So I’ve been sitting with the title question for the last couple of days and wondered if anyone would be interested in engaging with me in it…
It came about as I’ve been reading through a book by a fairly well-known Bible teacher here in the southern USA. The premise of her book was to engage with the question of how to pray for those who are suffering, and one of her prayers comes from Phil 4:11-13:
11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. [NIV]
Among other things, she writes…
We think we’ll be content when we finally get what we want, what we’re praying for. But real contentment is when we accept less than or something other than what we want. – Nancy Guthrie, I’m Praying for You, p. 160
I don’t fully disagree, but before I charge on with my thoughts, I’m wondering how that sits with you? How would you characterize contentment?
I think contentment is being satisfied, I.e, having enough, being pleased rather than longing. I do not agree that contentment is having less than you want. It seems that the verse in Philippians suggests contentment may be had in any circumstance, little or plenty. For this reason, I do not think contentment is about having or not having (either what is wanted or what is not wanted). Rather, “through Christ who gives me strength.” Contentment seems to be a disposition of the inner man which is steadfast and unmoved by circumstances. Paul learned to strengthen himself in Christ in every circumstance. Contentment is having all that you want in Christ, so that poverty is not crushing and plenty is not debilitating. Christ, the strength of the heart, is enough.
I have been fortunate to live in between both of the mentioned ways Paul seems to equate what we may believe will bring the heart, soul the spirit in us contentment. I say fortunate because I have seen that neither wealth or lack gave me a sense of wholeness of person… but in finding that out it led me to a journey to answer the question why not? and that led me to the one qualified to answer. Christ our all in all.
Thank you both so much for reflecting on this with me! I actually just read through my first post again and realized I shouldn’t have left out her beginning and concluding sentence to the above paragraph, for doing so made it sound like she didn’t recognize the source of contentment:
Paul was determined to find his contentment in Christ regardless of his circumstances. We think we’ll be content when we finally get what we want, what we’re praying for. But real contentment is when we accept less than or something other than what we want. Christ is our source for the spiritual strength we need to live with what we didn’t ask for and less than what we want.
But, @holly it seems you picked up on something similar to me. It’s the ‘having less’ part that makes me react. Contentment does have an element of acceptance in it, and I can sit with the acceptance of ‘something else’ easier than I can see the acceptance of ‘something less’. ‘Something less’ sounds almost like one settles rather than finds contentment. For, perhaps, in the end, it’s the acceptance of the loving will of the Father and His engagement with us in plenty and in want that brings a contentment. That, to me, can never be ‘less’ though the circumstances might not be what I would orchestrate if I were in control. So, perhaps she’s using ‘less’ and ‘other’ to describe the circumstances rather than the object. For one can only find contentment regardless of circumstances if one is seeking that which is higher than/beyond the circumstances. I can accept the circumstance because I accept Christ.
I don’t know if that makes sense. I’m rather ‘typing out loud’.
But I was thinking that I would characterize contentment as a type of freedom…or ‘knowing/having freedom in and/or despite of limitations’. One is not ruled by – and therefore is not compelled to rule – circumstances. From your story, that sounds like something you experienced, @yazz. Would you agree?
I agree that, like Holly pointed out, it is a steadfast disposition of the inner man, but I wonder about ‘unmoved’. I do think that there can be circumstances where we are supposed to be discontent, for discontentment can compel us to seek justice or resolution. But I also understood your use of ‘unmoved’ as ‘unmoved in the faith’ rather than ‘unmoved in the emotions’. Contentment embraces all the emotions because Jesus does!
Hi @kathleen ,
"Will I ever be content whatever the situation? " was the question that passed my mind just past week and so was drawn to this discussion. I was just feeling heavy remembering some of the times in my life which didn’t go as I had hoped, some good goals and hopes that didn’t pan out. I go to God often asking, “Why did you allow this?” I didn’t feel content in my situation, I longed for a fix, a way out though I was going to God. I also think of the people in the war right now, “What did they do to deserve all the pain?”. How can they be content? I do think there are times when we have to accept “less”. We may hope for a healthy child to be born, but we may have a child with a disability. We hope not to be wounded by others, but sin is real. To me accepting “less” is accepting our situation. We cant deny our experience that often falls short of the ideal. The only way out is through the less. I read a quote today in the news by a poet, Khalil Gabrin.
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
I think this quote can be applied to our Christian lives, except I would say - joy of the Lord. You are right, contentment has to do with being “unmoved in faith” not “unmoved in emotions”. I think contentment is a deep conviction of God being in control that gives strength to move on though nothing makes sense to our human brain. We count it all joy as James 1 puts it.