Is it possible to be content in all things?
What would it even mean to be content in all things? It seems like a hundred frustrations and inconveniences wage war in my mind every day to challenge contentment, and too often these things seem to be winning the war.
I have a stiff neck. That pillow has got to go.
What am I going to wear? I am tired of all my clothes.
The grout in our bathroom needs to be repaired.
Everyone wants something different for breakfast.
My husband wants to wear a shirt that I haven’t had time to iron.
Why does it have to be raining?
My mind is churning with discontent, and it’s not even 8:00 o’clock! We want every little detail under our control to bend to our expectations. Then, of course, there are the things beyond our control, life-changing trials that disrupt our lives: wayward children, illness, disability, loss of a loved one, loss of job, natural disaster, perhaps persecution, and in some places, starvation, war, terrorism.
Large and small things wield the power to destroy contentment.
Fragile and Unpredictable
Life in the world defies contentment. Perhaps we should not be surprised. Part of the problem is that we are looking to the world to provide comfort, and stability, and safety, and provision, and love, and hope. Given that we live in such a fallen world, I wonder why we expect it to provide these things.
No one and nothing in the world can really promise us that we will have a good job, a nice home, plenty to eat, good friends, a loving family, good health, safety or really much of anything else. You can “play by the rules” by working hard, being responsible, and being kind to others, but there is really no promise that will pay off in the end. The world is fragile and unpredictable. An illness, a terrorist attack, a war, a divorce, and a million other things can happen at any time. In an instant, our world is shattered.
I wonder what the thousands of families in Houston who lost homes and all their possessions would think of my little morning list of complaints? Some even lost loved ones in a few short days because a hurricane suddenly roared through their neighborhood. Whatever expectations those families may have had the week before the hurricane are gone now. All of the sudden contentment means a bed, a hot meal, and donated clothing.
The Only Path to Contentment
God knows we live in this fallen, unpredictable world, so why does the Bible tell us to be content? How can we be content in such uncertain conditions? The truth is that the Bible never instructs us to find our contentment in the world. In fact, it tells us just the opposite.
Jesus says that “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Difficulty and tribulation will come. But Jesus says this that we may still have peace. How? Jesus has overcome the world. Jesus has overcome the world! It is done!
We are only ever able to find real and lasting contentment in this world if the foundation of this contentment is a deep and abiding trust in the fact that our real home, the one without suffering, is already secured. We own it. We are cosmic relief workers in this pain-filled world, for a moment in time, because God has determined that we can best serve others and glorify him here right now. Our life, and the ways it feels broken are an assignment from God for today.
How are we receiving what God has assigned to us today? Is our heart filled with desire to respond to what he has given us in a way that honors him? Even, and sometimes especially, in the hard things, we have a glorious opportunity to reflect peace and joy that might even cause others to ask for the reason for our hope. When Jesus promises peace, he means for us to enjoy it now. Of course it will be perfected in the age to come, but it cannot be shaken one bit by anything happening in this world — unless we permit it.
We may not have control over our circumstances, but we do have control over whether we find peace in them.
Whatever May Come
The apostle Paul understood this well, and he likely experienced far more tribulation and trial than you or I are ever will (2 Corinthians 11:23–27). He was punished with 39 lashes — multiple times. He was beaten with rods, stoned near death, and shipwrecked three times. He faced danger from rivers, robbers, Jews, and Gentiles — dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, and dangers at sea. He experienced sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, cold, exposure, and worse.
Yet in Philippians 4:11–13, Paul can say with assurance,
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Why can Paul say this? I do not know a single human being today who, faced with those circumstances, would be able to say he or she was “content.” Paul could say he was content because he knew without a doubt that when he was born again through Jesus Christ, he was born into a reality that transcends and conquers this world.
Paul didn’t expect his life here to be easy, he simply wanted to joyfully serve his Savior and King. He knew he was already a resident of heaven and he, like every Christian in the world, was simply left here in a “foreign land” to help lead others home to a life in the presence of his beloved Savior that really could deliver the joy, health, comfort, provision, and hope we cannot find in this world.
With that reality firmly in his mind, it didn’t matter much what happened to Paul here. He could be sure that when God was done with him on earth, he would call him home — a home perfect in ways this world cannot fathom.
Every New Trial
Paul understood that “this light and momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17–18). Until then, every new circumstance becomes simply today’s “assignment.” An opportunity to shine the light of Jesus into our dark world and, in the process, to glorify our God.
If we desire contentment in this world, we, like Paul, need to meditate on the reality of what it means to be born again into new life in Jesus Christ. Life in Christ is not something we will simply enjoy in heaven. If we have embraced Jesus and all he has done for us, this is our reality now. Pray for God to help you appropriate this truth in a more profound way, so that, like Paul, you can trust Jesus when he says,
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)