Many people think that contentment is something you find, but that’s not what the Bible says. In fact, the Bible never says contentment is something that you “find” like it’s some undiscovered land hidden away in your heart.
- Contentment isn’t something we find; it’s something we learn.
Saying that you’re trying to find contentment is like saying you’re trying to find algebra. That’s not the way it works. It’s something we learn.
Listen to what Paul says about contentment in Philippians.
Philippians 4:10-13, I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 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.
Paul says that contentment is something he has learned. He didn’t find it through some kind of zen practice or self-help seminar. He learned contentment the same way you learn anything — over time, through lots of hard work. That’s the secret of contentment: it’s not something we find, but it’s something we learn. It’s an attitude, a perspective that we take adopt. Contentment is a discipline, something to be learned.
Verse 13 is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied verses in the Bible. It’s become kind of a “bumper sticker” verse — “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Tim Tebow used to put this verse on his eye black before football games. Jon Jones, the current UFC Heavyweight Champion, has “Philippians 4:13” tattooed on the right side of his chest. When you take this verse out of its context, it sounds like Paul is saying, “I can do anything because Jesus gives me strength.” I can run a marathon; I can win this football game; I can be victorious because Jesus gives me strength.
But as we read the context, we see that Paul isn’t talking about any of that. In the verses just before this, Paul is talking about dealing with both riches and poverty, both victory and defeat, success and failure. Paul is saying that he’s learned of God’s unfailing sufficiency in every season of life. He is able to do all of this — i.e., endure times of need as well as abundance, times of plenty as well as times of hunger — because he has Jesus giving him strength. He’s saying, “Because I’ve learned contentment, I can face anything — it’s Jesus who gives me strength, not my circumstances.”
That’s someone who knows about contentment. But this is something we have to learn. It doesn’t come naturally to us.
Ecclesiastes 6:7, All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied. This is why we need to learn contentment — it doesn’t come naturally to us. We have appetites that are not easily satisfied. But even so, contentment is not beyond our reach; it CAN be learned.
In order to learn contentment, we have to practice contentment.
- Contentment isn’t something we find; it’s something we practice.
In order to learn anything, you have to practice. Learning a foreign language, learning how to drive, learning to play an instrument….learning always requires practice. And in order to learn contentment, we have to practice gratitude.
Contentment and gratitude go hand in hand. In fact, I think you could say that contentment is the result of gratitude. When we practice gratitude, we are practicing contentment.
Paul talks about thankfulness more than anyone in the New Testament. He clearly practices gratitude:
- He’s always giving thanks to God. 1 Cor. 15:57, But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
- He teaches the Corinthians that their financial gift to the saints in Jerusalem is overflowing in many thanksgivings to God (2 Cor. 9:12).
- To the Ephesians, Paul says, I do not cease to give thanks for you (Eph. 1:16). To the Thessalonians, he says, Give thanks in all circumstances (1Thess. 5:18). Apparently gratitude was a regular part of Paul’s life and teaching.
It’s no accident, then, that Paul understands the secret of contentment. He experiences contentment because he regularly practices gratitude. Gratitude fuels contentment.
Gratitude can be practiced even in circumstances that are less than ideal. That’s because there is always something to be grateful for, always something to praise God for. In Acts 16, we read about Paul and Silas being imprisoned in Philippi. Verse 25 says, About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God…
Their worship was an act of spiritual warfare, it was an act of holy resistance to the work of the powers who had them incarcerated in an attempt to mute the gospel message. Even in jail, Paul and Silas are finding reason to give thanks.
This year, Sunny started a new tradition in our home. Before Halloween we had this pumpkin on our front porch. On November 1st, she brought the pumpkin in the house and gave us a Sharpie and made us write down something we were grateful for. Every day, we go to the “pumpkin of gratitude” and write down something that we’re thankful for. Here are some of the things we’ve written on our pumpkin:
- Our church family
- Disney Plus
- “Ant traps” is on there twice — a couple of days into this exercise, we found some ants in the house
- My teachers
- Veterans — probably on Veteran’s Day
- Mexican food
- Biscuits — pretty sure Dad wrote that one
- Someone to thank
- The Bible
- A merciful God
Having a “pumpkin of gratitude” has been a great little project for us as a family. It’s our act of holy resistance against the powers who preach dissatisfaction and discontentment. It’s made us more grateful and — in turn — more content. It’s forced us to practice gratitude by looking even to the “little things” in life we often overlook.
The author Mark Batterson points out that the average person takes somewhere in the neighborhood of 23,000 breaths every day. And then he says, “When was the last time you thanked God for one of them?” Batterson goes on to say, “We tend to thank God for the things that take our breath away. And that’s fine. But maybe we should thank him for every other breath too!”
Contentment comes from practicing gratitude.
- Contentment isn’t something we find; it’s something we choose.
Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be told a lot of lies. We’re going to be told repeatedly that our lives are incomplete without the latest smartphone or luxury sedan or gaming console. There’s a whole lot of advertising coming our way to tell us that we’re nothing more than consumers. That advertising plays on our discontent and focuses on what we don’t have.
But all that stuff won’t lead to true contentment. Have you ever longed for something but then when you finally bought it, you felt sort of empty? Hollow? That’s because true contentment is not found in the latest and greatest gadget.
The writer of Ecclesiastes points this out. He says all the stuff we buy just goes to somebody else when we die:
Ecclesiastes 2:18-19, I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.
But listen to what Paul says to his young apprentice, Timothy:
1 Timothy 6:6, But godliness with contentment is great gain…
Godliness with contentment is great gain. What is godliness? It is simply directing your life toward God. Paul talks about these false teachers who have depraved minds. They don’t hold to the truth and they think their supposed acts of godliness will benefit them financially. But Paul says godliness with contentment is great gain. Being content with what we have received in Christ — Paul says that is the greatest gain. As Paul says to the Ephesians, we preach the unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph. 3:8). When we choose godliness, we are choosing contentment — true contentment which flows from the riches of Christ!
What we have in Jesus is enough for true contentment. Jesus means it when he says, My grace is sufficient for you.
The ultimate statement of godly contentment is found in Philippians 1:21, For me to live is Christ, to die is gain. Paul is so content with what he has in Jesus that he is able to say, basically, “If I have one more day of life, I’ll live it for Jesus. But the day I die, I know that’s the day I gain everything.”
Sounds like someone who has learned the secret of true contentment.
True contentment won’t be found on your plate at Thanksgiving this Thursday. It won’t be found in anything you buy on Black Friday. Contentment that leads to the continual feast is found only in Jesus — the one who presides over the eternal table.