, you choose.” All the romance literature and the media proffer the idea that our external circumstances dictate our contentment. But for the Christian, this false premise must be cast down. We must realize the fact that we are called to a spiritual contentment that supersedes the material world. And we must believe that God will make it possible for us to have that contentment if we choose to have it. This is not mind over matter, nor is it ignoring the reality of our circumstances; it is rather a position we achieve through faith, believing God for His promise of the “peace that surpasses all understanding.”
Our Dissatisfaction is Usually the Result of Comparison
Much of our dissatisfaction is built on our constant mania to compare ourselves to others. Perhaps a lot of this comes from the competitive manner on which many schools and sports activities are based. In any event, let us consider the person who is unhappy with his or her salary. He sees others around him making more money, and is envious. The consequence of this is a constant dissatisfaction. However, this is based solely on comparison, and not on reality. Let me explain.
If suddenly our country fell into a depression, and forty percent of the people in the city where this individual lives lost their jobs, and many others were reduced in salary, would he still pine away because of his financial position? No, he would most certainly be grateful to God for the fact he even has a job, and the salary he once thought was inconsiderable, would become as gold to him. It is the same when we look at someone else?s spouse or position of authority, or even health. We are unhappy because of comparison, not necessarily because of our specific situation. And, no matter what someone appears to have, it cannot give them peace in any event, because peace and satisfaction and contentment ultimately come from only one source in the universe ? God. Everything else that appears to bring peace is a deception and a delusion. We might even apply the words of Christ here in which He said:
“All who [ever] came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9 “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” John 10:8 (NKJV)
The Christian Becomes Content by Subtraction, Not Addition
Another concept important for us in reaching this point of contentment, is to realize that we will never be content as long as we think we must add something to our lives to get it. It is the devil?s game to have us think, “you will be content when you get?.”. If we think this way, we will always lose, because there will always be something else necessary. You see the problem is not what we have or what we do not have, however strongly it may seem that this is the problem. The problem is us. Though it is hard for us to believe, the new husband or wife, car or job, increase in salary, healing of the body, or whatever it may be will not give us the contentment we seek. It might temporarily, but even as this world is temporal, it will not last. Something else will appear to be necessary?and then something else.
Therefore, we see that it is not by addition, but by subtraction that we reach satisfaction. But just what do I mean? The only way we will reach contentment is to bring our desires down to our possessions and situation. If our heart is fashioned to our circumstances, we will have as much contentment as if our circumstances were fashioned to our heart. The world is infinitely deceived because they believe that contentment rests in having more than they already have. Unfortunately, many Christians are likewise deceived. But the correct way to conquer this pervasive lie, is to decide that we will not be swayed by its worldly appeal ? but rather choose to be satisfied by exactly what God has provided. Otherwise, we will find that our large desires are a cruel master, and one from whom we will never have freedom.
Let us consider this from another viewpoint. Perhaps a child is disturbed, and you bring her a gift. Immediately she is enthralled by the gift and appears contented. However, it was the thing that you brought that made her content ? the change came about externally. Nothing has changed in the child. And so, similarly, nothing worthwhile, nothing deep and spiritual, will change in us because we are given something temporal to fill a spiritual need. It takes tests and trials that are not always to our liking to make eternal changes in our character and bring us to spiritual maturity.
Why Do Some Christians Appear To Have More Than Others?
In Galatians 2:6 we read?”God shows personal favoritism to no man” and in James 1:17 we read, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” The variation and shadow of turning again means He does not favor one of us above another. Even the Pharisees realized this about Jesus, and feigned to compliment Him as they sought trap Him saying, in Luke 20:21, “Then they asked Him, saying, ?Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth??”
How can this really be? Are not some Christians suffering terrible persecution in other countries while we have virtually none in this country? Are not some Christians in wheelchairs, and suffering from cancer while others have complete health? Are not some wealthy and others poor? Are not some pretty and others plain? Are not some very intelligent and others average? Yes, of course, but these are all distinctions made according to the flesh. What appears to be injustice and an unequal distribution of gifts to us is actually a form of bigotry, and is also a carnal way of thinking. The potential for peace is the same for all. God allows that to be equally available to all. And, by the way, circumstances have a way of changing ? just in case we get too heady regarding our evident gifts. God has a way of humbling people who emphasize the gifts they have been given, and although they may be the envy of others, they may be going through a private hell that none of us would trade places with.
We must quit judging according to the flesh ? and also knowing others according to the flesh, meaning their material endowments. In 1Samuel 16:7 we see how God looks at us “But the Lord said to Samuel, ?Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For [the] [Lord] [does] not [see] as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.?” If we consider others in the same manner, our envy of their possessions and physical gifts will melt away, for we will be walking according to the Spirit and not the flesh. Then we may escape the realm of flesh that prevents us from receiving and retaining the contentment that we seek.
The Times are Changing
Things may change very rapidly for us. Job experienced a quick dissolution of his wealth. We may find ourselves in a position in which we may say, Do not call me Naomi (meaning “my delight”), but Mara (meaning “bitterness”). However, we must take heed that we do not speak scornfully of the ways of God, for grace has the power to turn afflictions into mercies. And if we are afflicted, instead of growing more and more discontent, our best course is the do the best with the situation we find ourselves in. Remember that the ways of the world are contrary to God, consequently the very things we think will hurt us, often help us.
If a king were to leave his home and travel into another country, he might be treated shabbily as a foreigner, and not recognized for his rank there. Nevertheless, he has the consolation of knowing that he has a kingdom of his own, and that soon he will be in the place where he will be honored and loved. Soon we will also be in our kingdom, but for now we may experience difficulty. Trouble looms upon our world and this country, and try as we may to prepare for it in the material realm, it behooves us even more to prepare spiritually by becoming skillful in the art of contentment. Let us ask God to prepare us, that we may not only have internal peace, but also be witnesses of His supernatural strength.
The situations we are in, and which we will be in, are not coincidental ? God has ordained them for us, and they are the best thing for us. If we bring our desires down to what He has provided, we will never be dissatisfied again, and the mystery of contentment will prevail in our hearts. It will be for us even as we read in Revelation 2:17, where Jesus promises to give us of the hidden manna to eat, and a white stone with a new name, which no man knows. Our secret of contentment will be that we are drawing from the Wellspring of Life, the very Creator, Himself, rather than just the things which He has created.