May 17, 2016

The Secret of Contentment

What a blessed day to be alive! It is well with my soul, and I am thankful for the many blessings God has bestowed upon me! Praise His Holy Name. Give Him all Honor and Adoration. He alone is worthy to receive our praises! Selah!

Today is a good day. I woke up feeling rather sluggish, but still feeling as if I had rested well. I am feeling better now, after my two cups of coffee and an English muffin. However, when I rolled out of bed this morning, I couldn't help but think, "Lord, help me to get moving today!" Yes, my body was stiff, sore, and not so agreeable. Yet, God is good, and after a little coaxing, I was able to get myself up and moving out of the bedroom.

It is funny how things work out. Yesterday, I had a good day. I completed half of my chapter 3, methods section. The previous two days were very fruitful as I was finally able to put more emphasis into completing both chapter 1 and 2 of my proposal. Today looks like a good day as well. I should be able to complete chapter 3 tonight, and then send a rough draft (first draft) off to my professor for his feedback. In all, God has graciously enabled me to make such good progress on my proposal. I am still hopeful that I will be able to defend it this month or the first of June. I am trusting the Lord on His timing, and I know that whatever may happen, it will be within His control. He is, after all, the great I AM. Nothing is outside His control or care. Selah!

After my slow start this morning, I had a funny conversation with my Mom as I was getting breakfast and my second cup of coffee. I had one of those memory flashes -- you know -- where some sound or smell triggers a memory from your past. In this case, the memory was triggered when I walked outside to empty the trash. I was standing by the side of the garage, and this breeze gently blew by me. The breeze, the sunshine, and the warm air sent me back in time to when I was 12 or 13 years old. I had this happy feeling, a feeling of pure contentment, and in that moment, I heard myself say, "I don't want my life to be any different than it is today." In fact, as I voiced that feeling, I thought to myself, "I love my life. It is good. I cannot imagine it being any different."

I walked back in the house, and then headed to the kitchen where my Mom was sitting. I mentioned to her the memory I had, and then I recalled the situation surrounding the memory. It was a summer's day and my cousins were visiting from Ohio. I was sitting outside in the back yard, and my Mom came out of the kitchen to call to me. We were taking a trip into the city to see the museums, and I needed to get ready to go. I remember I was wearing my red football jersey and a pair of jeans. I remember my Mom saying I should wear something "girlie," but I declined. I was very much the tomboy back then.

As I was telling my Mom about my memory, my mind flashed to the museum and to an incident with my Aunt. It is a funny family story, well told, so it made my Mom laugh. It was good to hear her laugh like that because she doesn't always do that anymore. My Aunt had an episode up on the 8th floor of the Museum of Science and Industry. My cousin, I think it was Mark, said something funny (he was always doing that), and my Aunt wet her pants. The funny part was that she just walked away from the puddle on the floor. I remember being told that we "had to leave then and there," but I didn't know what had happened until later. I know -- in today's perfect society -- this story would not be considered funny or comical. It would be "gross negligence," "terrible behavior," etc. But in 1975, it was pretty hilarious (yes, we laughed shamelessly at things like this). My Aunt, of course, had laughed herself silly, hence the accident. She was always laughing and wetting her pants. It was a family "thing."

My memory of that day was so strong. I could remember everything, with great detail, and I thought to myself, "how blessed I was to have grown up that way." I mean, my life was very peaceful and good as a child. It wasn't perfect, mind you. I did suffer a lot of trauma in school, but in general, in my family and all, my life was good. It was a good childhood.

On Being Content

All of this remembering has caused me to appreciate my life in greater detail. It started this weekend, really, when I realized just how lucky I am to have the life I have today. I mean, it is not as if fate or luck was really involved, but rather it was more so that the Lord provided a good childhood for me, a good life, and my memories bear that testimony. I grew up in a time of relative safety. And, while there was a lot going on politically (Vietnam, for example), my life was free from harm. I lived in middle-class neighborhoods, and I went to good schools. I had the blessing of special vacations, summer holidays, and generally speaking, opportunity for cultural exposure. Our home was filled with emotion -- laughter mostly -- and for the most part, I was raised in a good place with love and care. It wasn't perfect, and by that I mean, I had sibling issues, parent issues, and other issues that spanned school, neighborhoods, and even communities. Yet, I wouldn't trade that upbringing for the world. I wouldn't want it to be any different. It was good, all considering, and I was blessed to have been raised when I was raised. The 60-70s were good years. I grew up in a good time in this country, and I grew up with good moral values.

