Defining Contentment

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Jeremiah Burroughs defines contentment as “that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition”

Contentment is one Christian virtue that Americans have an incredibly hard time understanding and applying.  We have such comfortable lives that we often never have to figure out how to be happy when things aren’t going our way.  And when things do go against our will, we are so prone to blame and point fingers and find someone to be responsible for our discomfort.  When tragedy hits we talk to each other about how strong we are and we think if we just put on a cheerful face then we will have things under control.   But this is not contentment.  Being truly at peace about all circumstances doesn’t come from our own strength.  I would offer this other additional definition  – contentment is believing that a good and kind Father is intricately working out the details of our lives, which results in a deep peace and quietness and strength in our souls.

Being content isn’t about being in a good mood, or having a cheerful personality.  There are so many people who appear to be happy, but their hearts are bubbling with worry and anxiety.  Sometimes a sanguine personality is nothing more than a thick cover over a soul that is constantly frustrated with their circumstances.  When someone is really at peace, through and through, their joy will come out genuinely and consistently, not just in outbursts of happiness.

A content person is someone who is happy with their whole story, with every little detail of what God is doing with them and with their life.  But it does not mean that they ignore the pain.  It does not mean that they don’t cry to the Lord like David, it doesn’t mean that they don’t seek answers like Job, it doesn’t mean that they don’t ask the Lord to deliver them every day.  We can beg God constantly for deliverance while still believing that He is love and while still believing that His timing is better than ours.  That is where we can find the joy within the trail.  When we are at the brink of disaster and the only thread we have holding us is our prayers, we will see Christ in a way that we cannot see Him without the trial.  When all our efforts have failed and we are just waiting for the Lord to fix our situation, we will feel the strength of the Spirit in a way that we never could have before.  That sweet fellowship with God is something to be thankful for in and of itself.

When someone is really content, when they have accepted that all the workings of their lives are being orchestrated by a God who knows them and loves them, all of their worry and complaints and fear melt away.  When I believe that the God who created me, who gave me all my talents and skills also gave me all my responsibilities, I can be content to let go of pursuing my talents.  When I believe that God wants me to spend the evening doing dishes, then I can cheerfully and without complaint set aside the reading and writing and drawing that I wanted to accomplish.  He made me and He knows how my time should be spent.  He is not wasting my life.

Contentment has a long view of the story.  It sees the trial as a valley with a light at the end, as just one chapter of the story.  A content person is not defining their story by their struggles, they are defining their story by their deliverances.  A content person isn’t talking about how terrible it was when the Egyptians followed them out of Egypt, they are talking about the chariots that are at the bottom of the sea.  They are not talking about how hungry they were in the wilderness, they are talking about how good the manna tasted and how sweet the quail was after so long without meat.  They know that no matter what horrible trials they will walk through in their stories, the end is always being welcomed to glory, where there are pleasures forevermore.  The content person knows that when at the end of a good story they will see the purpose for all the dark chapters.

Contentment isn’t lost by changing circumstances, it is constant and steady.  In a way, it is self-sufficient, unaffected by surroundings.  It is so easy to think that if we are just strong people we will be able to stand through anything.  That is what our culture tells us. But the truth is the only thing that is never-changing, that is truly self-sufficient is God.  If we are to find this un-changing contentment we have to be completely resting on Him as our rock, because He is the only rock.  The strength of contentment comes in the peace of standing on Christ and believing He loves us.  And when we are strong we can make the most of all our trials, we can learn the lessons we are supposed to be learning, we can help others who are going through the same trials, we can see all the beautiful gifts that God has given even in the darkest places.  But if we are constantly fighting God’s will and constantly distrusting that He loves us, we will constantly be frustrated with whatever is happening in our lives – with our health or our friends or our family or our bank account or our jobs or our possessions or our church or our school or our responsibilities.  Contentment brings the strength not to complain because we are not desperate, we trust that His timing is better than our wants.  That kind of peace brings a strength that can be a light in all sorts of dark places our trials may bring us, that kind of peace can give us the strength to turn our trials into sweet offerings that bring glory to the Lord.