The Apostle Paul talks about learning to be content, and it’s comforting to know that Paul had to learn how to be content. That contentment isn’t just something that some people have and others don’t. It is something that can be learned. And Paul has learned to be content in all circumstances—having plenty and having little.
But, as comforting as that is, it’s equally frustrating when, in the very next breath, he talks about the secret of being content and then never reveals what that secret is! Paul has learned the secret of being content, and apparently it is a secret that must be closely guarded. What he does say about it applies to most everything in the Christian life: that Paul can do it “through him [Jesus] who gives me strength.”
We too must rely on Christ to give us the strength. We can also develop habits that foster healthy self-perception. We want to say with Paul that we can be content in whatever circumstances.
The Bible may not frequently mention contentment, but it’s not out of line to imagine that our growth in faith includes contentment. Practices that help our spiritual growth also raise our contentment. What does the Bible say about habits that may lead to more contentment?
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16-18).
Go to one room in the place you live; look around, for each thing you have, try to remember why you have it and what purpose it serves for you; think about what that particular thing does for you.
Express gratitude to God for that item.
Being thankful not only reminds us of all the things we have, but also helps us to remember who the ultimate source of those things is. Gratitude reorients us to the many things that we are already blessed with and places those things we do not have into perspective.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Gal. 6:9-10).
Find a person or a group, at your church or in your community, who needs help. An elderly person who needs help with yard work; a kids club that needs someone to supervise activities; a local kids sports team that is in need of coaches; a building project your church is doing; Habitat for Humanity; homeless shelters; people to teach English to immigrants; teach a Sunday School class. Find time to volunteer somewhere, anywhere.
Service often gives us the opportunity to meet a basic need. We were meant to live in community, to help one another as needs arise. Serving gives us an opportunity to live as God intended us to live in relation to one another. Few things lead to contentment like living into a purpose.
“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: ‘They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever'” (2 Cor. 9:6-9).
Giving should help meet the basic needs of others. Satisfaction skyrockets when basic needs are met. Providing for the basic necessities of life for those without causes their satisfaction to rise. The intrinsic reward of giving is that our perception of our own life can be transformed.
Note: our contentment and perspective should not be one that is induced by guilt out of comparison to those who do not have. Rather, giving helps us appreciate the things we have been blessed with and to see them in their proper light.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:4-7).
This is where we put Paul’s words directly into practice: Ask Jesus, everyday, for his strength to be able to look at your situation, status, and possession in a proper God-honoring and healthy way. This is particularly important when you begin to want something.
When desire for a new thing, whatever it may be, pray about it. Don’t ask God if you should get it; ask God to help you think about it in the right way so that you can be content with the decision.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58:6-7).
This is perhaps one of the best ways to develop contentment, learn to live without. This isn’t (necessarily) a call to a minimalist lifestyle, but this practice can help us all understand the things we can live without. This may be difficult at first, we have gotten used to a great many things. But don’t mistake difficulty for necessity.
Deliberately living without something will force us to reevaluate those things that we “have to have” and help us be more satisfied with the things we already have.
What else can we do to grow more content? How can we change our perspective so that we are more satisfied with our circumstances?