Contentment – Part 1

Recently I had a question posed to me about living a life of contentment. I expect this is something with which we can all easily struggle to one degree or another. Sometimes our lack of contentment is in material things, but often it revolves around spiritual desires—areas we know would be God-honoring if they were changed.

Here is what this mom writes:

It seems I am NEVER content with anything. So I decided to write a gratitude list, and it was huge. Then I tried to write a contentment list and there was NOTHING. So I wrote a discontentment list. They were things that I don’t think the Lord would be content with either.

I am grateful that my children’s behavior is improving, but I am not content with their behavior. I am not content. I don’t have a church. I am not content. I don’t have a godly husband. I am not content watching TV every night with my husband. I am not content. We live in such a remote place. I am not content that I’m not more self-disciplined.

For each of those things, there are areas I’m thankful about, but I am never content. I always want more. Just because they’re godly things I want more of, does that make it all right to live so discontented? The Bible tells us to be content. It also tells us to run the race. I don’t think I’m getting it! A mom

Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11-12 what his experience with contentment has been. “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” Paul could relate to our struggles with contentment, and then some! Let’s look at the circumstances Paul faced that were a part of his road to learning contentment.

“. . . in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).

How could a man walking in obedience to Jesus Christ, who experienced these trials because of that obedience, say he had learned to be content “in whatsoever state I am”? What can we glean from him about contentment? What is Paul’s secret? What is it that helped him to accept the negative circumstances God allowed in his life?

Paul tells us in his own words, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). It was Paul’s relationship with Jesus Christ that made him content. Our contentment does not come in our circumstances or lack of them, but rather in our relationship with Jesus Christ. “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2).

In Paul’s life, it appears that his contentment was rooted in his total dependence on Jesus Christ and obedience to His will. Living in prison, being beaten and shipwrecked certainly could not have been pleasant experiences. However, Paul knew he was doing exactly what the Lord had told him to do. Therefore, he was content no matter what happened.

Dr. Adrian Rogers clarifies this further for us in his book The Lord Is My Shepherd. “Perfect contentment, the kind David discovered, only comes when a person puts his or her complete trust in the Shepherd. You will never have true satisfaction until you can say, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ and mean it. Then, and only then, can you confidently say, ‘I shall not want.’”

Vine’s Expository Dictionary defines the word “content,” used by Paul in Philippians 4, as “to be sufficient, to be possessed of sufficient strength, to be strong, to be enough for a thing.” Contentment as defined here is the ability to accept and withstand the circumstances, even negative ones.

One thing we may be dealing with is a difference between what biblical contentment truly is and what we, in our culture, think of it as being. We tend to define contentment as being happy with the way things are and having no desire for change. I don’t think that is the kind of contentment Paul means. Paul’s contentment was rooted in trusting his sovereign God in the situations he was experiencing. However, I expect Paul was happy to be out of prison when he was released.

How does all this relate to contentment in our lives as Christian wives and mothers? For a practical example, let’s take one area from the discontent mom, who shared her heart with us. Since we can probably all relate, we will consider our children’s behavior and find an analogous situation that Paul faced. “Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28). We see regularly through Paul’s writings that the churches had problems and struggles. They needed to learn and grow. This is true of our children as well.

Did Paul’s contentment mean he did nothing concerning the churches, that he had no desire to see them change? No! Paul prayed for the churches, he taught them, he lived in their communities, and he admonished them. Paul did what the Lord directed him to do in relation to his work with the churches. However, his contentment did not mean he didn’t want to see these churches change. Rather, his contentment was an ability to trust the Lord to work.

Our goals for our children would be similar to Paul’s goals for the churches—that they would walk worthy of the Lord (Colossians 1:10). We obediently do what we are called to do by bringing our children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). We pray for our children just as Paul prayed for the churches. Daily, always, in every prayer, without ceasing: these were some of the words he used to describe his prayers for the churches. Through Christ’s strength, we resolutely disciple and teach our children.

We don’t become weary when the task of raising our children is long and difficult. Our contentment is in our relationship with Jesus Christ and joy in Him rather than in what is or isn’t happening in our children’s lives. Contentment, then, means we rest in the Lord’s working in our children’s lives. “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). We keep our eyes on Jesus and trust Him.

In conclusion, I would like to share a story about a group of people who have had to flee their homes because of government military persecution. They have been forced to leave their lands, homes, and jobs. Many have lost lives as well. These people are living impoverished lives in refugee camps, in a country not their own, with only the barest necessities provided. They have been given no hope of a change in the future. However, here is the report of a visitor concerning some of the Christians in this refugee camp.

During this time in the camps, he heard singing constantly. Any time day or night, the Christians were singing or studying the Scriptures. They would study into the night and fall asleep at their table, then wake to study some more. At 11:00 at night people were singing. At 3 a.m. he awoke to hear people still singing. Before dawn and throughout the day, everywhere he went, people sang praise to God.

There is nothing in their circumstances to make these people content, yet the sound of their singing expresses contentment. They have nothing, and yet, because of Jesus Christ, they have everything!

As we desire to be the wives and mothers Jesus Christ would have us be, may we daily be content exactly where He has us. May we serve, love, and minister with hearts learning, as Paul did, “. . . in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11).