It begins with the seemingly minor grievances. “Traffic is terrible.” “If only I had THIS to use in the kitchen.” “If only I had a better pair of running shoes.” When the words “if only” begin a thought, I can surely expect a complaint to follow. We all have things on our wish lists that we hope to receive one day. We all get frustrated in traffic. It seems innocent enough, right?
In my own life, allowing the small complaints to pile up gives way to bigger ones. “I just wish I had a house.” “If only my husband were this way.” “I wish I had (fill in the blank).”
My desires paraded around as though they were healthy. In the meantime discontent was taking root deep in my heart. Discontentment was robbing my heart of joy in God himself. The object of my affections became stuff, circumstances, or places in life I could get, not the Lord.
But God, in his faithfulness to his children, refuses to leave us in these places of discontent. The Lord is faithful to convict our hearts, draw us to a place of repentance, and extend help and grace to begin a journey to contentment. A kind of contentment that can only be attained through the help of the Holy Spirit guiding us as we seek his will for our lives.
Did you know God’s will for you is that you would find contentment?
So all of this talk about desires, complaints, “if onlys” and discontent begs the question, what exactly IS contentment? How do we even begin to define it let alone be in a state of contentment? In her book Learning Contentment, a book that I will reference multiple times in this post, Nancy Wilson brilliantly pens a simple definition, “Contentment is a deep satisfaction in the will of God.” Sounds easy enough. But what does it look like to have deep satisfaction in the will of God? Let us first start by unpacking some of the hindrances and external evidences that fuel our discontented hearts. Starting here will give us a window into our own souls to see our great need for contentment.
I think the first, and most obvious, evidence of discontent is complaining and grumbling. Take a look around you. Scroll through your Facebook news feed or Twitter. It is everywhere. Complaining in our culture is so accepted! We have open letters, long winded status rants, and everything else. It is not difficult to define complaining, but it may be more challenging to recognize this habit in our day to day lives. It is a part of our small talk. “Oh, the weather is awful again.” “Traffic always sucks.” “My job is making me miserable.” I just asked my husband Jared what people commonly complain about and he listed off work, church, houses, government, friends, family, food, their bodies… There is so much to complain about!
In our culture right now it is relevant to be seen as authentic, real. By complaining about our circumstances we are just being real, right? It shows how in tune we are with our true feelings. It is so sneaky. I personally have tricked myself into thinking complaining can pass as authenticity. The irony is that in “being real” all we are doing is proving our fallen nature. That we are infatuated with ourselves, our perspectives, what we have… Instead of being grateful for what we already have and more importantly to the One who has given us so much.
In her book, Wilson provides warnings and dangers regarding discontent:
“Discontent clusters around two general areas: things we have, and things we don’t have. We become discontent with what we have (refusing to be thankful) and this fuels a desire for things we don’t have (coveting what isn’t ours). And that’s pretty much everything there is. Let’s be honest. Discontent is ugly and it uglifies. It never makes you feel better, it never makes the situation better, it never edifies the hearers. It refuses to be thankful, it picks at faults, and worst of all, it is a grievous sin against a holy God. Plus, it leads to other sins, big and small, and it is a precious waste of time.”
Discontent not only makes us more miserable, but also those around us. Even more so it is offensive to our God. We have grown numb to the seriousness of complaining. We have forgotten that God takes this form of discontent very seriously. Grumbling, complaining, jealousy, covetousness… These are the practices of the discontent. And they are all too easy to attain, coming more naturally than the latter.
practice, practice, practice
As the title of this post states, we all need to begin a journey to contentment. Becoming content in our lives does not happen overnight. It isn’t a habit that you can nail down after sixty days. It does not flow from pure grit. I would categorize it as a journey, and more specifically an area in our lives that calls for much practice.
When God confronted my heart regarding my deep discontent I knew it was time for a change. The only thing was that even though I knew I should be content, I FELT discontent. I found encouragement in scripture to help me follow God despite my feelings. John 3:21 says, “He who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as being wrought by God.” Okay, so even if I don’t feel content, I can obey. And when I obey, I trust that the Lord will help my heart and my feelings follow.
That is the problem for most of us. We wait until we feel better. We wait until we feel convicted. We wait until our heart aligns with what is right. When it comes to God’s revealed will, we are to never wait for the feeling. We follow knowing it is for our good and brings God glory.
Wilson helps remind us that practicing contentment is not done in our own strength:
“Learning contentment requires supernatural strength. Contentment is only possible because Christ strengthens His people to be content. There is no other way. Contentment is not hardening yourself so you do not care what happens. It is not being a stoic, nor is it bottling things up. Contentment is the result of spiritual strength that comes directly from Christ.”
Everything in our life points to the truth that we are nothing without Christ. Left to ourselves we are miserable, discontent people. But in Christ we can have the power and help to be content, and ultimately find rest for our souls. Discontentment is exhausting after all.
the practices of the content
Here are four ways we can be practicing contentment in our lives with the help of the Holy Spirit:
- Be at peace with what God is doing in your life right now.