So this morning, I am focusing on contentment, and what it means to be contented. I have blogged about it before, how I struggle at times with contentment, but lately it seems that I have come to terms with it. Perhaps I have finally learned the lesson of what it means to be truly content.

Wikipedia says this about contentment: "Contentment is a mental or emotional state of satisfaction maybe drawn from being at ease in one's situation, body and mind. Colloquially speaking, contentment could be a state of having accepted one's situation and is a milder and more tentative form of happiness." adds this: "The Bible has a great deal to say about contentment—being satisfied with what we have, who we are, and where we're going." gives the following definition for contentment: "the state of being contented; satisfaction; ease of mind."

As I think about contentment, I have to agree with these sources. For me, contentment really is being satisfied with one's situation, the status, or the outcome. I am at ease now, happy in my "lot in life," and agreeable (acceptable) of my current lifestyle. Yes, I guess you could say that contentment has come now that I have accepted who I am, what I have, and where I am going.

Dale Carnegie, author of "How to Win Friends and Influence People," once said about contentment, "It isn't what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it." I like what he is saying here as I think he was stressing that how you view your life is the key to being content. If you see yourself miserable in your situation, then you will not be content. If you see yourself as blessed, fortunate or envied, then you will have an outlook that matches your line of thinking. In short, your thoughts can influence your emotions.

Martha Washington, our first First Lady, said, "The greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances." Again, Mrs. Washington alludes to this same idea that how we view our life is critical to how we live it out. If we allow our circumstances to convince us of our lack of happiness, then we will never come to believe we have enough or the right people or things in our life.

Another great thinker, John Stuart Mill, was once quoted as saying, "I have learned to seek my happiness by limiting my desires, rather than in attempting to satisfy them." Mill, like Washington, and Carnegie all seem to being saying the same thing -- how we view our life will determine our attitudes, feelings, and beliefs. If we believe our life is bound up in poverty, then we will never taste the sweetness of contentment. We will always be yearning for what we do not possess. Yet, if we accept our state of being, our "lot in life," then we can begin to accept that happiness is not wrapped up in things, but rather it is a state of mental bliss. We become happy when we choose to be happy. We become peaceful when we practice peaceful thinking. We enjoy the blessing of contentment when we accept that to be content means that we must be agreeable to our current situation, we must be at ease in it, and that it is only then that we will find true joy.

Biblical Contentment

The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:11b, "…for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” I have always said that this is the type of attitude I want to possess. I want to be able to say that I am content in poverty and in riches. I want to be content regardless of my circumstance, and I want to experience the joy and peace that comes from contentment.

The Holman Bible dictionary defines contentment as "An internal satisfaction which does not demand changes in external circumstances." I like this definition best because it places the onus on the individual. Contentment is a choice every Christian must make. We must choose to be content, to no longer demand that our external circumstances change. We must stop asking God to change our situation, but rather we must ask Him to help us find peace in it. We must seek peace, joy, love, hope, etc., in and through our daily lives. We must stop looking for contentment elsewhere, in things (especially), but also in people or places. We must recognize that our Heavenly Father has given to us what He determines is best for our life, and that may mean less income than we desire or a smaller home than we think we need. Maya Angelou once said, "We need much less than we think we need," and she was correct. Rarely, do we realize that we can get along on little more than necessity provides. We tend to want to super-size everything, our homes, our cars, our lifestyles, and yet, in truth, we really need very little for comfort sake.

One of my favorite Bible verses is Phil. 4:19:

“And my God will liberally supply (fill to the full) your every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

As a blood-bought, born again Christian, all my needs are met with sufficiency in my Savior, Christ alone. I lack nothing so long as I have Christ. Yet, the world tells me that I am not to be content in my faith alone. No, I must have faith plus riches, faith plus possessions, faith plus career. I must have more than my Lord, my Savior, my King.

Strong's Concordance reveals something interesting regarding the definition of contentment. If you look up the word, contentment, you will find auxiliary words such as sufficiency, and independence. In human terms, the idea of being content would seem contrary to the idea of self-sufficiency, especially if you know what the Bible says about dependency upon God, and in context of Paul's letters, which speak frequently on this topic. Yet, Strong's provides clarification when taken in consideration with Paul's admonition to find contentment in Christ alone.

