Our Misguided Attempts at being Content

I googled “how to be content.”  There were a few articles from a biblical perspective, but the majority of the articles talked about meditating and emptying our minds.  There were also articles on goals, being self-disciplined, and organized.  These might be good things, but we do not achieve contentment through emptying ourselves, by going into some room and meditating, by finding a better filing system, or by having good long-term goals. 

In America, especially if you had to read Henry David Thoreau’s Walden in high school, we are inundated with an American ideal of self-sufficiency.  In this mindset, there is nothing more noble than having your own farm, living off of your land, and not needing anything from anyone.  It is an alluring concept out here in rural America, but it also does not lead to contentment.

Spiritual self-sufficiency is similar; it is independence from outside influences.  This doesn’t mean that there will not any outside influences; it means that we will be able to remain spiritually sound while experiencing or enduring them.  We are incapable of isolating ourselves from situations that will be bring us happiness or sadness.  What we need to do is reach a point where we will no longer allow those experiences to define who we are, so we can be content in all situations.  As a pastor, I can get suckered into basing my self-esteem on attendance.  When doing this, I would be happy on a good week; I would be sad on a small week.  This is an easy pitfall for a minister to fall into, but it misses the point.  On that path lays madness, pride, and discouragement, not contentment.

But what wrong target are you shooting at in your work life, in your family life, or in your life out in the community?  Where do you get your sense of self-worth?  Is your success based on your income, career, children, social status, or popularity?  All of those things can go away in an instant.  If we measure our success in any other way than being faithful to God and our relationship with Him, we will eventually be met with disappointment. 

We need to live in the understanding that we are not in charge of results.  We are given the opportunity to live in God's will, but we do not have to carry the stress of creating the results.  “Success” or “failure” in the world’s eyes does not really matter.  What matters is whether we are doing what we know God would want us to do in the situation we are in.  Knowing that we are in God’s will is how we can be content in plenty, in hunger, in abundance, and in need.  That is how we can be just as happy when our savings account is overflowing as we can be when we don’t know how to make ends meet.  The solution is not to ignore things, but to place all things in their proper perspective under Jesus and to rely on Him.  

Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Philippi:

“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 4:11b-13 (ESV)].

Liberty and freedom are political catchwords right now.  They are our rallying cry to change this nation, but political changes will not produce true liberty and freedom.  Those are just a temporary façade.  True liberty and freedom come in being content in Jesus Christ.  If we are content in Christ, then we will be able to live life with total abandon in every situation - going after the will of God no matter what the cost. 

Prosperity might lead to happiness, but what happens when we our assets dwindle or lose their value?  Beauty might bring a sense of worth, but what happens when it dims?  Great friends might bring about good times, but what happens when there is conflict and the friendship is strained or broken?  All of these are good.  Who would not enjoy financial security, good looks, or great friends?  But none of these are a good foundation for our sense of self-worth.  Discontentment comes we place our inner peace on wrong foundations like these.  For the good things that bring happiness, when they are our focus, can lead to pride, overconfidence, and a blindness to the blessings given to us and the needs of others around us.  An inner life that is based on the situation we currently find ourselves in is fleeting and will disappear when adversity or failure comes. 

It is guaranteed that many of the externals of your life will change as you age.  Maybe you will find yourself wealthier in five years, but you could be poorer.  Depending on your age, you will either be prettier in five years or your looks will continue to wane.  Your car will need replaced.  Your house will need continued maintenance.  Loved ones might even pass on within five years.  Tragedy will strike.  Five years isn’t that long of a time, but within five years, all of the externals in your life might change.  Are you able to weather the storm of things getting worse?  Is your life built on the rock of Jesus?  Or is he just one of the decorations on the wall of your sand castle?