Have I learned to be content?
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I have learned in whatever state I am to be content.” Have you ever thought of contentment as something you learn? I imagine that most of us would consider others and ourselves as either content or not content, but not as one who has learned or is in the process of learning contentment. Do you consider your life’s path as one of learning contentment?
My wife and I have a granddaughter who just turned 1-year-old three weeks ago. I can assure you that she did not come out of the womb content, not in the least. If she wasn’t the right temperature, she would let you know of her discontentment. If she wasn’t full — and I do mean full — even though she may have eaten five minutes ago or 30 minutes ago, she would let you know of her discontentment. And, of course, there is the matter of having a clean or a soiled diaper — contentment or discontentment. Although she has developed other methods to communicate her discontentment other than crying, she is still learning. The process of learning contentment will continue throughout her life.
Our granddaughter no longer fusses every time her stomach gets three ounces below her designated full level as her contentment with other things — such as toys and interacting with others — overrides the discontentment signaled by the void in her stomach. But what happens when those other attractions or distractions go away? She will most likely become discontent again without having those things to distract her attention. But are we not all still like that in some regard? Have we really learned the secret of becoming and being content or are we just distracted for a time?
Paul would go on to write, “I know how to live with little and I know how to live with much.” To paraphrase, he would also go on to say, “In every place and every situation and circumstance, I have learned how to be full and to be hungry; how to prosper and how to suffer need.” When life is “good” and we seem to be prospering, with little or no “need” unmet, we then find it easy to be content. But are we really? Show me a person who has no need of anything and I will show you a corpse. We all have needs all the time, but our perceived contentment generally comes through the attractions and distractions of other things.
You might have all the finances you could ever desire, but lack true and meaningful relationships, or lack good health. You might be content with the newness of a thing — such as a marriage, job, automobile, home, electronics, tool or toy — but eventually the newness will go away, along with the intrigue and contentment. Therefore, while you are distracted and feel content in one area of your life, you are at the same time discontent in the form of worries, cares and desires in other areas of your life. That’s not true contentment.
Paul said that regardless of his circumstances he had learned to be content, meaning he had learned to be content when he had much, but he also learned to be content when he had little and was in need. Now it may seem quite obvious that one should find themselves content when they have much, but that is not necessarily so. For when one has much, they truly desire more; for if the “much” that they have ceased to be, they would surely become discontent for the shortness of time in which they possessed the “much.” But Paul seems to state that if he had much, he was content with the much and the moments of time in which he has it; and if it ceased to be, well, he was content with the little and the joys of the moments of time in which he had had the “much.” He didn’t get so caught up in the “much” that when he no longer possessed it he fell into discontentment.
He also was content when he didn’t have the much, but instead suffered need. We all might ask the question, “How did he accomplish that?” How can a person claim to be content when they are going through a period of time with an unmet “need,” especially one of food, clothing or housing as Paul was often without? Either Paul is a liar, or he has learned something we still need to learn. As a matter of fact, he does indeed give us the answer as he continues by stating, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” We too can do likewise when, like Paul, we place our focus not on the “much” or the “need,” but on Christ Jesus. For the “much” or the “need” may change, but Jesus is constant — he never changes.
If we find our contentment in Christ, then we too can learn to be content in every moment of life. Regardless of how “much” we have or how great our “need” is, we can find ourselves content in the Giver of life and in who alone is eternal life. “This is eternal life, to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent” (John 17:3). Paul wasn’t the only one, and not even the first to learn to be content in all circumstances. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us that throughout history many others were tortured, imprisoned, scourged, stoned, sawn in two, destitute, afflicted and tormented, but through faith found contentment in God’s promise, his Son and our Savior: Jesus Christ. So although we may not have what we “need” in this temporary life, we will have what we need for eternal life and that comes through faith. For “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” (Hebrews 11:1).
The writer of Hebrews goes on: “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God,” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Paul, along with this cloud of witnesses testify that living a life of true contentment could and can be accomplished, but only by looking unto God’s promise: Jesus. As a matter of fact, Jesus himself found not only contentment, but also joy, through fulfilling the work or, as the writer says, by finishing the race that his Father God had set before him, though it meant torture and shame. Each of us also has our own unique “race” set before us — a race different from anyone else’s, complete with its own “much” and “need.” Through having a relationship with Jesus, knowing him as my personal Savior and my personal Lord — I hear his voice and obey him — I have chosen to set my eyes upon Jesus, thus I can know true contentment, for I know something greater than the ups and downs of life in this world; I know abundant and eternal life that comes only through knowing Jesus.
Jesus said, “You search the scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of me. But you are not willing to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39). Have you searched the scriptures and found Jesus, and found eternal life, and found contentment, or are you not willing to come? Jesus invites, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus offers an abundant life of rest and reward to those who come to him — a present life of contentment and an eternal life of pure joy. Have you learned to be content?