Christmas may be long past, but the One who gave us His Son wrapped in strips of cloth that day is the Giver who keeps on giving. He gives the gift of contentment to His people day in and day out. But this gift is not always easy to hang onto. Nonetheless, trusting in Christ’s promise of new life and deliverance banishes grumbling, murmuring, and resentment. Our trust in Jesus pours contentment into the way we think and the way we experience life.
Public opinion surveys suggest Christians in Africa and Asia, often living on the edge of physical existence, exhibit more joy at life and more contentment with the few material blessings they enjoy than the bountifully blessed believers in North America and Western Europe. Psychologists attribute this, at least in part, to expectations. Many North Americans and Western Europeans believe they have a right to a vast array of gadgets and games of which their grandparents had no thought or desire. Our often extravagant and unrealistic expectations condemn us to discontent and dissatisfaction. The grass often really does appear greener on the other side of the fence, but it withers and dies just as does the grass on this side.
The plan of God which begins with the command to place no other gods in front of the true God, that is, to fear, love and trust in Him above everything else, ends with the command not to covet. Coveting, the desire to possess what we have not been given, takes over control of our thinking and twists our lives, squeezing out of us our sense of balance and well-being. What we take for granted is indeed granted, not achieved by our own work or effort, even when we think it is. What we take for granted among our earthly blessings has been granted by the Lord, on loan for our proper use, not for our indulgence and gratification.
What we take for granted among our earthly blessings has been granted by the Lord, on loan for our proper use, not for our indulgence and gratification.
Many African and Asian Christians encounter life in a manner closer to the life the apostle Paul described as his own experience. He remembered being beaten to the point that his life was in danger. He had been stoned, shipwrecked and adrift at sea, frequently on the road, crossing dangerous rivers, threatened by robbers, betrayed by friends, toiling without sleep, food, and drink, or the warmth of a comfortable house. Beyond that, he bore the burden of the problems of his churches, no small cause for worry (2 Corinthians 11:23-28), as every pastor knows.
Why could he be content, as he wrote to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 12:10), despite his weaknesses and the insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities he had endured? His prayer to be relieved from getting knocked around by a messenger of Satan and a thorn in his flesh did not win him any relief. Instead of relief, he got God—and he thanked Him for demonstrating His divine power through Paul’s weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). But content Paul, as he told the Philippians (4:11), had learned to be content in whatever situation he found himself. God was there with him, the Person who promised His presence and provided for Paul, supplying him with ultimate protection into eternity. Those who believe their godliness should bring them great gain have missed the point, that gain comes from godliness with contentment. Contentment springs from the recognition that we bring nothing of our own into the world, and we cannot take anything with us out of this world. So, food and clothing of whatever modest amount should function as a vaccine against the desire to be rich or successful or to chase other gifts into idolatry and discontent (1 Timothy 6:6). The lack of sufficient food and clothing for others should indeed be driving us in this world filled with poverty—usually quite distant from most North American Christians—to seek change. But we can rest easy in viewing what God has given us when we admit that the latest kind of sneakers or telephone is no real source of peace with others or ourselves.
Food and clothing do function as sufficient sources for contentment when they are understood as flowing from the hand of God as they direct our attention to the person of Jesus Christ and strengthen our trust in Him. His presence in our consciousness creates an underlying foundation for life because we trust Him. He has demonstrated He is faithful, reliable, and trustworthy by becoming one of us to lay down His life to place our sins in His grave. He has revealed His trustworthiness in rising from the dead and bringing us sinners back into life as children of God. With that confidence in Him, we can move not only present unpleasantness but also past failures and future uncertainties to the bottom of the pile—if they remain at all in our thinking. We ignore these negatives because we are looking to and listening to this Person who came as the Word made flesh. He comes to us to speak words which assure us, comfort us, bestow a sense of serenity and wholeness or integrity that gives firm grounding and foundation to our proceeding with life as the Lord lays it before us.
His presence in our consciousness creates an underlying foundation for life because we trust Him.
The synonyms for contentment that my computer shows include serenity and satisfaction. The German word for contentment is Zufriedenheit, literally “at-peaceness.” To be content embraces the peace of Eden, even in the shadow of the angelic sword that blocks our way back to the Garden. For the cross of Christ has intervened between us and that shadow, bringing the light and warmth of God’s love in Christ to us. Christ rescues us from the hostility and attacks of evil in every form even though the serpent slithers out of the Garden after us, nipping at our heels and hearts. But Christ restores the light of Eden and illumines our paths through life. The darkness which haunts these paths is being parted by Him who has overcome the darkness with His own brilliance.
We use the word serene to indicate this ability to be calm, content, and at rest, but in Latin the root of this word meant clear or bright. It was used for fair weather. As Jesus brought calm amid stormy seas (Mark 4:35-41), so trusting Him brings us into fair weather even during the storms and turbulences that threaten us as we make our way through this life. He is a fair-weather friend indeed—not the kind that abandons us when storms roll in but the kind who creates bright days with sunshine even in the thunder and lightning, blizzard and flood, hurricane and tornado.
The Latin behind our word “satisfaction” means “to make enough.” We think we could be content if only we had enough—enough money, enough prestige and respect, sufficient freedom, abundant fun. Trusting in Christ reveals to us that in Him we do have enough for good living despite hardships and threats, worries and disappointments. For the fullness of life, we seek in striving for contentment through fulfillment on our terms often is not at all filling. His love fills our lives and tames our appetites, saturating us with the feeling that because He is Lord, all is well.
We often conceive of what would make us content in terms of things, but this only encourages craving more and more. Just one more potato chip never does it. But craving takes the joy out of life because it makes us ever restless. Without rest, without the relaxing power of contentment, we wear out. We become exhausted, that is, the breath of life seeps away. Contentment restores that breath with the breathing of the Holy Spirit, who speaks to us words of assurance even in the midst of discouragement and adversity. He assures us of our value to the Lord who spent His blood to make us safe and whole. He assures us of the future the Lord’s resurrection has shaped for us. He gives us assurance that He who promised to be with us to the very end is with us today, Immanuel.
Immanuel has come to us via crib, cross, and crypt. He accompanies us from our own cribs to and through the crosses we bear, all the way to our crypts. From there He comes to accompany us to a life of peace, serenity, satisfaction—contentment—that will last forever.