Contentment is a precious possession. It chooses to be satisfied with what we have:
· 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. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. (1 Tim. 6:6-9)
Contentment understands that if it is satisfied with little, having much will present no problem. However, if we are only content with much, everything that falls short of this standard will produce disappointment and even despair. Consequently, when our expectations aren’t met, this disappointment might “plunge men into ruin and destruction.” Discontentment is also the source of fights and resentments:
· What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:1-3)
Contentment isn’t the same thing as moral apathy and indifference to circumstances. Contentment is certainly willing to forge ahead and improve moral and physical circumstances. However, it is willing to accept setbacks knowing that God’s will must prevail over our own. Besides, God’s will is more to be esteemed than our own very limited understanding. When faced with the terrifying prospect of the cross, Jesus prayed,
· "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will…My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done." (Matthew 26:39, 42)
Contentment understands that God’s will is preferable to our goals and desires. It trusts that God can take better care of us than we can. It despairs of its own understanding and quest for joy and fulfillment. It even recognizes that we do not even know how to pray:
· In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. (Romans 8:26)
Contentment therefore has learned to not insist in our own ways, but instead to trust in our Savior:
· Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Contentment is willing to embrace God’s plan for our lives, even though it might be painful. It looks for the good through the tears, assured that God ways are always truth and mercy. We do not trust in our own understanding, because we’ve learned that it has often led us in the wrong direction. We have also learned another critical truth. Our hope is not in this life. Instead, in this life
· [We] groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? (Romans 8:23-24)
Consequently, our ultimate hope for joy, love and peace is not in this life. Instead, the object of our hope is unseen. It is the certainty of this hope that enables us to tolerate this life’s disappointments.
If our expectations are invested in this life, we will suffer disappointment. If we expect a $10,000 dollar bonus at the end of the year and only receive $1000, we will be disappointed. However, if we understand and trust that our Lord has a purpose for depriving us of a blessing that we had pursued, we can remain content even in the midst of our disappointment. Paul claims that he had learned this secret:
· For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Philip. 4:11-12)
If Paul is talking about a feeling of contentment, then perhaps I have yet to learn this secret. It seems to me that in this life, our soul is never completely at rest – never completely emotionally content. We continue to struggle against one disappointment or another. During his lengthy prison stay, puritan preacher John Bunyan confessed as much:
He who is down needs fear no fall,
He that is low no pride.
How that is humble ever shall
Have God to be his guide.
I am content with what I have,
Little be it or much:
And Lord, contentment still I crave,
Because Thou savest such. (Pilgrim’s Progress)
Bunyan had learned to be content with the little he had in prison. However, on an emotional level, it was still something he craved.