Isn’t it amazing how the whole meaning of a sentence can change when you shift your main attention from one word to another? Most of the time, preachers and writers seem to emphasize “content” and discuss the meaning an importance of contentment. Once, when I was in a particularly foul mood, I came across this verse and got hung up on “state.” I actually said aloud, “Paul, you were never in Iowa,” closed my Bible, and stormed off to enjoy my pity party. I hadn’t learned much about contentment, had I? But that’s the word I want to look at today.
Of course, we can’t leave off looking at “content” entirely. The Amplified Bible explains the word parenthetically as ” satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted.” In context, Paul was expressing thanks to the Philippian church for a financial gift. Therefore he went on to say that he was content when he had all of his physical needs met and when he didn’t.
Christians ought to learn the same, but we can also profitably extend the concept to the spiritual realm. I don’t mean we should ever be content with our own personal spiritual development. We must keep growing and become increasingly sensitive to the sin in our own life so we can get rid of it. But we can and must learn to be satisfied to the point where we are not disturbed or disquieted with what God has already done for us. Read this aloud as your own spiritual affirmation:
- I have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3)
- Having been justified by faith, I have peace with God. (Romans 5:1)
- God comforts me in all my tribulation. (2 Corinthians 1:3)
- I have been crucified with Christ. It os no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. (Galatians 2:20)
- I have been born again to a living hope. (1 Peter 1:3)
- I walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)
- God’s divine power has given me all things pertaining to life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3)
So how do we learn to be content?
First of all, it helps to be clear on what we ought to be content about. Contentment is not the same as complacency. Life presents problems, some of which we can take steps to solve. If you’re out of work, for example, don’t be content with having no income. Find a job. Start a business. Do something. In the meantime, don’t get all bent out of shape in the lousy state of finances. Being content with what you have means, among other things, not wasting mental energy obsessing about all the things you don’t have.
Take your own spiritual and emotional temperature
Are you upset about anything? Specifically, are you upset with anything that you can’t directly change (like someone else’s behavior)? You have identified a situation where you need to learn to be content. Do you notice something that used to drive you crazy and it doesn’t any more? Congratulations. That’s a big area of personal growth for you. If you’re not sure how you got to your present contentment from where you used to be, ask God to remind you. You can apply the same lessons to whatever’s bugging you now.
Meditate on scriptures
The affirmations I wrote hardly scratch the surface of what’s in the Bible. The New Testament uses the phrase “in Christ” or something similar more than a hundred times. More often than not, that phrase will contain a statement of something God has already done in your life.
For example, 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation ; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” I am a new creation in Christ. The old me is gone, and God has put a new me in the old one’s place. Going on to the next verse, you will read some more things that you have because you are in Christ.
Believe what you find in scriptures
Genesis 5:16 says, “Abram believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness.” God had made a promise to Abram some time before, and as I wrote in Becoming Abraham, he had just gotten through complaining to God that he had been reduced to naming one of his servants (apparently) as heir. In other words, he had devoted his life to pursuing that promise for more than ten years, but didn’t really believe it yet.
- Loving a scripture is wonderful, but not the same as believing it.
- Memorinzing a scripture is wonderful, but not the same as believing it.
- Agreeing with a scripture is wonderful, but not the same as believing it.
- Telling others about a scripture is wonderful, but not the same as believing it.
Going back to taking your spiritual and emotional temperature, if you read a promse in the Bible and think, “yes, but” or “what if” (or worse, “yes, but what if”), do you really believe the promise? The Bible says you have something, but you have not learned to be content.
Read 2 Corinthians 11:23-28, things that in 4:17 of the same book he called “momentary, light afflictions.” Was he content in the Lord the first time he was beaten? The first time robbers beset him? The first time he had to go hungry when he hadn’t intended to fast? Certainly not. The scripture at the top of this post says that he learned to be content.
Have you learned to be content?. Start learning. In the meantime, be content that Jesus, who has faced the same temptations you face, has defeated them for you. Don’t be content with your discontent, but you might as well be content in it, recognizing that Jesus is even now in the process of helping you to learn to be content.
Photo credit: Some rights reserved by Julie Jordan Scott.
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