I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well feed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.Philippines 4: 11-13
Is it possible to have contentment … a peace separate from our circumstances … when we are loving someone who is mentally ill? Especially when it is a spouse and your whole life is upside down? When it is a child and their prospects are damaged and our daily lives are so changed? Or it is a parent and you have to parent them?
Look again at what Paul says: “I have learned the secret of being content.” Contentment can be learned with God’s grace.
In fact, Paul had to learn it. Paul did not have an easy life. Here’s what Paul says about his line in 2 Corinthians 11: 23-29.
23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
We don’t have Paul’s problems, but we don’t have easy lives either. To top it off, we live in a culture that wants us to be discontented. For many years, the marketers wanted us to be discontent. Now the marketers, the politicians and our neighbors with anti-everything yard signs want us to be discontent.
We already can feel like we got robbed. We see other people with normal kids, normal spouses, normal parents and a normal life. We feel envy. And we may think that God must have been looking the other way when our loved ones got sick. Or that God doesn’t love us as much as He loves everyone else.
Yes, most of us have head knowledge … Bible knowledge … that the source and strength of all contentment is God himself. Contentment is both a God-given grace and something we can learn. It’s not a denial of suffering or injustice. It’s an inner condition of our hearts that is cultivated over time. Let’s look at what contentment is and what it is not.
What Contentment Is
True contentment is inner peace and calmness. If you look calm on the outside, but you’re a frantic basket case on the inside, you’re not content.
To be content, you have to feel the pain of your suffering. God uses this to help us find contentment in Jesus. So, in an odd way, you have feel enormous discontent to get to the point where you learn to be feel content.
Contentment comes from within. You can’t distract your situation away. Or commit sin (such as sinking into substance abuse of one kind or another) to avoid it.
My church’s founding pastor Rich Nathan gave a sermon in 2004 that offered a three-part plan to develop contentment that I can’t improve on at all.
Three Steps to Contentment
No. 1: Acknowledge God’s sovereignty over your life. Practice surrender.
The Bible teaches that everything, even our loved one’s illnesses, have to pass through God’s hands before they happen. As Elisabeth Elliott put it: “Whatever happens is assigned.”
God’s power is unlimited, and he rules all our lives.
Matthew 10:29-30: Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. The very hairs on your head are all numbered.”
Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who live him, who have been called according to his purpose.” We will never suffer trials unless God allows them and watches over them.
The most important example of a person who trusted God under terrible circumstances was Jesus himself. Have we ever been in so much agony that we sweat blood over it? Yes, Jesus understands how we feel.
And we learn things from suffering that we probably couldn’t learn anywhere else: reliance on grace, humility, perseverance, quality prayer, faith, trust, a real relationship with God.
Rich suggested that we engage in a spiritual exercise when we are upset about our life situation. That we say: Just for today, I choose to believe that you are in control of my life. Just for today, I will choose to trust that you know what is best for me and for the kingdom. Like Joseph, I’m going to say that others may have intended what happened to me for evil, but you intended it for good. You are good. Your will is good.
No. 2: Practice thanksgiving.
Start being grateful for the littlest things: grass, sky, trees. Spend a day looking for things to be grateful for.
No. 3: Practice abiding.
This means that you connect with God’s person. You can do all things through God who strengthens you, but you have to abide in God to do so.
Pastor Rich encouraged us to:
Breathe in the presence of God. Welcome the Holy Spirit into areas that you’ve been grumbling about in the past, areas where you are discontented, areas where you are frustrated. Invite the person of the Holy Spirit to come into that part of your life.
Accept God’s sovereignty. Offer thanksgiving. Invite God into your situations and abide with him. Contentment will come.