Are You Feeling Lost on the Path to Contentment?

 
 Contentment is knowing God’s plan for your life, having a conviction to live it and believing God’s peace is greater than the world’s problems. Contentment is an attitude, both of the mind and of the heart. Contentment is acknowledging that God’s provision is enough for our physical and material needs, believing that His Presence is sufficient for all our emotional needs and embracing that His Providence is perfect for all our future needs.  Contentment is the art of making the most of what you have in order to become who God made you to be.
 

Are you familiar with the comic strip, “Keeping up with the Joneses”?  

It was written by Arthur (a.k.a. “Pop”) Momand and ran from approximately 1913 to 1938. This comic depicted the McGinis family struggling to keep up with the lifestyle of their neighbors, the Jones family (who are never actually seen in the comic). It popularized the catchphrase “keeping up with the Joneses”, which refers to people’s tendency to judge their own social standing according to that of their neighbors.

In more recent times, you might be familiar with the reality TV show, ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ that has been airing for the past ten years. This show focuses on the personal and professional lives of the celebrity Kardashian–Jenner blended family. “Keeping up” refers possibly both to the old catchphrase of judging ourselves based on these celebrities and to the concept of knowing what’s going on in their lives.

Keeping up with the Joneses and Kardarshians is a great example of how we compare ourselves to others; a major obstacle on the path to contentment.

Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 4:10-13 (NIV):

"I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.  I am not saying this because I am in need, 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.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength."

Our culture encourages the behavior of comparisons through media, news, magazine covers and more. There’s a fine line between comparing ourselves to another person and looking to someone else for inspiration. Comparing almost always leads to discontent– we walk away feeling defeated, depressed or dejected; or alternatively, prideful and boastful. But looking at someone objectively, not in comparison to ourselves, gives opportunity to learn from that person. We walk away feeling motivated, encouraged, grateful and content. 

As Bob Goff says, “God’s never looked in your mirror and wished that He saw someone else.

What is contentment?

It might be easier to start with what it is not. Contentment is not laziness, settling for less, stopping growth or complacency. It does not stop action, rather it gives intention to action. Contentment is not the comfortable feeling we get when all our needs and desires are met or reward for achieving the “American dream”. Contentment is not doing nothing.

Contentment is knowing God has a plan for our lives, having a conviction to live it, and believing God’s peace is greater than the world’s problems. Contentment is an attitude of the mind and heart. It is acknowledging that God’s provision is enough for our physical and material needs, believing His Presence is sufficient for our emotional needs, and embracing that His Providence is perfect for all our future needs. Contentment is the art of making the most of what we have in order to become who God made us to be.

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In addition to the comparison game, other obstacles exist on the path to contentment:

  • Excessive thinking on worries, anxieties, material possessions, financial decisions – this keeps us from living more in the moment.

  • Believing in the idea that contentment can be bought, or can be found in that next promotion, or the next new car, or the next family vacation. If you are not content today there is nothing you can buy this week to change that.

    [Word of caution: If we think it is “easier” to be content in times of plenty than in times of need, then we are still buying into the mindset that contentment comes with wealth, possessions, status, or abundance.]

  • Covetous thinking. To covet is to have an excessive or extreme desire for “that thing”. Coveting leads to foolish actions, bad judgment, excessive debt, moral lapses and a life of discontent. God does not mind if we wish for a place to live, clothes on our backs, a good job, healthy relationships and family, a car that works. However, it is a fine line to cross into desiring “more than enough”.

Consider these questions to identify coveting:

  1. Do you think on this thing continuously?

  2. Are you resentful of other’s good fortune related to this thing?

  3. Do you love this earthly thing more than God?

Godliness with Contentment

"But godliness with contentment is great gain; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of it." -Timothy 6:6-7 (NIV)

Contentment says we sincerely thank God for each gift received regardless of the gifts He has given to others. If we notice someone has more, we thank God for their prosperity and wish them abundant ministry sharing those blessings. If someone has less, we develop a preferential and tender concern for them, quietly pledging in our hearts to lift them at every opportunity.  

Humility is a supporting block of contentment. As JR Miller states, “Contentment does not dwell so often in palaces as in the homes of the humble.” Humility is a state that pleases God (godliness). When we have nothing to prove, no one to keep up with, are content with simple righteousness in daily affairs and maximize love instead of possessions, the cost is less, the pressure is less, and we spend less time looking over our shoulder and more time in the present moment with God.