The Greek word for contentment is autárkeia, which is properly defined as self-sufficient. However, the word in Greek, "content," is used in the sense of being satisfied because of living in God's content or fulness. The word suggests an inward sufficiency resting solely in God's fullness. Furthermore, this inward sense is God-produced, so it is not something man-made or generated. Though, we can choose to agree or align our thinking and thus say "I am choosing to be content," the truth is that the ability to be content rests completely in the indwelling power of Christ.

Why Are We Not Then Content?

The Word says that we are not content simply because we do not seek contentment in the fulfillment of a relationship with our Lord and Savior. Instead, we seek fulfillment in things, in power and in possessions. The Bible tells us that in the last days, the need and the greed will become so intense, that as Christians, we will be bombarded by worldly systems that tell us how to satiate our fleshly desires. In 2 Timothy 3:2a, we read:

“For people will be lovers of self and [utterly] self-centered, lovers of money and aroused by an inordinate [greedy] desire for wealth, proud and arrogant and contemptuous boasters…”.

We are reminded that this is what the enemy of God says to us as he whispers in our ears, tempting us to lose our sense of well-being. We must possess this or that to be truly happy. We must strive after this achievement, that goal, in order to be satisfied. We must "have" what our neighbors have so that we will feel as if we have arrived, made it, scaled to the top of the world whereby our worth is assessed in power, position or possessions.

John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church, writes about the secret of contentment in one of his Grace To You devotionals. In this short devotional, Pastor MacArthur says that there are six things we must do to "practice" contentment. These six things are:
  1. Give thanks in all things (1 Thess. 5:18; Eph. 5:18)
  2. Rest in God's providence and care (Rom. 8:28, 1 Pet. 4:12-13)
  3. Learn to be satisfied with less (1 Tim 6:6)
  4. Learn to live above the circumstances of life (2 Cor. 12:9-10)
  5. Learn to live relying on God's power and His provision (Heb. 13:5, Eph. 3:16)
  6. Devote your time to the well-being of others (Phil. 2:3-4)
MacArthur writes, "A self-centered man is a discontented man." I think this is the crux of the problem when it comes to being discontented in life. We, as human beings, flawed and faulty flesh, are naturally (in our fallen state) self-centered. We want the world and everything in it to circle around us. We want to be worshipped, and we want others to bow down to us, to give to us everything we desire. This is the world we know today, whereby we see selfishness, narcissism, and idolatry at an all-time high. The world systems are turning inward, catering to the well-being of man, and in that way, the focus becomes on satisfying the inner longings, desires, and hungering that exist as a result of sin.

On the contrary, as Christians, we are no longer bound to those fleshly desires. We have been liberated from our sinful pit, and are able to walk in the freedom that comes with being born again. But, it is difficult to live free from sin and selfishness when the world screams at you, tells you at each turn that it is "best," "right," and "good" to think about your own needs above those of other people. The Word tells us otherwise. Paul encourages this mindset in Phil. 2:3-4, "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others." He reminds us in 1 Timothy 6:6, "Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content."

I think about this today because I have been discontented with my life for a long time. In fact, I have been discontented with my life for years. Even though I have been a Christian for close to 40 years, I can fully admit that contentment, peace, joy -- these things -- were not regularly practiced in my life. I chose to be dissatisfied, unhappy, and discontented. I longed for a life that I couldn't have, and I desired things (people, places and possessions) that were not God's will for me. I wanted to satisfy my inner longings, my deepest needs with things -- rather than with God's all-sufficient grace, mercy and goodness. It has taken me a long time to get to where I am today, to finally accept my "lot in life." I realize today, really just today, that where I am is right where God wants me to be. I am not lost. I have a secure identity in Christ Jesus, and I have food, shelter and clothing. I have a job that I enjoy, good friends, great colleagues and peers, and a loving family. I am good. I have everything I need to be content in this life. I may not have enough money -- and by that I mean -- enough according to worldly standards, but I have enough today to see me through, to carry me forward, and to take care of the burdens (responsibilities) the Lord has laid upon me. In time, He may choose to liberate me, to lift me up, to provide more. If He does, so be it. I will accept it from His gracious and merciful hand. If not, though, I will be content with what I do have for it will be enough. Manna from heaven. It is enough this good, good day.

The secret to contentment, therefore, is to appreciate what you already have in life. It is to look no further than to find blessing, enjoyment, and peace in your present circumstances. It is a state of mind that says I am good. I have enough. I have been satisfied in what the good Lord has provided to me.
It is Well with My Soul (1873)
Words by Horatio G. Spafford
Music by Philip Bliss

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But, Lord, ‘tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh trump of the angel! Oh voice of the Lord!
Blessèd hope, blessèd rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

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