Contentment: What's the Secret?


I’m learning that I can’t control my life circumstances, but I can control how I think about them.


“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am in to be content.”
Philippians 4:11

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Philippians 4:13

Contentment: a state of happiness and satisfaction; freedom from worry or restlessness; a peaceful state of mind.

Are you content? Do you consistently live in a state of satisfaction, free from worry? Do you enjoy a peaceful state of mind on most days? I confess that I struggle with contentment. I’m often discontent with God’s provision, my life circumstances, and the state of some of my relationships with people I care about and love. Let’s be honest, I am not the only one struggling with contentment. We live in a culture of mass discontentment where we count on pills, people, purchases, and pleasures to numb our restless hearts. We’ve all tried at least some of these things in our search for contentment, and we’ve learned that they won't give us the peace and satisfaction we desire. So, what is the secret to lasting, authentic contentment? Is contentment even possible on this side of heaven?

The apostle Paul had every right to be discontent, depressed, and despairing, but from a dark and dirty prison cell he said, "I have learned in whatever situation I am in to be content." He learned the secret -- this means that I wasn’t born knowing how. The natural state of my heart is to be discontent, so I must learn to be content. And learning requires work and discipline. Paul implies that I must learn from and lean on the Master Teacher, Jesus. He says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” So, the secret is Jesus. Isn’t He the answer for everything? It’s so easy for me to forget this and struggle in my own strength. John Piper says that the “secret to being content is hidden in plain sight all through scripture." Consider these passages: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” (Proverbs 3:5). I must learn to trust Jesus – his promises, his ways, his provision. “And my God will supply every need” (Philippians 4:19). I must also learn to be thankful for his provision and the circumstances he brings into my life each day because “...for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28).

But it’s more than that. In the very same chapter Paul shares that he has learned the secret of contentment. He writes, “...whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). So, my thoughts and the power of Christ produce contentment in me.

What about you? Are you struggling with discontentment and its first cousin, depression? Are you struggling to trust the Lord and be thankful for his provision and the circumstances in your life? Romans 12:2 says,  “Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” One of the most powerful and life-transforming books I ever read is Telling Yourself the Truth by Backus and Chapian. Though I read it many years ago, it still sits by my bed when I need a tune up to reshape distorted thinking. The authors share that what you are thinking about right now can change your biochemistry and the glandular, muscular, and neural behavior of your entire body. Wow! Evidence-based research has led some doctors to believe that up to 98% of all diseases, both physical and emotional, originate in our thoughts. For example, studies show that stress, anger, anxiety, and depression can cause inflammation that leads to heart disease. (Psychology Today, May 6, 2014) Our thoughts determine a significant portion of our emotions, our words, our behavior, and the overall state of our minds and bodies. But, of course, wise King Solomon knew this thousands of years ago when he wrote, “For as a man has thoughts in his soul, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).

What are you thinking about? Could your thoughts be the source of your discontentment or other physical and emotional illnesses with which you struggle? There is a discipline required in thinking on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, excellent, and worthy of praise. Part of the discipline in learning to be content is having an awareness of negative thoughts. I’ve learned to bounce them and turn them into prayers of gratitude for what God has done for me:

“I hate my old couch – I want a new one!” to “Lord, thank you for your abundant provision and a warm and safe home."

“When will the persistent pain in my foot go away?” to “Lord, thank you for my healthy body that allows me to walk and work.”

“My college kids never call me. I work so hard for them. Do they even care?” to “Lord, thank you that my children are becoming independent and responsible adults.”

And so it goes in my mind all day long, and like Paul I am learning through the power of Christ to be content. I’m learning that I can’t control many of my life circumstances, but I can control how I think about them. Of course, I’m still working on my PhD in contentment – joy in all circumstances!

So, here we are. The Christmas season is upon us and the world will shout in every way possible, “If you want to be happy, buy more stuff! Do more Instagram and Pinterest worthy things!” Oh my, the lies we believe! Stuff isn’t bad and experiences shared with family and friends are good; but let’s tell ourselves the truth this Christmas. Things and people will never be the source our contentment. Only loving and trusting Jesus, God’s perfect Christmas gift of grace for us, will grant our hearts the peace and contentment we long for this Christmas and throughout the new year. Only as we live for His glory, think on and share the truth of the Gospel, live generously, and give thanks in all circumstances will we, like Paul, truly discover the secret of being content in all circumstances.

“Thanks be to God who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing!”
Ephesians 1:3