Of Faith & Doubt – Walk Through the Word
All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled. For what hath the wise more than the fool? what hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living?Ecclesiastes 6:7-8
There is so much to say about contentment that it is almost impossible to find the perfect place to begin. But let me tell you a story that I hope will help pave the way for the few thoughts I’d like to share as we wrap up this year’s Bible study. The Roman philosopher, Cicero, told the story of an unhappy king who, although he had wealth and power, could trust no one. Only his daughters were allowed to shave him because he constantly feared assassination.
One day, a fisherman came to his court and began flattering him, telling him how perfect his life must be. The king became so annoyed at the useless prattle that he offered to trade places with the fisherman, letting him rule in his place for a few days. Of course the fisherman agreed and quickly the exchange was made.
The fisherman had everything he could want—money in abundance, good food, the most beautiful women. It was everything that could possibly bring contentment. Until he happened to look up, as he sat on the throne, and realized that there was a sword hanging suspended above his head—point down. The sword was held in place by a single strand of hair.
Of course, seeing this the nervous fisherman quickly jumped off the throne and ran out of there, realizing that he had been better off before hand.
Brothers and sisters, we must remember that there will always be those who have things that we don’t have. Perhaps people that we don’t have. Perhaps the quality of relationships that we don’t.
Like the fisherman we can easily take what we see on the surface as being the whole story. But it’s only when we’re in the situation that we see the true reality. Only when he was seated on the throne could the fisherman see the sword hanging over his head.
So, what is contentment?
Contentment is the root of happiness. And being content is a choice, not a gift. Let me emphasize that. Contentment itself is a choice. It is a settled peace that automatically happens when you finally accept what God has decreed for your life (be it for the moment or permanently).
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.Philippians 4:11-13
I want you to notice how Paul stated that contentment was something he learned. And the learning came through the experience of facing different extremes in life. There will be times you have strength and beauty as a young man or woman.
That cannot last forever. You must learn to be content with what you have as you age and not look back at what you were or fantasize about what you can never be. You must face reality successfully by using Paul’s secret.
Are you ready to find out what that secret was?
Recognizing that he had Jesus, and having Jesus meant Paul had everything. In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul says, “As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” As long as you have Jesus, you truly have every reason to be content.
But what does this mean in everyday life?
Let’s first look at what discontentment produces and we’ll be better able to understand how to be content and why it’s so important. Discontentment is the basis for every war, every act of adultery, every murder and the evil that inundates society.
Because one ruler isn’t content with the size of his kingdom, he or she begins arming against another nation. That nation retaliates and we have a conflict. A woman thinks another man will treat her better than the man she’s married to—or perhaps a man is attracted to another woman’s physical features—and the discontentment pushes them into sinful lifestyles. We can go on and on but the point is that not being content drives us to actions that will lead to our ruin.
And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.Ecclesiastes 4:4 NIV
Discontentment produces misery in life because w focus on what we don’t have instead of the good that God has given us. This affects our health, promotes jealousy, and drives the Spirit of God away from us.
Discontentment vs. Self-improvement
I want to pause and point out that there’s a difference between being discontent and wanting to improve your situation. Working to get a better job, become stronger or lose weight etc., those things are all of course fine. But you have to keep it in balance. If God doesn’t give you the job you want but gives you another position–be content with that.
If God lets you lose twenty pounds but doesn’t let you get to that size 0, be content with that! Never stop trying to improve yourself but be content with being the best that you can be. That difference might seem to be small but it’s important. Sometimes, good desires can become unhealthy obsessions if they’re not balanced. If this is not clear, please write me a question.
Contentment allows us to live fruitful lives
Christians who are content in their natural lives are better able to focus on fulfilling the purpose that God put them here for. They are better able to bear more spiritual fruit because their energy isn’t going into pining over what they don’t have.
Our first reading, Ecclesiastes 6:7 shows us that nothing satisfies. All our work goes to producing food for our table (directly or indirectly) yet each day we get hungry again. Our money goes to buying a home but then there are repairs that need to be made. Or you kids might get a game you’ve wanted, only to realize after a while that you don’t enjoy playing it anymore.
Our society feeds upon constantly inundating ourselves with “new” things—getting things or even going to as many places as possible before death. And in so doing we breed a climate of discontentment. We subconsciously make the natural things of this world our God by drawing satisfaction from them instead of the Lord Jesus. But the Bible points out that this isn’t the way things should be. And as Christians, unless we learn to be content in whatever situation comes our way, we cannot hope to fully please God.
Let’s take Job for just a moment. We all want health. We desire health because we know how bad sickness can be. But Job came to the point that he said,
Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.Job 2:10
There are times we parents want our children to be like other children. Or we push our family members to pursue the paths that “important people” take. But it would be better to push others to seek the will of the Lord instead. I think of Paul of Tarsus whose family had prestige, business and influence. This might be hard for you to imagine 2,000 years later but it was no small thing to be educated by Gamaliel the grandson of one of the most renowned Hebrew scholars. I’m sure Paul’s father had high expectations for his son. He could, potentially become high priest one day.
But God had bigger plans. He didn’t want Paul to occupy the chair of the high priest. He wanted him to sit in a Roman prison. To be beaten by mobs and live his life hounded from city to city by men who swore to kill him for being a heretic.
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
Maybe not. But in this and more Paul learned contentment. Despite not living up to his family’s expectations, despite the shame and terror of constantly running for his life without the comforts of a wife and family, despite knowing that he would have no child of his own to carry on his family name—Paul said he was content.
I think this should truly cause us to re-evaluate what we consider to be important.
How do we become content?
Let’s wrap this up by addressing this important question. All you have to do to live a contented life as a Christian is to make up your mind to be satisfied with what God gives you. Do not deride the value of your own life because it isn’t like someone else’s.
Do not compare yourself to others. Compare yourself only to Christ. Work to make yourself the best that you can be, but remember your best is between you and God. It doesn’t involve anyone else.
Draw satisfaction from intangible things such as relationships instead of materialistic things. If your relationships aren’t what they ought to be, pray and work on them. You can find contentment in winning small victories. Even if things aren’t what they should be, see the good in the moment and focus on what is right instead of what is wrong about the situation.
The conclusion of the whole matter
In Ecclesiastes 12, the Bible tells us that the point of life is to fear God and to keep His Word. Christ is to be the center of everything that we do. Of everything that we are. And, if that is the case, like Paul of old we must learn in everything to be content.