Christian Contentment – The Message of Faith, Despite our Anxieties
Christian Contentment is difficult. Admittedly, our society and culture do not make it easy to be content. Society is always demanding that we conform to the new image it has established, only to change that image as soon as we get close to achieving it. Unlike the image of Christ, which never changes, the image the world puts forth changes continually.
"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances" (Philippians 4:11).
A prime example of how the world's image constantly changes is to look at the beauty industry. During my adult lifetime, what is projected as physical beauty has changed from the Marilyn Monroe look (lots of curves) to the Twiggy look (no curves) to the Cindy Crawford look (tall and busty) to the Kate Moss look (ultra thin) to what is now the craze of having to get tattoos and piercings to be attractive (just wait about fifty years). Worse still is the current projection to young girls that in order to be attractive they must have implants.
Then there is the constant addition of things we must have if we really want to be happy. Bigger homes with more garages to hold our fancier and more expensive vehicles are a must. Prestigious jobs with impressive titles, corner offices with windows, amazing benefits, and a 100% matching 401-K plan are required for happiness. Now you can add to that the latest large screen television, the newest game system, the iPod with the most memory, and, of course, the digital camera with the most megapixels. You say these are all worldly things, and you are beyond seeking the things of the world. You are really seeking to serve God and to seek spiritual blessing, not material blessing. Good for you! It would appear you have been listening. But unfortunately, the application of this principle seems as difficult for the church as it does for the world.
Christian Contentment – What’s Happening in the Church?
Have you stopped to look around at the church lately? If you have, you may notice there is little Christian contentment to be found there. Church members are discontented with their pastors. Pastors are frustrated with their boards. Worship teams are at odds over the style of music in the service. Parents are dissatisfied with the youth programming. The youth are turned off if they are not being entertained. Then, of course, you have those churches of one hundred members that aren't satisfied until they have two hundred, while those that already have the two hundred members desire to have four hundred. You would think the church that has five thousand members is surely satisfied, but no, plans are underway to grow to ten thousand.
Neither can we leave out the Christian families that make up the average church. Statistics tell us that the number of divorces among Christians is at least equal to the national average. This means that husbands are dissatisfied with their wives and wives are fed up with their husbands. Depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and even suicide among teens in Christian homes is as big a problem as it is for those teens in non-Christian homes. How is it then, with all of this happening around us, that we are to be content? How can a Christian have an attitude of contentment in this troubled world?
Christian Contentment – Some Suggested Steps
Here are five suggested steps in learning Christian contentment:
Step One: The first step in the path to becoming content is to recognize that being content is not something God gives us, but something we must learn and put into practice. There is no use to pray, "God please make me content." God's reply will be, "No, you make yourself content!" Notice that Paul's statement in our text is "…I have learned to be content." Just as we discovered in the first principle about sin, so it is with being content; for a believer it is a matter of choice!
Step Two: The next step in learning Christian contentment is to be able to distinguish those things that are eternal from those things that are temporal. We are immortal beings, created to live into the eternal future. I can't begin to relate how long that is. How long is forever? We must realize that God has an eternal plan for us way beyond what we can see or imagine. If our vision of the future only takes us to the end of this physical life, we will never be content. Listen as Paul instructs Timothy in these verses:
"But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that" (1 Timothy 6:6-8).
To be honest, there are times in this life when things just don't seem to be fair or to go as they should. By faith we must trust that in God's plan for our eternal future these temporary setbacks, these momentary obstacles, these temporal injustices are for our benefit. We must trust God whose ways are higher than our ways and whose thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9). I have heard it said that the only really important things in life are those things that will still be important in one thousand years. The next time you are prone to be discontented over an issue, ask yourself for how long it will matter.
Step Three: Next in our list of steps toward becoming content is to develop a grateful attitude. It is virtually impossible to be both grateful and discontented at the same time. That is why the Bible speaks so much about having a grateful heart and always giving thanks to the Lord. Even when things are not necessarily going our way, there is plenty to be thankful for. Consider, for example, Colossians 1:12-14, "...giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." This alone should make us shout for joy and should put to rest any doubt that God is not on our side, for the Bible says, "if God be for us who can be against us?" And just in case you have forgotten the second step, go back and reflect on the eternal versus the temporal once again. If need be, sing the old hymn that tells you to "count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done!" It may take some practice but start immediately to be a thankful person, a person with a grateful attitude. You will never be content until you do!
Step Four: A fourth step in learning Christian contentment is to make sure we are serving out of inspiration. Sometimes we might have a strong desire and drive to accomplish some great thing for God. We set our hearts on this task, and we do all in our power to make things happen. The call is worthy, the results are Godly, and our efforts are commendable. But for some reason we just aren't satisfied. We need a higher call, better results, and more effort. The more we achieve for God, the more we want to achieve. It sounds as if such a person is sold out and committed to the vision God has given. But if that is true, there will be peace and contentment. When this is missing, we must check to see if it is motivation rather than inspiration which is driving us.
Pat Corn, a good friend of mine, has an excellent teaching on the difference between motivation and inspiration. Motivation is an external force of man, while inspiration is an internal move of God. If we are being motivated to accomplish something great for God, there will never be peace and contentment. This motivation may be from another individual, or it may be our own selfish desires. I want to be successful. I want to be recognized. I want to be appreciated. I want to be admired. I want to have the biggest church in this city. I want others to acknowledge me for what I have accomplished for God. Can you see why if it is motivation driving us there will never be contentment? On the other hand, inspiration is a move of God in a person's life. The goal of inspiration is not to bring honor to self, but to bring honor to God. When we serve out of inspiration, it will not matter if we get credit, or if we get recognition, or if anyone notices what we are doing. Our only desire will be for God to be glorified.
Christian Contentment – Final Step
Finally, if we are to reach the place of Christian contentment, we must accept that we cannot do everything that needs to be done. This goes back to focus. We may see many needs to be met, much work to be done, and multitudes of people to be reached. However, God has not called or gifted any individual to do it all himself. It is easy for us to forget that God knows about all those needs, about all that work, and about all the people that need to be reached. He has not lost control, nor has He stopped working in the lives of other believers. We must concentrate on that which we have been called to do, and trust that God is raising up people to do all the things we just don't have the time or energy to do. When we acknowledge that it is God in control, not us, we can then find peace and learn to be content.