The Path to Contentment

contentment road sign illustration design

I’ll never forget the day that Heather and I got our first glimpse of our house while it was still in construction. The contractor called to let us know the foundation had been poured and we could go see the first step in the building process. I had this grand vision in my mind of what it would be like added on to a load of expectations that had piled up over my lifetime of dreaming about the home I would build when I was ‘grown up.’ As soon as we were off of work we drove out to our property and eagerly looked forward to seeing the beginning of the home we would spend our lives together in.

As we got out of the car and walked around the foundation and asked myself, “Is this it?” It seemed so much smaller than the dimensions laid out on the architectural renderings as well as the home I imagined in my mind throughout this process. We were committing to 30 years of payments towards a home I definitely expected more out of. I was let down and deflated but I tried my best to be chipper and excited for this next step in our marriage adventure together. Over the last 11 years in our home I have learned to love and be thankful for it as it has housed our family and has seen our lives though seasons of independence, parenthood, housing other families in need, parties, sleepovers, small group Bible studies, as well as numerous storms and kept us safe through all of it.

Contentment was the missing piece of the puzzle that day and it still is for many of my days. I keep looking at what I think is missing, a goal I haven’t accomplished yet, a prize I haven’t won, or a regret I have for a poor life choice. These ideas are ones that can take our focus off of what truly matters place them on temporary things that make no real difference in light of eternity. I heard one of my professors say that we must find the balance between being so Earthly minded that we are no Heavenly good and being so Heavenly minded that we are no Earthly good.

Consider what Jesus had to say about life issues when He said:

[10] The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. (John 10 NLT)

In this context, Jesus is referring to Satan when he is talking about the thief. He is saying that like a thief who sneaks into a sheep pen to steal the sheep from the shepherd Satan’s purpose for our lives is to destroy us. Jesus, on the other hand, is the Good Shepherd who wants to give us a rich and satisfying life. This doesn’t mean that we are guaranteed health, wealth, and wisdom but it means that God wants us to have a life that is satisfying and content.

I do not believe we should look for the Devil to be hiding behind every preverbal bush in our lives but I cannot debate how clearly the Scriptures teach that there is, in fact, spiritual warfare being engaged around us on a daily basis. In the grand scheme of things, Satan wants us to be distracted from what really matters: bringing God’s Kingdom here on Earth as it is in Heaven. Our purpose in life is to be ambassadors for Christ and to bring the Gospel in a relevant way. Satan and his demonic forces seek to keep us off track of that purpose and get caught up in the day to day problems of life.

Think of all the things in life that, in and of themselves, are not bad things yet keep us from being able to place our focus on eternal things. We work hours and hours each week to make money to support ourselves and our families, we spend hours traveling, hours watching television, we spend money on things we want rather than on those in need, we focus on our appearance and the way other people see us rather than being concerned with how God sees. We want to keep up with “the Jones” when the Jones are really broke and over their heads in debt. All of these things keep us from achieving the real purpose in life and distract us from the fact that thousands of people we meet in our lives have not placed total trust in Christ and will spend eternity separated from God in Hell without coming to a place where they have done so.

So, what is the secret? Where do we find the path to contentment? I believe we do this in two ways: first, we place our total trust in God who created us and gives us purpose and second, we look to find a balance between productivity and peace. These two things are the foundation of contentment. If we focus on these things then we will be able to find that proper balance between the past, present, and future of our lives.

First, let us consider how we can place our total trust in God. This is not just for our salvation but also for our day to day lives. Let’s examine what Jesus had to say about this issue. When speaking to the thousands upon thousands who followed him during his earthly ministry Jesus said:

[25] “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? [26] Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? [27] Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

[28] “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, [29] yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. [30] And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

[31] “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ [32] These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. [33] Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. (Matthew 6: 25-33 NLT)

Jesus rightly said that these things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers but I would also add that it dominates the thoughts of many Christians too. We so easily focus on our appearance and our material needs. Yet, we fail to focus on eternal things. Jesus said that we when we seek God’s Kingdom first then the other things fall into place. He didn’t say that we shouldn’t seek them (it is wise to be concerned about providing for ourselves and our families) but He said we should seek the Kingdom of God above all these other things. It should be the primary focus of our lives; when it is, the other things will find their proper place.

