I have a secret.
I used to wish that I had been born in another era. Call me old-fashioned, but it started even before I read Jane Austin’s novels, my all-time favourites being Pride and Prejudice and Emma.
Watching the Downton Abbey series didn’t exactly help cure my obsession either. Exquisite lace dresses, perfect eloquence and impeccable manners all caused me to reminisce about those days.
There’s nothing wrong with fancying these sorts of things, but I’ve come to realise that by having a materialistic focus and by constantly thinking about what I would like and about how I think things should be, I risk missing out on a God-given gift. The gift of contentment.
In a world where more is never enough, it is difficult to imagine what it would look like if we were completely satisfied with what we have. So many of us base our worth on and find our identity in our possessions. Status has become more sought after than integrity and more prized than a good reputation. Our lives have become like a fast-moving treadmill where the goal is to keep up with the pace of advancement constantly happening all around us. It’s a challenge to be content with where we are and with what we have in a world where the accepted mindset is always “I need more”.
However, in Philippians 4v11 b, Paul challenges this mindset when he writes, “For I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.”
Okay, so let’s take a moment to understand this. Paul didn’t say, “I have learned to be content when things are good and when I have everything I want.” Nor did he say, “I have learned to be content most of the time.”
Paul confidently stated that, “in whatever state”, meaning in any and every possible condition and despite every circumstance, he had “learned to be content“. We don’t learn things we already know, so by writing this Paul implied that contentment isn’t natural to us as people. He understood full well that our hearts are naturally selfish and that we often just aren’t happy with our circumstances.
In case you aren’t familiar with Paul’s life story, I just want to get this straight; he most definitely did not have it easy. He confirms this when he goes on to say, in Philippians 4v12, “I know how to be abased (to be in need), and I know how to abound (to have plenty). Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”
So, here’s something that most, if not all of us, are able to relate to. Whether physical, spiritual or material, all of us have, at one stage been in need. All of us have experienced what it is to be hungry as well as what it is to be full. To bring it closer to home, every single one of us has felt dissatisfied with our circumstances at some stage in our lives.
So how can we have contentment?
The next thing Paul says after v12 shows us the first step we can take towards having contentment. He says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Take a moment to soak that in. “All things”. Once we truly believe this, it changes the way we see and approach every single aspect of life, including our attitude and our mindset. We need to look to Jesus for the strength we need. Hebrews 13v5 says, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor will I forsake you.” We need to hold onto this promise and allow it to transform the way we live.
Then in verse 19, Paul says, “And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”
Can you grasp that? There is honestly no reason for us ever to feel discontent in this life because we have God’s full assurance that He shall provide our every need (see Matthew 6v25-34). We need to ask the Lord to help us to find our satisfaction in Him and in Him alone and to trust in His everlasting and unfailing goodness. The truth is, we cannot ever expect to find satisfaction in our belongings, in our situation in life or even in another person. Once we begin to understand this, God will start to show us that He is the source of true contentment.
I love 1 Timothy 6v6-8! It says, “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.” (For further reading, see verses 9-16). Where is our focus? Is it on eternity or is it just on the here and now? Let’s ask God to help us to see His bigger picture.
Paul ends off by saying, in verse 20, “Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
I think that this could be easily overlooked, but something stood out for me here. Notice the way that Paul is so full of praise and gratitude towards God. I think that this is something we desperately need to hold onto. We so easily forget how much God has done for us and we often choose to despair rather than to praise the God who is constant and faithful and unchanging. What if, the next time we feel hard done by, we choose to raise our head to heaven instead of hanging it in discontent? I believe that if we choose to do this and if we choose to find all of our satisfaction in our Heavenly Father, we will experience His peace that passes all understanding in our hearts as a result. And it is then that we will truly begin to see the gift of contentment as just that.