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Contentment
The Lord is everything to me

The lecture was held by Laura Smolnikova at Czech and Slovak women's conference, Poprad - 2014

What does this statement mean? It sounds good, perhaps even godly but I feel like it sounds too general to be applicable to real life, like a phrase used only by the most spiritual among us or those who live a bit cut off from reality. Perhaps for the rest of us to claim that the Lord is everything to us is possible on Sunday morning as we sit in our church pews, surrounded by people who look good and listen to encouraging words spoken from the pulpit; when, at least on the surface of things, it seems as though we have everything well under control. But when we leave church and go back to our everyday problems, some of which are so hard to deal with, it is not so easy to claim that the Lord is everything to me; that when I have Him, I need nothing else.

Laura SmolnikovaLaura Smolnikova

I don’t want to be a hypocrite when I proclaim on Sunday that the Lord is not only first in my life but everything to me. So I need to understand very specifically what this statement means. How can the Lord be everything I long for and everything I need specifically? In other words how can the Lord be the fulfilment of all my needs and longings?
I need to experience that I am satisfied in the Lord, that He is enough for me in reality.

What does God’s word teach me about contentment?

Here’s a very brief summary of the teaching of the New Testament.

  • 1 Timothy 6:6 - “But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment.” Contentment is something good. It represents gain of some sort.
  • Philippians 4:11 - “Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” Contentment is not something automatic. As the apostle Paul had to learn contentment so do we.
  • Hebrews 13,5  - “Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “ I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you”. Contentment is possible. The reason why it is possible is because God Himself has said: I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.
  • We learn to be content, when we learn that God is sufficient. 2 Corinthians 9,8 - “ And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed. 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 - “Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He has said to me, “ My grace is sufficient for you.”

What is the problem with contentment?
What have we have learned so far:

  • Contentment is of great gain
  • We have to learn it (it’s a process).
  • It’s God’s will for us.
  • It’s possible, when we believe what God’s Word has to say about God.

So why do we have a problem with being truly content with God?

If someone asked us if we were content we might answer in one of the following ways:

  • “I’m ok.”
  • “On the whole.”
  • “Things could be worse.”
  • “I mustn’t complain.”
  • “Everything is fine, except such and such…. But I’ll cope”.

We are just brimming over with contentment, aren’t we!
Perhaps we don’t brim over with joy when others enquire how we feel but nevertheless I suspect that most of us want to be seen as content Christians and we perceive ourselves in this light. To be sure we aren’t like those complaining and murmuring Israelites, are we? But the truth is that to be a content Christian is not something we can take for granted. It is certainly not as easy as it sounds. Behind one small word there hides a great and often life-long struggle. It is the struggle between my desire to determine my own agenda in life and my need to bow the knee to God’s Lordship, to His reign in me.

The trouble is that we want to be both content and to be the ones who are calling the shots in our lives. But it doesn’t work that way. I cannot truly experience godly contentment if I want to be the one who determines how it is going to look. We get in the way of our own contentment when we are unwilling to receive God’s contentment on God’s terms.

Luke 9:24 - “ For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.”

So what does contentment look like?

We are good at spotting when someone is discontent. We can recognize the typical signs of discontent, whether it is in our parents, marriage partners, or our children, or in an employer or employee. If we are honest we are pretty good at spotting it even in ourselves. Lack of contentment in ourselves are in someone else might be expressed as:

  • Envy
  • Self-pity
  • Displeasure
  • Conflict
  • Stress
  • Frustration
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Ambition
  • Making comparisons
  • Competitiveness
  • Escapism
  • Denial

These things might be fairly obvious displays of a lack of contentment. It’s harder to spot the difference between true contentment and certain defence mechanisms that we use to “cope” with life’s difficulties but which, at the end of the day are simply our human efforts to deal with a lack of contentment in our own strength and wisdom.

In this respect we sometimes mistakenly believe that contentment is simply a way of controlling emotions.
For example:

