Steps to Contentment, part 1

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Learning to be content and completely satisfied in Christ is certainly a life-long process and a lesson that we are always learning, and always being tested on.  As I am learning and wrestling against discontent, I am always looking for practical and tangible ways to set my course towards joy and peace.  In his book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, the puritan Jeremiah Burroughs gives many recommendations for how to achieve a content heart.  While he has many wise things to say and many of his ideas have influenced my list, I would like to offer my own version of steps that we can take to stay on course and to be continually growing in contentment.

  1. Accepting that we will never be 100% satisfied in this world.  C.S Lewis wrote, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”  The truth is that we will never find anything in the created world that will make us completely happy.  There is something so freeing about believing that – we can stop striving, stop trying so hard, stop being disappointed when things are not exactly how we want them.  We won’t find the fulfillment of joy until we are with the Lord, and understanding that we are not supposed to find it here can help us to have patience and to be satisfied with continually longing for more.  We are supposed to have a longing, a hope for something better, eyes that look beyond this life.  Eternity is written on our hearts.  We have work to do here, but we will not find complete satisfaction in a world that is under a curse, and we can find contentment more easily when we stop expecting satisfaction from this world.
  2. Understanding our desires.  Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart”.  One of the biggest reasons why we struggle with contentment is because we want something that we do not have.  Our desires are not equal with our circumstances.  We want a house, but we have an apartment.  We want children, but we have not been able to conceive.  We want to be healthy, but we struggle with sickness.  There are many, many circumstances that quickly steal our joy because we do not have what we want.  It is easy enough to say that we should just stop wanting the things that we do not have, but I do not believe that the Lord wants a people who are void of desires.  When we want something that He has not provided, as long as that thing is not sinful, our job is to wait and believe that He will be faithful to His promises.  Our job is to find joy and delight in God, to worship Him and offer thanksgiving to Him, and to continue to pray for that which we want.  We can find so much peace and contentment just in knowing that when we turn to Him He will hear our prayers, and that the desires of our hearts are not in vain.  He hears us and He loves to fulfill the desires of His people. Like with Abraham, He wants to see us willingly open our hands and be ready give up our greatest loves, but He will always ultimately fill us with more than we can hope or desire.
  3. Remembering our sin.  It seems counterintuitive to focus on our depravity when we are seeking after joy.  So, I am careful not to say that we should look to our sin and keep our eyes there.  That would destroy us.  But when we really understand how grievous our sin is to the Lord, when we really see ourselves as a created being who has greatly sinned against our Creator, then we start to see what He has done for us.  When we see our sin for what it really is, we understand the hugeness of His love in covering it.  We were like scarlet, but now we have been made as white as snow.  The contrast is stark.  When we know how much we have been forgiven and how much we are loved, we can not help but to trust that everything else God does for us is out of great love.  This safety that comes from knowing how loved we are by God and the peace that comes through this trust will bring deep contentment.  Remember all the horrible things you have done, remember how He has forgiven you completely for each one, remember how much He must love you to look past that sin, and know that He will always love you and that you can trust Him.  This is peace that brings contentment.
  4. Accepting the thorn.  In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul writes “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” There are many difficulties in life that have no end on this earth.  There are struggles and pain that we know will always be with us.  This is hard and it can make it particularly hard to find peace and contentment with our life when we have these burdens.  But the good news is that it is possible to find contentment even in the midst of these hardships.  Paul says that he had a thorn which the Lord refused to take from him.  His response is not to despair, because he understands that God will take all crooked things, all
    the painful things, and He will turn them into power and strength.  This is hard for us to understand, but when we really believe that Christ is reversing all the evil in creation then we can find contentment knowing that He will redeem the evil in our life too.  He will take a great weakness and a great pain and turn in into something powerful.  We have to be content with knowing that He is doing more than we can see.
  5. Working. When things are not exactly how we would have them, it is easy to spend our energy and thoughts complaining about the situation.  We have to learn to change our thoughts and find our duties. Work is a great kindness from the Lord, and just doing what needs to be done can change our attitude.  Are you tired of small apartment living? Decorate it, make it lovely.  Are you tired of being single? Help a busy mother with her children.  Are you tired of having to work overtime? Be creative in thinking of ways that your company can improve.  Are you carrying a burden of emotional pain? Find others with the same pain and help them in ways that you have found helpful.  In every situation there is something that needs to be done.  Sometimes this means just cooking a feast and setting a beautiful table because the whole family has been under a lot of stress.  Just look for ways to work within your current situation, and spend your energy and thoughts thinking of ways to improve what you have right now instead of thinking of ways that something else would be better.  This kind of work will not only make a tough situation easier for you, it will make a tough situation easier for everyone else around you.