The Key to Contentment
The Key to Contentment
Recently I spoke with a friend who is not a Christian. He is a charming and delightful person. He is a successful businessman and has made a great deal of money. He has a wonderful wife, a good marriage and a great family. Yet he spoke to me of the deep emptiness in his life, and the lack of peace and contentment he experiences.
‘Content makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor,’ said the American Statesman, Benjamin Franklin. Few people seem to be genuinely content. As Martin Luther once said, ‘Contentment is a rare bird, but it sings sweetly in the breast.’
The Bible never promises that we will not face hard times or difficult situations. But it does promise us God’s strength and grace in these times.
The apostle Paul found the key to a life of peace and contentment in times of trouble. He tells the Philippians how to find peace and shares the secret of being content (Philippians 4:12).
Find soul satisfaction in God’s wisdomProverbs 24:5-14
What happens when you face a crisis in your life? How do you respond to hard times and difficult situations?
All of us are likely to face times of trouble in our lives. The writer of Proverbs says, ‘If you falter in times of trouble, how small is your strength!’ (v.10). ‘If you fall to pieces in a crisis, there wasn’t much to you in the first place’ (v.10, MSG).
The wise person will not ‘fall to pieces’, for they have ‘great power’ and ‘knowledge increases strength’ (v.5). They seek guidance and have ‘many advisers’ (v.6).
When evil things are happening (v.11), do not close your eyes and say, ‘But we knew nothing about this’ (v.12).
How do you get this wisdom? The wisdom of God is like the sweet taste of honey: ‘Know also that wisdom is sweet to your soul; if you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off’ (v.14). This wisdom is found supremely in Christ, for he is ‘the wisdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:24).
Lord, thank you that in Christ, the wisdom of God, we find soul satisfaction. Please fill me today with the Spirit of Jesus – with wisdom, contentment and peace.
Find the secret in Christ JesusPhilippians 4:2-23
No one goes through life without difficulties and hard times. Paul is not without his troubles (v.14). He is in prison and no doubt has plenty to worry about.
However, he writes, ‘Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything, by prayer and petition (definite requests), with thanksgiving, continue to make your wants known to God. And God’s peace [shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace] which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus’ (vv.6–7, AMP). This is a remarkable and wonderful promise, and one that I have claimed and experienced many times in my own life.
Corrie ten Boom defined worry as ‘a cycle of inefficient thoughts whirling around a centre of fear’. Worry can wreck our lives. Some of our worries, like Paul’s, are real, and some are illusory, but in either case, a life weighed down by worry is not really living.
Paul’s solution is to encourage us to turn to prayer, bringing our specific requests to God: ‘Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns’ (v.6, MSG).
Sometimes, I find it a help to write down specific requests. This enables me to look back at the ways in which God has answered my prayers. If you do this, you can then give thanks (v.6), and your confidence in prayer will increase.
Offer your current prayers from a foundation of a life that is filled with ‘thanksgiving’ (v.6). The wonderful promise is that as you do this ‘the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (v.7). God exchanges your worries for his peace.
The word for peace means far more than an absence of hostility. It means wholeness, soundness, well-being, oneness with God and every kind of blessing and good. It is a peace ‘which transcends all understanding’. It surpasses both your ability to cope, and your anxiety about what is to come.
Paul then turns his attention to what we think about. We are surrounded by images and words from the media, conversations and events, which can so easily tempt us, almost daily, with wrong thoughts. But you can resist this. As Martin Luther said, ‘You can’t stop a bird flying overhead, but you can stop it nesting in your hair.’
The way to get wrong thoughts out is to get right thoughts in. Your mind cannot be unoccupied. If you don’t occupy your mind with good thoughts the enemy will fill it with bad ones.
Follow Paul’s advice: ‘you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best’ (v.8, MSG). He realises that what you think about will affect every area of your life. Fill your mind with good things, whatever ‘is excellent and praiseworthy’ (v.8).
Think about what you think about. The root of our problems may be our thought life. If you change the things you allow your mind to dwell on, ‘God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies’ (v.9, MSG).
The hardest part is always putting all this ‘into practice’ (v.9). The only way of learning any skill, trade or sport is by practising. Practise avoiding quarrels, staying united with other Christians (vv.2–3) and avoiding anxiety by continual prayer. If you do, then Paul promises that ‘the God of peace will be with you’ (v.9).
Paul did not worry about his needs being met. He had learnt that the secret of contentment in every situation, in plenty or in want, was that he could ‘do everything through him who gives me strength’ (v.13). Whatever situation you are in, God will strengthen you to do whatever he is calling you to do.
Paul praises the Philippians for their generosity, which is a ‘fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God’ (v.18). This generosity is a part of love. You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.
God promises that he will meet all your ‘needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus’ (v.19), as you live a generous life free of financial worries. This includes your material needs – though not necessarily your wants. ‘You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need, his generosity exceeding even yours in the glory that pours from Jesus’ (v.19, MSG). You cannot out-give God.
Lord, today I bring to you my anxieties… Thank you for the promise of your peace, which transcends all understanding.
Find soul rest on God’s pathsJeremiah 6:1-7:29
God loves you. He wants you to find ‘rest for your soul’ (6:16). He wants to protect and provide for you. It is tragic when people do not listen to him.
Jeremiah continues to prophesy about times of trouble. God does not act without warning. He warned his people through the prophets, asking, ‘To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me?’ (v.10). The false prophets spoke of a false peace, ‘“Peace, peace” they say, when there is no peace’ (v.14b).
On the other hand: ‘Thus says the Lord: Stand by the roads and look; and ask for the eternal paths, where the good, old way is; then walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls’ (v.16, AMP).
The problem was that they did not listen: ‘Their ears are stuffed with wax’ (v.12, MSG). ‘They ignored everything I said’ (v.19, MSG).
Jeremiah proclaimed the message courageously (7:2) and called them to repentance: ‘Reform your ways and your actions’ (v.3), ‘change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly’ (v.5). Don’t oppress the outsider, the fatherless or the widow, and don’t follow other gods.
God says, ‘Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all my ways I command you, that it may go well with you’ (v.23). ‘But do you think they listened? Not a word of it. They did just what they wanted to do’ (v.24, MSG).
Resolve in your heart today to listen to God and to walk in his ways, that it may go well for you.
Lord, forgive me when I have not listened to you. Thank you that you promise that if I return to the eternal paths and walk in them, I will find rest and contentment for my soul.
‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’
I am trying hard not to worry but to pray instead. So, whenever a thought, during the day or night, comes into my mind (it could be about someone who is sick, a decision I have got to make, a long flight or whether anyone will come back to Alpha next week), I am trying not to waste a lot of time worrying about it, but instead say a prayer and trust that God has heard and will answer.
Verse of the Day
‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:6–7).
Corrie ten Boom, Clippings From My Notebook, (Triangle, 1983)
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.