More Thoughts On Contentment

By Brandon Lemons

This past Sunday, we began a three-part series called Learning Contentment. In this article, I’d like to address a few aspects of contentment that won’t be addressed much during the series but are valuable for understanding and learning contentment.

In this series, we are defining Christian contentment as “the rest you experience in your soul when you trust that God’s wisdom and grace are enough to satisfy you.” The reason I call this contentment “Christian” is because it depends on God and is rooted in the Bible, especially 2 Corinthians 12:8-10. A more general and typical description of contentment speaks of being satisfied with our lot in life regardless of circumstances, but this notion of contentment doesn’t include God. However, I believe God plays a key role in our ability to experience contentment; otherwise, our pursuit of contentment is dependent on our own effort. This self-powered pursuit of contentment is likely to: 1) leave us disillusioned and bitter if life’s challenges are extremely difficult; 2) leave us so emotionally detached that our demeanor is aloof and indifferent to the difficulties and joys of life around us; or 3) leave us with a sense of pride and even arrogance at how well we are doing in contentment compared to others. The bottom line is that deep and durable contentment is fueled by God.

One of the pitfalls of a series like Learning Contentment is that it can actually generate more discontentment and anxiety if it causes us to feel guilty or to beat ourselves up over not being more content. Therefore, I’d like to offer clarifications about contentment.

1. Contentment is not a call to ignore the difficulty of our trials. Many circumstances in life are painful, agonizing, heart-breaking, etc. The Bible teaches that we should be real and honest about the challenges we face. For instance, the “psalms of lament” demonstrate that it’s appropriate to feel our pains deeply and to pour out our hearts to God when the trials of life attack (see, for example, Psalm 13). Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, shows us the same thing (Matthew 26:36-46). True biblical contentment fully acknowledges the difficulties we face.

2. The pursuit of contentment is not opposed to voicing our complaints to God and even to others. Again, the psalms of lament give full voice to the psalmists’ complaints and emotions. The apostle Paul pled with God repeatedly to take away his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:8), and Jesus voiced His sorrow to His friends and to God, particularly as He anticipated His crucifixion (Matthew 26:28-44). Jeremiah Burroughs writes in The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment that the person who is suffering “may communicate his sad condition to his Christian friends, showing them how God has dealt with him, and how heavy the affliction is upon him, that they may speak a word in season to his weary soul.” God calls Christians to “carry one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2), “pray for one another” (James 5:16), and “encourage one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). For these to happen, we must be honest with each other about our needs and struggles. (For more information on this topic, see my article on Authentic Relationships from October 27.)

3. The pursuit of contentment is not opposed to seeking help and healing from our afflictions. Again, just look at the apostle Paul’s prayers that God remove his affliction (2 Corinthians 12:8). In that instance, God said, “no.” But many times, God’s will is to say “yes” and improve our circumstances – perhaps gradually, perhaps quickly. Think about this topic in the context of health problems. When we have a health issue, it is good and appropriate to seek medical treatments for healing; contentment in the face of illness does not mean we must resign ourselves to suffering under the illness with no attempts at healing. We should seek healing. As Paul demonstrates, God can still empower our contentment even if we are not healed (2 Corinthians 12:8-10), but that shouldn’t preclude our pursuit of help and healing. Contentment is closely related to mental health. Mental/emotional health is complex, and there are definitely times when professional counseling and medication are important to address mental health issues. For instance, a person may have chemical imbalances or trauma from their past that inhibit healthy growth in Christian contentment, and these topics should be taken seriously and addressed intentionally as part of the process of pursuing contentment in Christ.

4. Contentment in our soul is congruent with discontentment with our circumstances and with the world. Our world is broken. If we think we should be perfectly at peace and content with all of the less-than-ideal (and even ungodly) circumstances around us, we are essentially trying to be more spiritual than Jesus. Jesus demonstrated beautiful contentment in His sense of identity, significance, and security. This is because He trusted God fully and knew deeply who He was and wha