  • a. Stoicism: We think that by limiting our emotional involvement we are becoming “content”. The dictionary defines stoicism as an effort to limit needs. It is indifference in the face of pleasure or, at the other extreme, pain. It is non-expression of emotions. This is how it looks in reality: “I am not going to want anything too much nor enjoy good things too much in order to avoid the inevitable grief I would feel if I lost them. I will simply grin and bear difficulties.” As my Dad used to say: “ Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he will not be disappointed!” However, stoicism is not God’s plan for us. The Lord Jesus offers us a life in fullness of joy. (John 15:11 - “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”) God Himself experiences the whole scale of emotions and Scripture does not teach that we are to deny our emotions but that we are to guard their source – our hearts. God is a joyful God and He wants us to also be full of joy.
  • b. A second mechanism we use to cope with life is fatalism. Behind this approach or method of coping with life’s unpredictability is simply the persuasion that all events are determined by fate and that they happen inevitably. Adopting this persuasion leads to a lack or absence of effort or resistance when faced with disaster or threat of any kind. In simple terms it looks like this: I am not going to upset myself about this or that when there is nothing I can do about it anyway. It wouldn’t change anything anyway. Things are never going to change or get better anyway. This is certainly not the viewpoint of faith, which believes in both an almighty but also a loving and personal God. When we act or speak fatalistically, it is the opposite of contentment. We are not content but we feel powerless in the face of the problem and therefore we “accept” things as they are. However, there is neither love towards God, nor faith in His goodness and power, nor true submission in this approach. It is an acceptance, which goes against my will and is in spite of me.
  • c. A third mechanism is passivity. It goes hand in hand with fatalism. It is an approach in life where I don’t react to what is happening. I allow life to happen to me and I remain inactive in my response to it. I don’t react and I don’t resist. But I don’t see this kind of passivity in the life of the apostle Paul, although he could easily have made the excuse that being imprisoned made it impossible for him to continue to be active. Instead of this apostle Paul writes from his imprisonment to the Philippians in ch.3:12-14 - “Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Passivity is not contentment. It is a refusal to engage in life and in the final analysis it’s a refusal to love because love is active.
  • d. Positive thinking (or unhealthy optimism or denial). Sometimes we mix up positive thinking with contentment. This means that I deny what I am in reality experiencing and I only say positive things. “ It doesn’t hurt” when it really does. “ It will all be fine” when it really won’t. “ I love” when in reality I hate. Etc. But contentment is not blindness. When Jesus saw the tomb where they had laid Lazarus and He saw how Martha and the others were weeping, He wept (John 11). Contentment has wide-open eyes and is able to look pain in the face and yet not be destroyed by it because it trusts God. When I deny the reality of my pain, it is an expression of my distrust. It is as if I were saying, “ I don’t trust that God is enough to carry me through this pain and therefore I prefer not to acknowledge that there is any pain at all. I will believe (with gritted teeth) that I will not have to deal with any pain.”


Each of these four methods of dealing with life’s painful realities is simply man’s effort to cope with what happens to him without submitting to God. It is man’s attempt to reconcile himself to life’s unpredictability without reference to God, or at the very least with a poor understanding of the role God plays in our lives.

So what is the essence of contentment?

If contentment is not about me controlling my emotions, what is it then? Is it simply a matter of life bringing me all I could possibly wish for?

Sometimes we have the feeling that contentment means having the life I want to have, and that when everything is as it should be (that is: as I imagine it should be) – then I will be content. But contentment is not about life turning out right. Nor is it about circumstances being as they should. What does Paul say?

Philippians 4:11-12 - “Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.”

Real contentment is not dependent on my circumstances. Contentment is not about having all my needs met. It goes deeper than my physical needs. Was Paul every hungry? Did he ever suffer need? Yes. Paul knew what it was to be filled and what it was to be hungry, what it was to have an abundance and to suffer need. In all these circumstances he learned to be content.
Contentment that is dependent on all our circumstances being just right is very fragile, unreliable and short-lived. You can’t count on it and it disappears the moment the first problem rears its ugly head. God offers us a different kind of contentment that can accompany us all the days of our lives and not just on the best ones.


So contentment consists neither in

  • 1. my strength of will
  • 2. nor in my perfectly balanced circumstances

but in the transformation of my thinking, my focus, and my life goals.

For me to become a content person a transformation is needed in my mind and in my heart. The process of transformation begins at the place where I stop insisting on things going my way. True contentment is possible where I am willing to surrender up my will and allow God to determine my agenda. In other words His agenda becomes my agenda. We have a perfect example of this in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. His entire life lived upon this earth was a resting in God’s will. “ Jesus therefore answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 6:38).
I need to understand that everything in me which is still fighting for my rights, my fulfilment, simply for my way, is at the same time robbing me of real contentment in life, and of God’s joy and of true fulfilment in Him.

The real root problem in my lack of contentment is not in my circumstances or in other people. It’s in me:

  • 1. In my pride: I am convinced that I know better than God Himself what I need and how to get it, and that I deserve better than He is willing to give me.
  • 2. In my lack of faith that God is enough.
  • 3. And in my self-centred focus whereby the whole world constantly revolves around me.

If I struggle with a lack of contentment it is a fairly good indicator that everything is not as it should be in my heart. It isn’t because my life is harder than other people’s or that more content people have an easier time of it. One of the richest men of all time, John Davison Rockerfeller, was once asked “How much money is enough?” He replied “Just a little bit more”. I can have everything and still feel dissatisfied. On the other hand Corrie Ten Boom, who spent time in a concentration camp during the second world war, said this of her experiences, “ you will never know that Christ is all you need until Christ is all you have.”
My contentment or lack of it has to do with how I look at my life, with what faith, what mind-set, and with what attitude of heart.