You are probably familiar with Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” I love what Wilson says about this passage, “God is weaving all the things in our lives together to produce good for us. Not necessarily our immediate good, but certainly our ultimate good. When we receive this promise by faith, we can interpret everything as from His hand according to His good and perfect will. He is not doing things randomly, but by particular design.” We can be rest assured that even when things are painful or not going our way God is working them out. He also promises to never leave us nor forsake us! This is the good news of the gospel and ultimately why we can have peace and contentment in every circumstance.
- Be grateful with what you have, where you are, and each circumstance.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Not only are we to have peace with what we have and our circumstances, but we are told to be thankful! I know it can be difficult to find gratitude in the midst of deep grief, pain and trial. I have been there, and in many ways I am there right now. But even while walking through grief and pain we are called to exhibit thankfulness. Even when crying out to God asking “Why?!?” we can still remember all the good he has done in our lives. A way to start is try keeping a gratitude journal. I have heard this works well for some people. Tell God that you repent of your lack of gratefulness and want to change. I usually integrate thankfulness into my daily prayer life. When we begin our prayers thanking God for everything he has done our perspective shifts to being reminded of God’s faithfulness and goodness before bringing our requests to him.
- Find contentment by living simply.
I want to note that I am not advocating for the popular movement known as Minimalism. I plan to write a post in the future regarding my thoughts on Minimalism. The bible instructs believers to be content with the basics: food and clothing. In 1 Timothy 6 Paul gives instruction saying (vs. 6-8), “But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” We are to be content with these basics… Yet God lavishes us with so much! Homes, couches, iPhones, cars… But be content with only having food and clothing. Do not chase after possessions harder than you chase after God! Remember the warning found in Matthew 6, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” We are to be satisfied with living simply not because owning less possessions will leave us feeling satisfied, but because God promises us so much more. We do not need the distractions of this life keeping us from the bounty of his presence, goodness, and love. We cannot take anything with us to the grave.
- Take what you have and make it excellent.
When I am entertaining thoughts of discontent I am usually fueled by strong fantasies. In these fantasies I have everything I want. A beautiful house, a garden, lots of land, a perfect marriage, children… In this fantasy I see myself as an amazing decorator, really good at keeping up with my chores, and I am completely happy. However, while these thoughts make their debut a quick look around my reality reveals that my current life, home, and circumstance is neglected. Laundry sits unfolded, my apartment feels cold and uninviting, and my heart only knows to dream and wait for what is to come. On this journey to contentment what I realized is that dream Sarah is a myth and current Sarah is called to take what the Lord has given her and make it excellent. My apartment can be a haven for the love of God – a place where worship and laughter flow. I can glorify the Lord in my day to day tasks by working with a cheerful heart. What about you? Do you wish you had a bigger house? Take what you have and make it cozy and lovely. Do you wish you had better friends? Take the ones God has provided and grow deeper with them. Everything we have is a gift from God… He deserves our best in our circumstances, not our whining and grumbling. This has been one of the most difficult lessons to learn, but one of the most liberating.
Liberating. That is the word I would use to describe my life as I have intentionally pursued and practiced contentment. This freedom from discontentment has led to deep appreciation for all God is doing right now, today. I don’t want to miss it. I don’t want to be so preoccupied with what I lack that I forget to give God thanks for all he has done. He knows what we need. He has a plan. He works all things, the good and the bad, for our good. This truth is difficult for our souls to embrace, but a part of understanding his sovereign goodness is practicing contentment in every circumstance. Above all else, contentment in the Lord shows that we are trusting Him.
I want to conclude this post with a simple illustration from my own life of practicing contentment. It is very simple but it was an evidence that I had grown in this area and I felt pleased.
This weekend I will be going home to Cleveland to celebrate my grandma’s birthday. Like every trip I take, I begin thinking about what outfits I will try to pack into my measly little carry on bag. I was in Target a few days ago getting some smaller toiletry items when I ventured into the women’s clothing section. My one dilemma for this weekend has been what on earth am I going to wear to my grandmother’s birthday dinner. It needs to be nice, but needs to coordinate with everything else I am packing because I’m just bringing one small bag! I found a shirt that I liked and held onto it as I shopped. I kept looking at it making sure it was the right color. On my way toward the fitting room I stopped. I looked at it again. And then I thought about my closet. How it is filled with tons of shirts. They are all perfectly fine. I remembered how even when I have new shirts I still come back to my closet feeling like I have nothing to wear. Why purchase another shirt only to look right past it in two months? So, I put the shirt back and saved myself from spending $27.99 on a shirt I didn’t need.
I left feeling like I had a way to measurably see where practicing contentment effected my life. I do not think it would have been sinful of me to buy a shirt, but I remembered I own plenty and could work with what I already have. In that moment I showed contentment. And my, what a wonderful feeling it was.
“And therefore Christians, whatever you have of the world in your hands, be it more or less, as you value the peace as well as the purity of your souls, keep it out of your hearts.”
-Matthew Henry in The Quest for Meekness and Quietness of Spirit
Recommended Book on Contentment:
Learning Contentment: A Study for Ladies of Every Age by Nancy Wilson
Click here to view on Amazon (I do not get any money or anything from this… I just HIGHLY suggest this book.)