In childhood, most of us imagined what our lives would look like in the future. We would pretend to have our dream job, dream family, and dream home. We would come up with a myriad of ideas on what our lives would look like in the future which filled us with hope. But then reality begins to set in as we grow up. We realize that all the dreams we had as children are much harder or different than we thought they would be. We get married and realize that sharing your life with another human isn’t simple. We have children but they are “real” and they don’t match our preconceptions of what having children means. We find a career and realize why it’s called “work.” You commit to a church and you find out that everyone needs Jesus. When imagination meets reality our contentment is tested and the possibilities we dreamt about give way to the reality of a fallen world.
In the face of reality, will we look on our life as gracious blessings or will we see it as undeserved impoverishment?
Universal Chase for Contentment
Every person deeply desires contentment in their lives, but it is not the natural mindset. In a world full of God's’ gifts and bounding generosity we want the things that are just beyond our reach thinking that our contentment lies within what we do not have. Even when we achieve our goals we often enjoy it for a short time then begin to chase something else still hoping to find that place where we are satisfied. We distract ourselves by achieving goals such as education, career, marriage, children, or a better salary expecting each one to fulfill us. But, often times we find that we have made it to each step in life, yet we are still unable to be content. The reason we achieve and are still found wanting is because contentment can only be found in the person and works of Jesus Christ.
“The reason why we lay ahold of the things that are just outside of our reach, and before we know it they’re gone, is because you and I were made for something much more grand.”
Unusual Contours of Contentment
In Philippians, Paul describes how he is able to find contentment in any situation. Paul creates an unusual picture of what is required for one to be content regardless of whether they are in seasons of wealth or poverty.
Contentment is free from prideful comparison and expectation of others
Comparison is not necessarily a negative perception. Comparison can be used for our own growth when we learn from one another. When we see how others are living in ways that we wish we could do better we can learn from their example. This mindset is a humble comparison. However, comparison becomes an issue when we move from humble comparison to prideful comparison. Pride can hijack our perception when we begin to see others as threats to our own glory or as failures because they are unable to contribute more to our own glory. This pride breeds jealousy and selfish ambition which destroys the ability to be content with what we have.
Contentment is not dependent on circumstances
The reality is that if we are not content with where we are now, we never will be because all of our hopes and dreams are placed in something that ultimately cannot handle our expectations. Paul says that contentment is not a destination, rather it is a mode of travel. We do not finally arrive at a place where we are content, we must be navigators who move throughout the world with a heart of contentment.
Contentment is a battle in the ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ of life
The basic truth is that the more we have the more we want. We must guard our hearts against discontentment even when we have plenty. In times of great wealth, we will always want just a little bit more. If we do not learn how to be content in any circumstance, our greed will become insatiable.
Contentment is learned over time
Contentment does not come through an epiphany. It is an attitude that is learned over time. We must grow in contentment throughout the seasons of our lives.
“If we consistently go about life looking at others, and using them as a mirror to either validate ourselves, to feel superior, or feel inferior, we will not live as content people.”
The Secret: Our Union with Christ
Our daily existence in trusting and loving Christ is what brings life to the believer. This was a radical notion for the culture at large of Paul’s time because a widely held philosophy was that contentment was found in self-sufficiency. Paul rejects the idea that contentment is an outpouring of independence by saying that he is capable of being content because he is dependent on Christ.
Paul is capable of being content, even inside of a prison, because he knows that everything he has been given is a gift. Paul knows that every breath he takes is receiving mercy from God’s goodness. We were created with desires in order to join with God in reshaping the world to make it new. When we are united in Christ we place our desires under his rule which brings us into the fold of contented people.
“In light of what scripture teaches about anthropology, about who humans are, and how we’re wired, and how we function, we don’t deserve anything. Therefore, everything we have is mercy. It’s grace.”
What it means to be united with Christ
Everything we need and lack is found in Christ
Christ is always with us, and will never forsake us
We are in Christ, who is all sufficient
The all sufficient Christ is in us
Contentment is yours, if you desire it, because you are in Christ, and he is in you.