Contentment is something we as believers often pray for. It's one of those things we desire but often feels just out of reach. We read Paul's description of contentment in Philippians and it seems like an impossibility, "Not that I am speaking of being in need, for 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" (Philippians 4:11-12).
To be content in whatever situation? What does that even look like?
How are we to be content when we lose our job, when relationships are hard, when our bodies don't work right, when everyone else's dreams come true while we stand there with hands left empty?
Sometimes I think that one of the problems with our contentment is that we are content with the things we shouldn't be content with and discontent with the the things we should be contented with.
Perhaps we are discontent because we are too content with the wrong things.
We are content in our lack of growth in faith
We are content with barely skimming the top layer of Scripture
We are content with this world and what it has to offer
We are content with how we treat others
We are content with our bad habits, the idols of our hearts, and our "respectable" sins
We are content in the superficiality of our relationships
We are content with our text-like prayers and crying out to God only when we are in need
We are content with how little we really know about God
We are content with a heart that loves this world more than we long for the next
In being content with these things, we find ourselves discontent with where we live, our marriage, our friendships, our work, and where God has placed us. We zero in on these things and think that if they changed, our life would be better. We compare what we have to what others have. We disconnect and disengage and seek all that is greener on the other side.
In effect, we are content with a halfhearted devotion to Christ. Our hearts are turned away from Christ and toward false idols we think will satisfy a parched soul. The secret to Paul's contentment in all circumstances, whether he had plenty or had little, was that his heart was fixed on Christ. "I can do all things through him who strengthens me" (vs. 13). Like Paul, our own contentment needs to be rooted in Christ, who he is, what he has done, and who we are because of it.
In Christ, we have all we need or could ever desire. In him we find our meaning and purpose. We find our identity as an image bearer and as a child of the living God. Finding our meaning in him keeps us focused on the work he has for us rather than what he is doing in the lives of others. In Christ, we find the mercy, grace, and salvation we desperately need. This is our greatest need and one that can only be met in him.
And as we look to him, seeking to know him through his word, our hearts are surgically transformed by his living and powerful word. The more his word and the truths of the gospel work in us, the more our desires conform to his will, and the more we find ourselves content with whatever circumstances the Lord provides.
When we find our hearts discontent and we long for something new and better and we begin to look for it in all the wrong places, we need to cry out to God. Not to ask him to make our lives better but to ask for a clean heart. We need to seek him in repentance, applying to our heart what Christ has done for us in the gospel. We need to abide in him, remembering that apart from him, we can do nothing.
Then the one thing we ask for won't be what our neighbor has. It won't be a change in circumstance. It won't be a plea for something new or better. Rather we'll be able to say with the psalmist, "One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple" (27:4).