5 Secrets to Contentment
The United States’ Declaration of Independence says that all people have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. It is interesting that the statement used is the pursuit of happiness and not just happiness itself. Apparently, it is evident that happiness is not easy to come by. We must pursue happiness because it is elusive. We all chase after it in one form or another, but few people ever really feel like they’ve found it.
While no one can control the circumstances in their life, all of us can control how we respond to them. Happiness comes from an attitude of contentment, which is a conscious choice more than it is a status of life. Being content is not easy, but the Bible does give us some guidance as to how we can be people who grow in contentment. The following are five things the Bible says will empower our contentment and therefore improve the level of happiness in our lives.
1. Don’t rely on your own strength
(Philippians 4:11-13) 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. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Try for a minute to force yourself to happy. It doesn’t matter what your current mood is, just make the mental decision to not feel that way any more and be happy. Ready? Set? Go!
Well, did it work? Of course not! We all know that happiness is not something we can just choose to do anytime we want. Our emotions are often beyond our immediate control. They ebb and flow on their own. Therefore, if we try to force ourselves to be happy we will inevitably fail.
The apostle Paul understood that the secret to being content no matter what situation he faced, whether it be good or bad, was to rely on Christ and not his own strength. If he was trusting in his own power to control his level of contentment, he was sure to fail. But Christ can do what we cannot. He has the power to produce in us what we cannot produce ourselves. And so the first thing we need to do in our efforts to be more content, no matter what life brings our way, is to rely on the strength that God provides. We simply can’t do it on our own.
2. Remember the promise of God’s presence
(Hebrews 13:5) 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.”
Contentment happens when we are satisfied with what we have. But what if we don’t have very much? What if it seems like we are lacking in what we want or need? The truth is that we have more than we realize! This verse says that our level of contentment will increase when we remember this promise: we always have God. He will never leave us or forsake us. He is with us always. And if God is with us, what more could we need?
The beauty of this promise is that God will provide everything we need no matter what circumstances we face. Even though it may seem like we are lacking, the truth is that God is never lacking, and if he is with us, we are not lacking either. King David had this in mind when he famously wrote, “the Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). If God is present, all your needs will be covered. Knowing this and taking it to heart will help produce a life of contentment and freedom from the craving for material possessions.
3. Everything is on loan to us
(1 Timothy 6:6-8) Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.
The ancient Egyptians had some interesting beliefs about the afterlife. For instance, they believed that you could be buried with items that would somehow affect your post-death experience. Based on this belief, many Pharaoh’s were buried with enormous amounts of wealth in hopes that they could enjoy their riches on the other side of death.
This practice demonstrates the absurd level of desperation that many people have to cling to their possessions. And yet the Bible says very plainly that “we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world”. We enter life empty-handed, we leave empty-handed, and everything in the middle is just on loan to us for a little while. The fact that we obsess over stuff that is just going to get old and decay anyways shows how foolish we are. What we need is a change in perspective. Putting material things in their rightful place—as temporary gifts to use but not idols to cling to—frees us from the anxiety of trying to preserve them and allows us instead to simply enjoy them as they come and go in our lives. We can shift our focus to the things that really matter, such as laying up for ourselves treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20) by serving God and people through acts of love.
4. Change the measure of success
(Luke 12:15) And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
What makes a person successful? For many the answer is found in their material possessions. How big your house is, how nice your car is, how fancy your cell phone is—these are the kinds of things we use as indicators of a successful life. By this standard, those who have lots are doing well, and those who have little are not. But Scripture tells us that this standard of measurement is exactly the wrong way to think about things.
Jesus immediately followed up the statement quoted above with a story. There was a very rich man who decided one day to tear down his barns and build bigger ones to store all of his goods. He then decided to kick his feet up and take it easy, since he had more than enough to last him the rest of his life. Yet a sudden and shocking reality comes when God enters the picture:
But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.
The point Jesus is making is that life is not measured by how much wealth you accumulate but by your relationship with God. Those who are rich but forget God are actually poor. Yet those who are poor but honour God are rich. If we are to be content in life, we need to have our focus on the right priorities, keeping an eternal perspective instead of an earthly and temporal one.
5. Weaknesses are opportunities for strength
(2 Corinthians 12:10) For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
No one likes to feel weak. I don’t know anyone who enjoys not being able to accomplish something or feeling like they don’t have the power to control their lives. Everyone wants to have the sense that they are in the drivers seat. Life, though, has a way of messing up those plans. Hardships inevitably come and give us a healthy dose of humility. The storms of life—financial strain, emotional distress, disability, betrayal, and the like—tend to remind us that we are not as in-control of our lives as we wish.
So what is one to do? There are really only two options. You can increase your resolve and try to control everything, which will end in failure every time, because some things are just beyond our ability to control. Or, you can accept those things as realities and change the way you think about them. The above Scripture says that we should do the latter and not the former. Rather than act as if we have no weakness, we can embrace our weakness as opportunities for God to show up in our lives. This doesn’t mean we roll over and give up on everything, but it does mean that those things which are beyond our ability to control we simply give to God and allow him to use them for his own purposes. We can be content, despite our weakness, when we know that God has a plan for them and will use them as occasions to show up in power in our lives.
What’s It Going to Be?
Happiness is something we can’t exactly control, but contentment, on the other hand, is a conscious choice. We can choose to be satisfied with what we have, and that choice is a whole lot easier when we realize:
- God will provide everything we need
- God will always be with us
- The things in life are just temporary
- True success isn’t measured by our standard of living
- Weaknesses are opportunities for God to show up
So, what’s it going to be? Will you keep on being dissatisfied with life and live in perpetual misery, or will you have a change of perspective and embrace what God has given you? The choice is yours.