Do you ever feel like you would be happy if your circumstances were different? I know that I do. But here’s what I’ve been learning about contentment.
Contentment is first and foremost a matter of the heart. It’s possible to deny yourself every worldly pleasure and still be discontent. Self-denial doesn’t automatically lead to contentment. In fact, self-denial can cause us to miss opportunities to enjoy wonderful gifts from God. Steak is a gift from God. Coffee is a drink that is 95 percent heavenly. When I eat a medium-rare steak and give thanks to God for the happiness that is occurring in my mouth, I honor God. Self-denial does not equal contentment.
On the flip side, it’s possible to have everything this world has to offer and still be furiously discontent. King Solomon’s life was a constant pleasure cruise. He really did have everything this world could offer—money, women, power, luxury, and all the alcohol he could drink. Yet after a life of hedonistic exploits, Solomon made the following observation:
Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. (Eccl. 2:11)
Solomon lived life to the hilt. He would have been TIME Magazine’s “Person of the Year” and would have had his own cable channel. Yet in the end he still came up disappointed. Having it all doesn’t equal contentment.
True biblical contentment isn’t tethered to circumstances either. In Philippians 4:11 Paul says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Stop and grapple with that one for a moment. When was the last time you had a really bad day? On your commute home from work that day, could you say, “I am really content right now”? The person who is truly content in God doesn’t ride the ever-changing wave of life’s circumstances.
Rather, contentment is inward, untouchable by circumstances, out of the reach of trouble. It can’t be stolen away by sickness or poverty, can’t be ruined by the loss of a job or house or spouse. Biblical contentment is not rooted in circumstances but in the infinitely stronger foundation of God himself.