But we can learn to be thankful for the times God reveals a lack of contentment in our own hearts and see it as an opportunity to grow through repentance and a fresh realization of how very much we need God’s grace in order to see things correctly.

So how can I become a more content person?

“Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “ I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,” so that we confidently say, “ The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What shall man do to me?” - Hebrews 13:5-6

Contentment is resting in the character and person of God and in His promises – in every area and every season and in all circumstances of my life. It is a peaceful assurance, which has its source in the eternally unchanging nature of an almighty, righteous, and loving God, who has promised that He will never desert nor forsake us.

When does contentment grow?

  • a. Our contentment grows in direct proportion to our faith in God’s sovereignty and faithfulness. True contentment rests in who God is and what He means for me personally. Philippians 1:6 - “ For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” “For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope”. - Jeremiah 29:11 “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.” - Romans 8:28
  • b. Contentment grows as a result of trusting in God’s wisdom and timing. 2 Timothy 1:12 - “ For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know who I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”
  • c. Contentment grows when God’s agenda begins to become more important to us than our own. Philippians 1:12-13 - “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else.”
  • d. Contentment grows when I allow God to change my priorities and longings. Philippians 1:21 - “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” Philippians 3:8 “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but rubbish in order that I many gain Christ.” Contentment comes from seeing the true value of things. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 - “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
  • e. Contentment grows when we begin to perceive that God is bigger than our problems and than our enemies. Philippians 1:27-28 - “ (that) I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by you opponents…” “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” - 1 John 4:4.
  • f. Contentment grows when we stop being focused on ourselves, and as our humility grows. Philippians 2:3-4 - “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” We need to realize over and over again that it’s not about me, life does not spin around me. Life is not about my comfort, my fulfilment, or my exaltation. The truly content life is the one where God is exalted.
  • g. Contentment grows when we learn to give thanks. Grumbling is incompatible with contentment. Philippians 2:14 - “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” Contentment isn’t essential to our salvation but it is of great gain. I can be a dissatisfied, grumbling and murmuring Christian to the end of my days but I will have robbed myself of joy due to an inadequate understanding of God and His ways. At the same time I will have been giving Satan an opportunity in my life through my grumbling, dissatisfied attitude. The less I know and love God, the less I will be a content person. When I learn to give thanks, I am learning at the same time to constantly rehearse important truths about God, which in turn help me to know Him better and trust Him more.
  • h. Contentment grows when I stop trusting in my own strength and trust God. It seemed that Paul had everything he could ever wish for. He had a good background, the right kind of family, a good education, a spotless reputation, a successful career, and a good image (even in his own eyes). Philippians 3:5 - “circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.” But he considered it all loss compared to what he gained in Christ. Maybe some of the most painful but equally the most wonderful and most freeing moments in our lives are those when we stop putting our confidence in our own achievements, our own strength, our own efforts or our own giftedness and start putting our confidence solely in what God can do in and for us.
  • i. Contentment grows when I realize that my understanding is limited and faulty while God’s wisdom is infinite and perfect. Isaiah 55:8-9 - “ For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “ For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” And Jeremiah 17:9 - “ The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?”
  • j. Contentment grows when I trust God with my spiritual growth, when I trust that He is able and willing to discipline me and cause me to grow. Philippians 3:15 and 2:13 - “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you;” “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” I don’t need to stress about it or be fearful about growing in my faith. He will lead me on as I trust Him.

k. Contentment grows when my attention becomes more and more focused on the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul said that he had learnt the secret of contentment, when he learned that he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him. - Philippians 4:13. My contentment finds its source in Christ, in the constancy of His character, from the assurance of His strength and His sufficiency, which has been made available for me.

In conclusion

I cannot control events in my life, nor can I control other people, sometimes not even myself. My wisdom is weak, limited, insufficient and sometimes completely lacking. I am not sufficient for all that this life demands of me. I have no idea what tomorrow may bring and what lies ahead of me still in this life. I would love to be strong, healthy, successful and loved, but there is nothing in me, which determines that it will be so. In spite of this fact I can live content every day of my life. How?

Because

  • I have a heavenly Father who cares for me as for His beloved child.
  • My heavenly Father is sovereign and never makes mistakes.
  • His wisdom is never-ending and perfect.
  • My heavenly Father is unchanging and is faithful to His promises.
  • My heavenly Father is always, in every situation, and at every moment, sufficient.
  • I don’t know what tomorrow may bring, but my Lord Jesus Christ, knows the beginning from the end, because He Himself is the Alpha and Omega, the Author and the Perfecter of faith.

Therefore I can confess in the words of Psalm 131:1-2

“O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me. Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me.”

 

Laura Smolnikova