Contentment is not one of the nine fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians but it is a quality of life that I believe most of us urgently need more of, as we live our lives in the 21st century consumer society.
I am sure that every generation has had challenges in this area but it seems to me that it has ramped up hugely for us. Every 15 – 20 minutes when you watch a programme on commercial TV there are a series of strong visual messages that suggest that you should not be content with your current life, your kitchen, your current car, your current sofa, your current clothes, the type of food that you currently eat and much more beside. Its called advertising! Online Facebook and Google where I can go free, nevertheless utilise advertising as a source of income. All advertising can risk causing us to feel discontent.
Influencers on social media encourage you to buy this, try that so that you become more beautiful, cool, attractive, fulfilled etc. Rightly used, self help books can be very helpful, but we need to beware that they don’t feed discontent. A book on 49 ways to improve your marriage can feed our perfectionisms and leave you thinking “is my marriage that bad?!” Its not surprising if the atmosphere around us is the opposite of contentment.
Enough of that, suffice it to say, its not good news for advertisers if we are content. And the bad news is that the pressure to have more, better, different, newer, and be more beautiful, cool, fulfilled etc can leave us very unsettled and stressed, if not unhappy. It is interesting and challenging that in the parable of the sower, Jesus described the thorns that choke the plant’s healthy growth not only as worries and the deceitfulness of riches but also “the desires for other things” Mark 4.19.
So on to the good news. “Godliness is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment” 1 Timothy 6:6. The Holy Spirit is inviting us to be content and that is a challenge in our culture. In the context Paul brings it down to some pretty basic stuff – “if we have food and clothes, with these we shall be content” (verse 8). Also in the context he invites us to consider that there is “great gain” from this (not just being a stoic) and contrasts it with the opposite; they “pierced themselves with many a pang” (verse 10).
Reading the gospels and seeing how He lived, it seems to me that Jesus managed to combine His love for God and people, the pleasure of doing His Father’s will, and fulfilling His purpose, with a strong sense of contentment. Perhaps that was fed by His strong confidence in knowing who He was, and what He was about (John 13:3.). Then maybe that links to the Message translation of 1 Timothy 6:6, “A devout life does bring wealth, but it is the rich simplicity of being ourselves before God”
How do I experience more contentment? Well thanksgiving is such a powerful, practical and truthful key to this. “I wish my husband/wife was more considerate, but thank you Lord I have a partner who loves me – many don’t. I wish my kids were better behaved, but thank you Lord I have kids, many don’t. I’d love a steak but thank you for a nourishing chilli. I’d love a new kitchen or new car, but thank you Lord I have somewhere to cook and a vehicle to get to work in. I’d love it if our church was bigger, brighter etc, but thank you Lord for the brothers and sisters you have given me”. You see thanksgiving is not a whitewash, it can be totally realistic about what would be nice, or better or what I am praying for and looking to change. However importantly, thanksgiving is grateful for what I have now. Then here comes contentment leading to more rest, peace and joy.
And funnily enough because this contentment from thanksgiving feeds the rest of faith, it’s quite likely that I will then have more energy, hope and faith to press on to know and follow the Lord. Contentment is not complacency. Naturally there can be a dynamic living tension here, the Spirit who calls us to rest and contentment, also invites us to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to pursue God, to press on to know the Lord, to want to be more like Jesus, to pray, to earnestly desire spiritual gifts, to long for revival and more.
The old adage ‘is the glass half full or half empty?’ can really help us here. Both are completely true – the level of water is half way up. In neither case am I kidding myself, or believing in the power of unrealistic positive thinking. I am stating a fact. But being very intentionally grateful for whatever the ‘half full’ is that I have today will not only lead to greater contentment and joy, but it is likely to both draw me nearer to my Lord as I enter His presence with thanksgiving (Psalm 100) and give me energy to go forward into my day and maybe release creative ideas that improve things and move things forward.
It’s interesting that Jesus said that we would experience trouble in life (John 16:33) but He was also clear that ”in Me you will have peace”. Gratitude in half empty/half full, imperfect, troublesome situations can pull me back into awareness of His presence where there is peace and contentment.