The Unnatural Art of Contentment

It may be a cliche, but it’s true: We always want what we can’t (or just don’t) have.

One person may look at your life and think, “Wow, you have a nice car or a stable job or a great house, you must be content.” But at the same time, you’re probably looking at their life thinking the very same thing about something they have that you don’t. We are each continually longing for the next thing, be it a spouse or putting down roots somewhere or a better job or the next vacation.

Contentment—whether with our living situation, salary, relationship status or whatever else—doesn’t come naturally. It’s something we have to actively cultivate.

God has shown me over the past year what it looks like to fight to be content every day. I use the word “fight” because I believe that learning to be content is just that. I believe it to be one of the biggest struggles we face in life.

We all have legitimate needs and desires given to us when we were created by God, but because of The Fall, we have begun looking to fulfill those desires outside of the only One who can satisfy them. The more we search to meet those needs outside of Christ, the more unsatisfied and discontent we become.

So practically, what does it look like to strive to be content exactly where God has you today?

1. Be Patient With Yourself.

If you struggle with contentment, you are not alone. I believe most people wrestle with it one way or the other. Some people may not even realize they are searching for contentment, but they are constantly seeking after the “next thing” they can do or obtain in life. In Philippians 4, Paul talks about contentment and that he learned to be content. The verb “learned” indicates that Paul had to grow in his understanding of how to be content in all circumstances and this didn’t happen overnight. Be patient with yourself if you battle with contentment.

2. Cultivate a Thankful Heart.

You may be single, longing to be married. You may be married and want a nicer house or another child. You may want to escape the painful season you are in. You may also be in an abundant and sweet season. No matter where you are, focus on cultivating a thankful heart.

When we stop being thankful for what we have and focus on what we don’t have, discontentment creeps in and we start believing God is holding out on us. Psalm 116:17 says, “I will offer to you [God] the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.” This reveals that having a thankful heart doesn’t come naturally to us, but rather it is a sacrifice. Strive to thank God in all circumstances.

3. Focus on Today.

When we constantly look forward to the next season or next vacation or even the next meal, we completely miss the moment we’re in and the blessings found in it. Our time on earth is short—much shorter than most of us would like it to be. Keep your eyes focused on today. Soak up every moment of it. Another day like it will never exist again.

4. Trust in God’s Provision.

The Lord knows exactly what you need when you need it. In the book of Exodus, after the Israelites were miraculously rescued out of Egypt, they wandered in the wilderness for a while. They began complaining to Moses about not having enough food. God told Moses that He would send bread from heaven to feed them, but every person needed to collect only the exact amount required to fill their stomachs each day.

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God is in the business of providing for us. And He does provide for us everything we need each day. We need to open our eyes to the ways He is providing. Focus your eyes on all God has given you each day.

5. Contentment is Found in Christ Alone.

Many Christians have heard the popular verse found in Philippians 4 that says, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” We often apply this to various activities we do such as a project at work or an obstacle we want to overcome, however, when reading this verse in context, Paul was talking about how to be content and endure any situation. He says, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for 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 him who strengthens me.” 

At the end of the day, our circumstances will not make us happy. No matter how much money we have, what kind of house we own or what friends we surround ourselves with, nothing can fulfill us the way Christ can. Whether we eat an amazing meal or go without food, we will not be content based on anything material or circumstantial.

Christ is the only one who can fill the insatiable desire in each of us for something more, because God created us for all our desires to be met in Him alone. Christ will help us learn contentment as we rely on Him through everything we go through. He will show us that He can satisfy our deepest longings and needs as we seek Him and a relationship with Him above everything else. Christ loves us so much and wants to meet our needs. As we lean on Him, we too can say with Paul, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”

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