Content to be Content
Prayer: Ask God to search your heart and to bring to mind ways in which you are being tempted or mastered by envy or discontentment.
Text: Philippians 4:11–13
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.
I was a “husky” kid until the 8th grade or thereabouts. There were countless instances where jokes were made about my size. Friends and family teased me constantly. I had some pretty “awesome” nicknames like “Big Mac” and “Short Round”. In sixth grade, during a wellness week, every aspect of our health was measured, and for some reason our weights were made known in front of the whole class. The skinniest person was my good friend Amy, who weighed 67 lbs. What did I weigh? 167 lbs. That’s right, I weighed 100 lbs more than Amy. More than double her weight. The entire class marveled and clapped (strangely) and laughed. I laughed, too. But my laughter was merely covering how excruciating the whole experience was for me. This embarrassment, along with numerous similarly painful moments and comments, squeezed out of my vain, self-centered heart a deep discontentment with my body that can still gnaw at me today.
If you take time to consider what you think about when you have “mental free space”, where does your mind go? Probably a thousand places! But I am going to go out on a limb and guess that at least some of your thoughts drift toward things you wish were different about your life or circumstances.
Of course, this isn’t always bad. If you’re in a tough situation, thinking about what steps you or your family could take to improve the situation is wise and good. In other words, there are things for which we should have a type of “godly discontent” that motivates us to effect change with zeal.
But what about when our minds stray to money, possessions, our physique, our giftings, or relationships? And what about when such thought paths lead us down the road of envy or sinful comparison? Seemingly innocent thoughts can get pretty ugly. “I wish I had as much space in my home for my family as they do.” “Wow, I could never do what they do.” “I hate this car, it always has problems. Joe doesn’t drive such a piece of junk.” “I would kill to be in as good a shape as they are.” “Their kids seem so much more well behaved than my kids.” “Things seem to just fall into place for them, why don’t things go so well for me?” “God has really blessed them, why not me?” “God is good, but not to me or my family.” “Maybe God isn’t good after all. Is following Him worth it?”
These are some of the internal wrestlings of the discontent heart. Can you relate? I certainly can. Often, I find myself grumbling in my heart about what I don’t like about my body, life, or circumstances instead of praising God for the numerous good gifts that are all around me.
But more than this, do you see how subtle and wicked a discontent heart can be? At the root of a sinfully discontent heart is the same doubt that sank Adam and Eve in the garden: “Is God withholding good things from me? Can He really be trusted?”
This is how we can spot sinful discontent. At its root is a questioning of God’s goodness, wisdom, love, and justice. It’s evinced by a lack of gratitude, regular complaining, and self-referential thinking and living. It’s preoccupied with grievances and lack, and is blind to God’s blessing and provision. It works to effect change, but does so unhappily, with much grumbling, and little room for God’s involvement.
How do we get out of this? What’s the solution?
Paul learned contentment as he went. As he passed through the ups and downs of life in this fallen world, God taught him how to be content in any situation. Likewise, we learn to go to Him as our source of help and strength on the way. As Bill often reminds us: the great treasure of the kingdom is fellowship with God in Jesus Christ. This strength comes from enjoying deep fellowship with God in Christ through His word and prayer. Couple this with the regular fellowship of the saints, and the presence of His Spirit, and we start to see just how good we have it in this fight.
But we start by coming to our senses, remembering that Christ died for the sinful and discontent. We enjoy a fresh experience of His grace as we confess our sin, and receive His forgiveness. Our hearts are strengthened, and we go back regularly for more of the same! We begin to enjoy Him again.
When we are enjoying Him, we find that wecan be happy with very little because we have Him. We can face any circumstance because He is with us and strengthens us. We can be thankful for what we do have instead of obsessing about what we don’t have. And when we are working to remedy a bad situation, we can endure hardship with patience and a happy heart because we trust His timing and we know that no suffering in this life will be wasted. We work wisely because we are consulting the One who has all wisdom.
Before we know it, we find that words of praise to God for His goodness and grace begin to dominate our thoughts and our speech. Our lives begin to declare to all that God is good, that He can be trusted, and following Him is the pathway to unending joy and contentment.
Where do you see envy, discontent, or sinful comparison in your life?
Ask a close friend or your spouse what they think you are most tempted to be discontent about. Is it what you thought? Why or why not?
Read and meditate on 1 Timothy 6:6-10 and Hebrews 13:1-6. What do you notice?
What dominates your thought life? What about your speech? Are you given to grumbling and complaining? If you had to guess, what wins out on a given day, thoughts and words of gratitude or gumbling?
Take time to confess where you see sinful discontent in your life. Rehearse the gospel. Enjoy a fresh experience of His forgiveness and grace.
Pray: Ask God to help you learn contentment. Ask Him to refresh you and satisfy you through fellowship with Him. Pray for things that need to be different in your life. Ask God to deliver others from hardship and suffering. Spend as much time as possible thanking and praising God for His good gifts and blessings.