In our modern world, we have learned how to do many significant things. We have learned how to transplant a heart from one person to another, explore and exist in outer space, clone animals, make computers the size of a watch, manage numerous diseases and handicaps, momentarily be in contact with people around the world via the Internet and the list of accomplishments is endless.
As I said, we have learned how to do many incredible things, with new developments taking place every day. But with all our ingenuity, we have never learned how to live life with mastery, to face up to the demands of life, to cope with life regardless, to be content whatever the circumstances.
Now, before I try to share some biblical guidance on contentment, I want to say a word about discontentment.
Initially, there is a wholesome discontent. This is the discontent which spurs us on, which keeps us dissatisfied with past achievements or failures and which makes us eager for better things.
John Stuart Mill wrote, “Nothing is more certain than that improvement in human affairs is wholly the work of the uncontented characters.”
Suppose Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Teresa had not had this kind of discontent. The world would have been poorer indeed.
However, there is also a bad kind of discontent which plays havoc with our inner peace and happiness. In essence, this is the discontent which springs from an inordinate craving for more than we need and for that which may lie outside God’s will for us.
While we live in the most affluent society in the world, numbers are miserable, frustrated, dissatisfied, bitter, discontent — in spite of all the things that make life easier.
Well, enough said! Let’s move on to several biblical keys to contented living.
First, accept your limitations! Jesus once told a story about a man who was going on a journey. The man called his servants together and gave one servant five talents, another servant three talents and still another servant one talent.
Then he left, and they had to do with what they were given. For sure, there are numerous interpretations of this story, but I believe that it reminds us that we are people with different talents and abilities.
We are not all the same, and we are not all five- or three-talent people. The truth is, not every basketball player has the talents of Lebron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers. And that is perfectly alright; the key is for every basketball player to become the best he/she can be with the talent given.
Hear me now! We can only be content when we realize the uniqueness of our talents and accept them.
Second, focus on the inner circumstances! Of course, this goes against the grain of popular thought. Popular thought says that wealth and position bring contentment. Or that contentment is found only in staying young or acquiring more and more things.
Perhaps this explains the feeble attempts of so many to remain young or to accumulate more than they need. But in his superior wisdom, Paul states, “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances, I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need” (Philippians 4:12).
Evidently, Paul has moved beyond outward circumstances to inner circumstances. One of the most convincing illustrations of contentment of our inner life is that of the late Mother Teresa. She had no wealth, no great office, no material power and no earthly security, but this little woman demonstrated that contentment comes from within.
Third, remember that contentment is learned! Paul said, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have” (Philippians 4:11).
Note that contentment doesn’t necessarily come freely or easily to us. It requires that we go after it, seek it. It has to be learned.
A minister friend in Texas listed four rules of contentment.
1. Don’t be a complainer!
“Daddy,” a little girl asked her father, “Do all fairy tales begin with ‘Once upon a time’?”
“No sweetheart, “the father answered, “Some begin with ‘If I am elected.’”
Complaining can become a habit, always seeing the glass half empty rather than half full.
2. Don’t compare your life with that of another! Be who you are. You are unique, a special gift of God. You are the only one like you in all the world.
3. Don’t brood over the past! Paul suggested that we forget the past. We need to realize that all that has happened can be used to glorify God.
4. Don’t dwell on tomorrow! Jesus said, “Do not be anxious about your life. … Look at the birds of the air: They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:25,26).
Hal Brady operates Hal Brady Ministries in Decatur with the stated goal of presenting the good news of Jesus and offering encouragement in positive ways. halbradyministries.com