We have been writing here for the last few weeks about some of the everyday problems that we all deal with, prompted by the practical focus of James that we are studying together on Sunday mornings. One of the struggles that lies close to his concern with wealth is discontentment. Would you consider yourself to be a content? Are you satisfied with your life? It seems that so many of us never are. There is a little ditty attributed to the British statesman Benjamin Disraeli that sums it up well:
As a rule, man is a fool.
When it’s hot, he wants it cool.
And when it’s cool, he wants it hot,
Always wanting what is not.
How true is that? It might not apply to all of us about the weather—as cool weather sneaks back in over this weekend, I know many of you are quite unhappy about the disruption of the early spring, while I never want the cold to go away—but, unfortunately, the mindset goes much further. We can feel discontented no matter what we have: when we see “For Sale” signs up in front of that house that makes our own house feel so inadequate—it has that open kitchen, quartz countertops, walk-in closets—but it’s just out of our price range; when we see a friend buy a new car, and we want one that is nicer and newer than what we drive; when we enter people’s homes with nice furniture, and we start to think about that one item in our living room that has the small hole or the claw marks from the cat or stain from a child. No matter how much we accumulate it seems we never have enough. The more we have, the more we want. But more often than not, we come to the end of every endeavor and acquisition vaguely discontented and unhappy.
Consider, then, the familiar words of the Apostle Paul: I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for 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. (Phil 4:10-13)
We all know that passage. But consider for a moment its background: Philippians is fundamentally a letter of friendship, characterized by joy. Paul wrote, among other things, in order to thank the Christians in Philippi for the offering they sent to him; they enjoyed a closer relationship with him than most. And he wanted not only to thank them, but to tell them something about his outlook on life in his present circumstances. You see, we need to remember why he needed an offering in the first place: Paul is under house arrest in the city of Rome, and he has no idea what tomorrow might bring; he might be brought to trial, he might be set free—or he might be killed. Despite that, though he is confined to his house, deprived of his liberty and his privacy—he is content! He does not have a clue about his future, and yet he is content. He once had wealth, status, vigorous strength, and he had lost all of those things. We all know about his suffering, from his thorn in the flesh, to being imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked, and stoned and left for dead.
So when he says that has learned to be content, we should listen—it is a remarkable claim. The secret of his contentment transforms every obstacle. And the same thing that resulted in his losses was the source of his contentment: Jesus. How did Paul find contentment?
First of all, he developed a grateful attitude. We see that emphasized repeatedly in this letter to the church in Philippi; remember, he wrote it to give thanks for their offering in prison! Do we focus only on what is going wrong in life? Or do we give thanks for what God is doing?
Another key is to love others rather than ourselves. Look at the text above again. Paul thanks the church in Philippi for being so concerned about him—not just for the money they sent, but the fact that they really cared about him. He was in prison, and he was sick. So they wrote to him, and sent Epaphroditus to comfort and help them. If, like Paul, you have someone who cares about you, someone who really loves you, someone who prays for you, someone who encourages you, you, too, may be able to say you are content in every situation. We need to cultivate those relationships with each other.
Finally, above all, we need to seek to please Jesus. As he tells us, we need to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; all the physical things we need will be taken care of (Mt 6:33). We all know that, but it is a lesson we’ve never really practiced, if we are being honest. But if we do, then we’ll discover THE secret of being content. You see, ultimately, we don’t find contentment by seeking it as an end; it is a byproduct of seeking to serve the Lord rather than ourselves, and trusting him to provide for us.
May God help each of us to find contentment in him.