Full disclosure, my friends – I have times when I do not experience contentment. I demonstrate moments of discontent. However, I do eventually land in a space I call contentment equilibrium. Like you, I am on a journey to a spiritual satisfaction in Christ. The following is what I have learned about contentment. It has enabled me to better walk this journey.
I recently re-discovered Barry Adams 1999 work, The Father’s Love Letter. Translated into over 100 languages this literary piece is a compilation of verses from the Bible to form a single epistle from God. Adams, formerly an associate pastor in a Mennonite church in St. Catharines, Ontario, intended that each line in the letter be paraphrased to communicate the depth and breadth of God’s love for humankind. At the same time, I was reading Richard Swensen’s book, Contentment – The Secret to a Lasting Calm, and Thomas Watson’s work, The Art of Divine Contentment. All of these sources expanded my horizons on the nature of contentment. I particularly engaged with Watson’s assertions. This 17th century English Puritan pastor taught that contentment springs from understanding God’s providential care and from trusting in the very promises of God. Watson wrote,
He has taken you out of the wild olive vine of nature, and grafted you into Christ, making you living branches of that living vine. He has not only caused the light to shine on you, but into you, and has granted you all the privileges of sonship. Is not here that which may make the soul content?
Adams makes a truly inspiring effort to edify and encourage disciples of Jesus about the fact that God sees his people as the beloved. He outlines in point form the spectrum of God’s loving and redemptive work on our behalf. Watson posits that it is these salvific expressions and promises of God that are the basis of contentment. Freedom in Christ ministry founder Neil Anderson’s work on equipping disciples has a place here. Anderson wants to help believers experience freedom and vitality in life based upon understanding their identity in Christ. It is when they accept and live out of who they are in Christ that they will experience contentment.
In my exploration, I too gravitate to the notion that my own personal contentment is deeply rooted to the nature, work and promises of God. In my journal I drafted ten contentment circuit breakers (see article inset). A circuit breaker is a device which interrupts the flow of electricity stopping the function of some electronic component. In non-mechanical terms, these are things that interrupt contentment from functioning in our lives. What I noticed is that most of them seem to circle around a shallow understanding of God – what he has done, is doing and will do in our lives, not accepting our God-given identity in Christ, or doubting God’s promises.
Ten Contentment Circuit Breakers
Ten Contentment Circuit Breakers
- Lack of faith in God’s sovereignty
- Doubt in the goodness of God
- Doubting God’s love
- Eyes fixed on something other than Jesus
- Lack of gratitude, not seeing one’s blessings
- A mind fixed on earthly matters
- Misunderstanding the purpose of hardship and suffering
- Soaking in social media rather than sacred Scripture
- Failure to understand, accept and live out of one’s identity in Christ
- Unconfessed sin
In pastoral ministry I witnessed many discontented Christians – too many, in fact. Reflecting upon why there were so many casualties to this unsettling emotional state, the reasons again seemed to fall into one or more of these circuit breakers. Watson seems to craft a unique perspective here when he wrote to his 17th century audience, “The discontented person thinks everything he does for God is too much, and everything that God does for him is too little.” I would simply add, far too many disciples are discontent because they don’t genuinely know or accept the path our kind Father has laid before them, a road paved with the knowledge that he will treat his disciples as his beloved. Swenson wisely pens, “We will only be whole – at peace, at rest, and fully contented – when we agree with God about who we are and about what He wants us to be.”
I have come to accept that contentment exists as a learned reality. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” Contentment is also a choice we make, a biblical command we are to obey, actually, (1 Timothy 6:8; Hebrews 13:5). Finally, contentment is a work of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25). Author Jeremiah Burroughs, in his book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment wrote that, “Contentment is a sweet, inward heart thing. It is the work of the Spirit indoors.”
American poet Robert Frost wrote a poem called The Road Not Taken in which he described two roads that lay before him in the yellow wood; one was well worn, the other “less traveled by.” He took the latter and that made all the difference. I tend to think about contentment in a similar way; the paths of discontent and contentment are stretched out before us. The latter road is sadly less traveled by, even for disciples, but choosing it makes all the difference.