We live in a world that is full of blessings. Especially if you live in this nation. We live in a nation with stores that have whole aisles dedicated to pet supplies. Whole departments of nothing but fishing equipment. We carry phones in our back pockets that can Facetime friends across the world and look up movie stars birthdays. We click a button on our laptop and the next day an order is sitting on our porch.
Yet we are all tempted to discontentment. To grumbling and complaining. There’s something in our nature that always wants more. “I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now!” “Gimme, gimme, gimme, I need, I need, I need!” A couple summers ago, one evening our power went down for a few hours. I said to my wife, “What am I going to do? I can’t watch TV. I can’t get on my computer.” And some of you may remember my story of how years ago my wife won a cruise, and after we’d eaten like kings for a week, the last night as I was wolfing down shrimp I said, “You know, I think these shrimp would be better if they were a little smaller.” Then suddenly I was convicted. “What has happened to me? I’m complaining because the shrimp are too big!”
Why are we so discontented and how can we grow in contentment and joy? It is God’s will that his people find contentment in him, and I believe it is possible with God’s grace to do that.
The first step in pursuing contentment is to understand the roots of our discontentment. Where does it come from?
Our Fallen Hearts
Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man. Proverbs 27:20
For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 1 John 2:16
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 1 Peter 2:11
When Jesus saves us, he gives us new hearts. He puts his Spirit within us, who gives us new desires. But our old heart,, our fallen nature, is still with us. It is no longer our dominant nature, we are no longer slaves to sin, but our old nature, still seeks to exert its desires. Our fallen nature will never be satisfied, no matter how much we sow to it. This is why we must put to death our sinful desires with God’s help.
The Lies of the enemy and the world
Satan doesn’t need all kinds of new techniques for temptation. He still uses the same ones he used on Eve.
1Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Genesis 3:1-6
First Satan lies about God’s word: “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Then Eve looks at the fruit and sees how delightful and desirable it appears. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate”
Here is what Satan, the world and our deceitful hearts will tell us: If I only had THIS, THEN I’d be happy. If I just had a new car. If I just had a bigger house. If I just had a girlfriend…then I’d be content. That’s how Satan and our fallen hearts speak to us. And our eyes don’t help us. We drive through a rich neighborhood and look at the homes and think, I wish I had THAT house. That would be so nice…
So often our eyes lead us into temptation. Our eyes can lead us into lust and other sinful desires.
The world tells us it will satisfy us.
He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. ECCL 5.10
But the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. MK 4.19
If Satan cannot keep us from being saved, he wants to keep us from finding joy and contentment in Christ. He wants us to look to the world.
Marriages get in trouble when one or both partners look for a “soul mate” – someone who can fulfill their every need. Someone who needs no maintenance on our part. Someone who will love us unconditionally and encourage us and not expect us to change. The Bible nowhere says that our wife or husband is our soul mate. Jesus is our only soul mate. He alone can fulfill our every true need. He loves us unconditionally. He does expect us to change – he transforms us into his own likeness. He alone can satisfy us. No human being can satisfy another human being.
Don’t look to your children to satisfy you. Don’t look to a career to satisfy you. Don’t think If only I could do THAT, or if only I had THAT, or if only I had a husband like THAT, then I’d be happy.
The second step to finding contentment is to pursue the true and only source of Contentment: Jesus
The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. PS 16.5-6
“”The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” Lamentations? ?3:24-26?
When Scripture says the Lord is our chosen portion and our beautiful inheritance, it means that Jesus is the only one who satisfies and fulfills us. No human being can satisfy us – our wife or our husband can’t satisfy us. No thing can satisfy us – a house, a car, the perfect job, riches, wealth, cruises, shrimp…nothing but Jesus Christ himself can fulfill us and satisfy us. But God is the fountain of all delights and when we pursue our joy in him we will find it.
Who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. PS 103.5
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. PS 16.11
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. PS 37.4
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” HEB 13.5
So how can we learn to be content?
