Finding Contentment in a Troubled World
Can we Christians learn to be content in a world that constantly says we need better relationships, more money, and material possessions to be happy? Can we conquer negative emotions like jealousy, materialism, and feelings of deprivation? It is possible to achieve happiness and peace of mind, but we need to actively seek them.
Paul’s description of his life
“I have ... been in prison more frequently,
been flogged more severely,
and been exposed to death again and again.
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.
Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones,
three times I was shipwrecked,
I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move.
I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.
I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep;
I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food;
I have been cold and naked.
Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”
(2 Corinthians 11:23-28)
The Apostle Paul’s example
The apostle Paul had a tough life. He was persecuted for teaching the gospel, shipwrecked, imprisoned, and stoned and left for dead. He knew times of poverty and want. Yet, he learned to be content when he was in the midst of trials, recognizing that God was with him. In his weakness, he became strong (2 Corinthians 12:10)
The apostle Paul leaned on God for strength to be content, whether he was hungry, well feed, destitute or was able to provide for his needs (Philippians 4:11-13). Paul demonstrated that it was possible to be content no matter what his circumstances were like. Is it possible for us Christians to achieve that same blissful state?
Dealing with discontent
We Christians face the challenge of living in a discontented world. Commercials tell us we have to buy certain products, win the lottery, or hook up with a potential mate on an online website to be happy.
The lifestyles of the rich and famous are rubbed in our noses by reality TV. The media’s message is clear: be rich, get married, get the right job, become famous, and you will be happy. If that is true though, why are so many rich and famous people so miserable?
Being content, on the other hand, is good for our mental health. It helps us to have peace of mind. We keep out of trouble because a state of contentment means we are not comparing ourselves to others, striving for positions or money, or feeling eaten up with envy.
Reasons for discontent
Many of us feel discontented without really understanding why. Before we can achieve peace of mind, we have to recognize the roots of our discontent.
The deceitfulness of money: Thousands of people line up for lottery tickets, fantasizing about a big win. Some people work hard and go to any lengths to accumulate money. The love of money and the drive to get more can lead to all kinds of evils such as jealousy, greed, and lust. The common saying "money is the root of all evil" is probably based on 1 Timothy 6:10. The verse also says that some people who pursue money have wandered from their faith and will end up experiencing a lot of grief.
Relying on possessions, family, career or social status to make us happy: Nothing in this world is a reliable and permanent source of contentment. Our house could be robbed or burned down tomorrow. Our beloved mate or family member could let us down or die unexpectedly. The company we work for could become bankrupt and lay us off. Rumour and gossip could unjustly destroy our reputations. God is the only consistent and dependable thing in our lives that can keep us in a state of contentment.
A sense of entitlement to things or relationships that other people have: These days, people cross boundaries such as women sleeping with their best friends husbands or stealing other people’s things. The craving for other people’s mates or possessions is what the Bible calls "coveting." "Do not covet" is one of the ten commandments. Coveting leads to misery, not only for ourselves, but for others around us, such as those who lose a mate or their possessions.
Coveting what other people want is often caused by jealousy. Jealousy is a powerful, negative emotion that will eat us up inside and drive us to hurt other people and ultimately, ourselves.
Comparing ourselves to others: We can become discontented when we compare ourselves with other people. Comparisons are not wise (2Corinthians 10-12) and can lead to jealousy, anger, and lust. We usually don’t have the full information to make a valid comparison anyway, and are shocked when we discover that people’s riches or perfect marriages were actually an illusion.
All of these forms of discontent are destructive and can potentially devastate us and the people around us.
The difference between contentment and complacency
Does being content mean we just sit in a meadow with a smile on our faces in naïve complacency? We need to be aware that the world is a dangerous place that can easily stir us up into discontent.
"Trust God The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble."
My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.
How to become content
We can learn to be content with the things we have, such as food and clothing (1 Timothy 6:6-8), and trust God to provide for our needs.
If we are discontent, the chances are that we are questioning why God does not give us the things we want (which we think that we need). We are not happy with what God is doing in our lives. God can’t help us if we are just going to whine and complain.
Prayer: As Christians we can pray to God and have confidence that He will meet our needs. Sometimes we confuse our needs with our wants and aren’t happy when we don’t get exactly what we want. We can be content if we accept that His answers to our prayers are for our good. When God does not answer in a way that we expect or keeps us waiting, we can feel assured that God has our best interests at heart.
Thankfulness: a mind set of gratitude will help guard our minds from discontent. We need to focus on what we have instead of what we don’t have. We Christians should appreciate the many blessings in our lives.
Acceptance: Paul said that it did not matter if he was hungry or well fed, homeless or in a home, persecuted or safe. He accepted the circumstances he was in because he knew that God would take care of him. Sometimes, contentment means that we have to accept loss such as a good job, financial loss, or a person close to us and learn to live with it. Our trials are only temporary and help us to build character (James 1:2-4). Jesus said that we will have trouble, but we can have peace because Jesus overcame the world (John 16:33).
The combination of leading a godly life and being content are highly beneficial to us (1 Timothy 6:6). We can experience joy and peace.
We Christians serve a loving God who knows our needs and will met them. If our circumstances seem to breed discontent, we can be assured that that God will deliver us from our trials. God will hear our prayers and satisfy our needs, in his own timing.