Discontent, on the other hand, suffocates freedom and keeps us in bondage to our desires. Discontent can poison relationships with jealousy and competition. Discontent can destroy our peace, rob us of joy and spoil our witness. 

A few years ago, I was dishonoring God through discontented living. I had allowed my career to become my idol. My job was priority over my relationships, my health, my marriage and Jesus. Yes, I was a Jesus-follower and Bible-reader. Yes, I was serving God through the church and other volunteering. Still, my first and last thought of each day was primarily on my job. I had let the desire of my reputation, title and salary consume my margin and impede on my Sabbath. I was living a life of wanting more of earthly things, not more of Jesus.  

With the support of my husband, I resigned from that job and began a new part of my life journey. My newfound direction guided my focus on putting Jesus back on the top of my priority list, finding balance and putting the margin back in my life. This change led to the creation of One Word Faith and a renewed passion for sharing the gospel through writing. In making this change, I glimpsed the secret of contentment Paul tells us about.

The secret is revealed in the Philippians 4:13 NIV, "I can do all this through him who gives me strength."  

The secret is Jesus.  

Contentment cannot be found or achieved through mastering our will or becoming self-sufficient.  The secret of finding contentment is:

  • Living through Christ

  • Being powered by Christ

  • Trusting in Christ in all circumstances

  • Living through Christ by continually seeking Him in prayer, scripture and worship

  • Living through Christ by emptying yourself every day – turning over your cares, anxieties, worries, needs, fear, anger – literally pouring out your heart to Him

  • Living through Christ by accepting and receiving the Holy Spirit.

To live a life of contentment, we need to stop trying to “Keep up with the Joneses” or the Kardashians. Instead, we should change our desires to only “keep up” with Jesus. Instead of wanting more possessions, success, money or activities, we need to reprogram our desire to want only a deeper, more intimate relationship with God.

Jesus is our example to follow on the path to contentment; He walked free of encumbrance. He had a holy disregard for the external. He spent an entire lifetime content with what he had and spoke against those who desired excess or who cherished material things above spiritual things. Scripture has no reference to Jesus’ possessions other than sandals and a robe.  

I am not suggesting that God wants anyone to leave their jobs to experience the secret of contentment, but I am suggesting that we ask ourselves: Am I content? Am I focused on keeping up with Jesus – both from the perspective of trying to be more like Him and in trying to Know Him better?  

I encourage you to pray about it and consider that perhaps God is calling you to make one change in your life, behavior or attitude to take one step closer to the life of contentment God commands and commends. [Check out Kevin Halloran's "Prayer for Contentment" here.]

To live as Jesus did, consider taking one of these steps:

  • Instead of trying to impress others, focus on inspiring them.

  • Instead of always trying to please others, discuss with God what pleases Him.

  • Instead of putting so much energy into climbing the ladder, put more into serving the lost and least.

  • Instead of spending more money on our children and grandchildren, spend more time with them.

  • Instead of desiring more wealth and possessions, consider how to be more generous.

  • Instead of grumbling or complaining about some lack or unfulfilled desire, give thanks for your blessings.

  • Instead of pinning our happiness on the “if only” and “when this happens” of the future, choose happiness now, in the moment.

  • Instead of over-scheduling our lives with activity, say, “No,” to some things and leave space for God’s call to help or serve.

  • Instead of focusing on the gifts from God, rejoice in the Giver.

  • Instead of looking for earthly security through money, fame, or possessions, cling to the promise found in Hebrews 13:5, "Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never fail you nor forsake you.”

  • Instead of desiring more, ask only for our daily bread.

  • Instead of making our “to-do” list with our morning coffee, spend time in prayer or in Scripture.

  • Instead of spending time watching “reality” TV, spend more time in reality – with your families, and in service to neighborhoods, community or church.

Instead of trying to keep up with the Joneses or the Kardashians, say to the world, “Give me Jesus”.  

This is the path to contentment. 

{This article was inspired by "Contentment: The Secret to a Lasting Calm" by Richard A. Swenson, MD}

 

-Jamie 

 


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Jamie Boettcher is a married Midwesterner and mother of two teenage boys. As the founder and creator of One Word Faith, she uses her newfound passion for writing to encourage her readers through journal excerpts, poems and fictional short stories. 

Find her on Facebook here.