First, Practice Thankfulness
Consider the spiritual blessings you have received, consider the material blessings…thank God for as much as you can.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! Psalm 100:4
One way I have tried to “enter his gates with thanksgiving” is to use a journal. Most days, as part of my devotional time with the Lord, before I bring my requests to God, I take a few minutes to write one page of things I am thankful for. I start most pages with something like, “Lord God, thank you for… then I may write blessings from the day before. I try to thank God for our family, for our provision, for the gift of sleep and God’s protection. I may thank him for spiritual blessings, like my salvation and forgiveness of my sins. I don’t labor over it. I can thank him for something as simple as having lunch with a friend, or going fishing with my granddaughter. I just want to cultivate thankfulness.
As much as I can I try to be thankful throughout the day. I try to thank God for as much as I can.
Second, guard your heart:
Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off. Proverbs 23:17-18
Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life. Proverbs 4:23 (NASB)
I know my heart can be tempted to envy sinners. So I have to guard it. I have to guard against thinking if I just had THAT it would satisfy me.
Third, keep your eyes on Jesus. Look to him to satisfy you.
But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” JN 4.14
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2 (Berean Study Bible)
The way to run this race with endurance is to keep looking to Jesus. Remember, Eve got in trouble by looking at the fruit, which looked so delicious and delightful. But God tells us to keep looking to Jesus. To fix our eyes on him.
Joseph Alleine said:
“Have you taken God for your happiness? Where does the desire of your heart lie? What is the source of your greatest satisfaction?… If God would give you your choice, as he did to Solomon, what would you ask? Go into the garden of pleasure, and gather all the fragrant flowers there; would these satisfy you? Go to the treasures of mammon, and to the trophies of honour; would any of these, would all of these satisfy you and make you to consider yourself happy?”
If God is our source of happiness, then nothing can take our happiness from us. For nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. If we look to anything else in this world to satisfy us, eventually we will be disappointed, for nothing in this world lasts.
In Jeremiah 2:13 God says,
“My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
God is the fountain of living waters. He alone can satisfy our deepest needs. Any other wells we attempt to dig to satisfy our thirst will leak and leave us thirsty.
John Flavel said:
Surely if [God] would not spare his own Son one stroke, one tear, one groan, one sigh, one circumstance of misery, it can never be imagined that ever he should, after this, deny or withhold from his people, for whose sakes all this was suffered, any mercies, any comforts, any privilege, spiritual or temporal, which is good for them.” (In The Greener Grass Conspiracy by Stephen Altrogge)
The best question we can ask ourselves when we’re feeling discontented or despondent is “What am I believing about God right now?” Do I believe God is in control? Do I believe he is infinitely good? Do I believe he is infinitely wise? Do I believe he cares about me? Or do I believe that somehow God has forgotten about me. Or that maybe he is not really good and loving.
Jeremiah 32:40 says: I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.
Fourth, keep fighting the good fight to be content in Jesus
We must continually fight to believe this: God will never turn away from doing good to us. He never gives his children anything but what is good for us. He causes ALL things to work together for our good. No good thing does he withhold from his children. I regularly remind myself of God’s promise in Psalm 27:13-14:
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!
If God withholds anything from us it is for our good. If he allows us to go through anything it is for our good. And we must always remember our greatest good is knowing and loving him and being conformed to Christ. If our suffering drives us to deeper pursuit of God and we cling more closely to him, that is wonderful. If our affliction humbles us and makes us more merciful to others, that is a good thing.
In heaven we’ll look at all that God did in our lives that we didn’t understand at the time and it will all make sense to us. In heaven we’ll praise and thank God for our momentary light afflictions, for we’ll see the eternal weight of glory they produced. In heaven we’ll say, “Jesus, thank you for all you did in me through that trial.”
If we will praise God in heaven for all the good he did through our trials, shouldn’t we praise him in faith now?
Fifth, remember that growing in contentment is a lifelong process.
…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Php 4.11-13)
Paul says he learned to be content in every situation. He learned how to be content when he was “brought low.” He even had to learn to be content when he would “abound.” We think we will automatically be content in abundance, but our deceitful hearts will crave for more if we aren’t careful. We can’t imagine being content when we are “brought low,” when we lack this world’s blessings, or when we suffer. But when we look to Jesus, we can do all things because he strengthens us. We can be content through Christ.
How about you? Has God helped you grow in contentment? What practices has he given you that help you be content in him?