Jan 3, 2013

The Secret to Contentment

“Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”

When my husband, Carey, and I were first married, we lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment near the seminary we both attended. We owned one car, just enough furniture to fit into our 350-square-foot space, and not much else.

We were also blissfully happy. You see, Carey and I had just finished a two-year commitment to a creative arts missions group, in which we traveled the country in an RV, singing and doing drama for churches, conferences, and college groups. Although we did sleep in hotels and host homes, the eight of us in the group had literally lived out of our suitcases for twenty-four months. As newlyweds, having our own space, time, and privacy felt positively decadent. I didn’t care that the oven was the size of a large space heater; in fact, I cooked an entire Thanksgiving dinner for my grandmother and another guest that year—substituting Cornish game hens for turkey.

Today, Carey and I live in a much larger house; we own two vehicles and too many clothes; and our master bedroom is almost half the size of that first apartment. However, I still find myself wishing for more. If only we had more closet space, I think. Before I realize it, I’m looking at friends’ houses or perusing real estate ads, longing for bigger, better, or fancier digs.

How am I ever to find contentment in a world that’s screaming “more, more, more”? In Philippians, which was written during one of Paul’s prison stays, the apostle says that he has learned the key to being content in every situation: Jesus Christ.

I’ve often heard Philippians 4:13 quoted at the beginning of a church building program or an athletic event. I’ve said it to myself when I’m trying to lose weight or finish a book deadline.

Yes, God desires to help us when we do things in his name and for his glory. However, in context, the verse takes on a new light. Paul notes that he has learned to be content in every circumstance—not through mastering his emotions on his own, but through Jesus Christ, who gives him strength.

Just as we can’t be good enough for God to save us, we can’t muster up contentment on our own. Someone will always have more than we have, and we’ll always be better off than someone else. Also, the desire God planted in us for his glory will leave us unsatisfied with anything else.

But here’s the good news: we don’t have to live frustrated, empty lives of longing and regret. Instead, we must consciously, daily connect with Christ and allow him to work contentment into our lives, like a baker works yeast into dough. Spiritual disciplines such as prayer, gratitude, and scripture reading help us submit our “wants” to Jesus and allow him to refine them.

Gradually, thankfulness for what he’s already given us will overtake us, and we’ll find that the size of our bank account, house, or job title doesn’t matter as much as it once did. Instead, we’ll rejoice in Jesus, who has become our everything.  

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: In what areas do you struggle with being content: possessions, career, family? How could you consciously connect with Christ today? List ten things for which you’re grateful.

PRAYER: Lord, I praise you for your mercy, which follows me everywhere. Thank you for your patience with me, and your unending gifts of grace.

I struggle with being content. Sometimes, I want more things. At other times, I long for better relationships or a more enjoyable career. Being content is difficult—and I’ve tried to do it on my own for too long. Forgive me.

Today, Heavenly Father, I ask you to center me. Give me eyes to see how blessed I am. Help me become someone who is joyful, even in the midst of terrible circumstances. I long for the world to know—by the peace in my heart—that I have everything I need, in you. Amen.

PP.S. by Mark Roberts: Dena Dyer is our guest writer for the daily reflections this week. You may know Dena already from her work at The High Calling where she writes, features community articles, and demonstrates hospitality to our community on Facebook. She has published five books, including Grace for the Race: Meditations for Busy Moms. Currently, she is focusing on her family and her career as a writer and speaker, but for many years, Dena and her husband were professional musicians. She is a delightful, positive, bubbly, smiling, thoughtful Christian with practical wisdom for all of us who are trying to integrate our faith and work. I pray that her words this week will help you focus on the Lord and be in deeper relationship with him. –Mark

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