We see this idea lived out in the life of the Apostle Paul. Paul, who basically had a PhD in Rabbinic Studies from one of the highest schools in the nation (he was the student of the Rabbi Gamaliel), gave up all of the fame and future fortune he stood to gain from his life path and became perhaps the greatest missionary in Christian history. Because of this, he was imprisoned, beaten, starved, marooned on an island, and generally placed into a life of struggle all for the sake of the Gospel. With this in mind, consider what he had to say on the issue of contentment:

[11] Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. [12] I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. [13] For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Philippians 4 NLT)

Most of you will be familiar with verse 13 because Christians love to plaster it on shirts, bumper stickers, coffee cups, painting, posters, and even put it on their eye black for sporting events. We have taken this verse out of context to think that this means we can do anything that could ever be imagined when in fact Paul was saying that he could endure any hardship because Christ gave him the strength to endure it.

This may bother you to read that. If it does, I challenge you to do something for me. Go outside the nearest building (office, home, hotel, etc.) and try to lift it above your head. Did you try? I bet you didn’t lift it over your head, did you? Did Christ not give you the strength to do so? Is God not capable of making you be able to lift that huge building above your head? Of course He can. Yet, this is not at all what Paul is talking about. He is dealing with all of the struggles in his life and how God gives him the strength to get through it.

This is the secret to contentment: Putting everything in its place will give you peace.

When we put the Kingdom first, our families second, and all of our other priorities in their own places then you can find contentment. That sentence didn’t fix all of your problems though, did it? Your bills still need to be paid, your children still drive you crazy, your work still wants you to work extra shifts, your teacher still will give you too much work, and on and on it goes. However, when I realize that all of this anxiety will not solve the issues I can say, “God will give me the strength to handle this.” Then I can find peace.

Yet, this idea must be balanced with action. James (the half-brother of Jesus) tells us that a faith without work is a dead faith (cf. James 2). We cannot simply say we are doing something; we must actually go out and do it as well. This is where we can learn from the wisdom of others. Let’s look at what the studies of Dr. Michael B. Frisch in his book Quality of Life Therapy: Applying a Life Satisfaction Approach to Positive Psychology and Cognitive Therapy say.

In this book, Dr. Frisch gives us three actions to take when we deal with stress: focus on the positive, take action when you can, plan when you can’t (pg. 103). He explains that we often lose our sense of contentment when we stop focusing on the positive. Let’s look back at the example I started out with; I have been tempted in my life numerous times to find discontent with the home I live in when I compare it to the thousands of homes I have seen and visited in my life. Yet, when I focus on the positive I can find so many great things about our home: it keeps us safe, it houses us with plenty of room, it has been the place where so many of our memories have been made, we have shared so many meals there, my children have played all over the place, and on and on I could go.

Just making that short list made me smile and be grateful. My focus shifted from the negative to the positive and I moved closer to contentment. The other two steps build on this idea. Dr. Frisch elaborates on these by letting the reader know that when a problem arises you cannot solve it simply by worrying about it. Instead, you can greatly decrease your amount of stress and anxiety simply taking action when you can and making a plan for action when you can’t. Let’s look at an example below to flesh this out.

Let’s say you know your car is going to need new tires soon. You could get all bent out of shape by thinking about how expensive the tires are, how you don’t have that kind of money in your budget, that you barely can pay your bills as it is, and how you’re going to be stuck in a very bad situation when your tires blow and leave you stranded on the side of the road with no money for tires and no way to get to work without them. This is incredibly stressful to just think about. Yet, the tires have not blown yet. They are still okay but they are only getting worse over time. All of that stress and worry amounts to nothing but a waste of time.

If there was action to take you could take it but since there was nothing to do there was no reason to worry. Instead, you could/should make a plan. While you are waiting for the tires to wear out you could budget out money each month to plan on it. You can get an estimate on how long the tires will last and then decide how much money should be set aside each paycheck to be prepared for it. Then, when the time finally does arise you’ll have a plan and you can rest easy knowing that you have that plan laid out.

If we do those three things we can stay away from the vast majority of stress in our lives. Then, when we balance this perspective with putting God’s Kingdom first and everything else in its proper place we will find perspective that alleviates much of the stress, worry, and anxiety we face over life issues that come up. God does not want us to worry; in fact, He commands us not to. Worrying does not change a situation but it can definitely change us. This week, it is my prayer that you will begin putting feet to faith in this area of your life so that we can be focused on eternity rather the things we cannot change.

Don’t forget the secret to contentment: Putting everything in its place will give you peace.

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