The Secret to Contentment

The Puritan preacher, Jeremiah Burroughs, wrote in his book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, that contentment is "that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God's wise and fatherly disposal in every condition."

I appreciated the definition, but I wanted to flesh it out a bit, so I looked for articles about the topic. Then, last December, I heard Bob Lepine speak about contentment on Revive Our Hearts radio broadcast. Lepine is the co-host of the radio program FamilyLife Today. He spoke in an interview with Revive Our Hearts host, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, on the topic of contentment in the context of a biblical approach to food, beauty, and control of our finances.
His words were profoundly simple, based on scriptures in the book of Philippians.

First, Lepine said, "Think on the right things" (Philippians 4:8-9). Paraphrasing and expanding on the verses, he said, "Think on things that are lovely and beautiful, and think on things that are praiseworthy and excellent and commendable. Instead of letting your mind dwell on things that are frustrating, broken, messed up, depressing, and hard to deal with."

When I think on right things, I think from God's perspective. When I think on right things, I seek out what God is doing in and through my life. My thoughts move beyond my own selfish agenda to His.

Another point Lepine made was, "Make your requests known to God" (v. 6). Though Lepine did not say this, I thought, If my thoughts are right, then I'll better know how to pray. I'll pray for the will of God, knowing that He wants what is best for me, and He has purposes that are higher than mine. I won't pray for a bigger and better house or car, or more clothes in my closet ~ unless that's what HE wants me to pray. Or I will pray for those things, but with open hands and an open heart, surrendered and content with what He provides.

It's just my opinion, but I think that it is our contented prayers ~ voiced as we trust our Father God's love and sovereign control ~ that make God smile. Yes, there are other prayers that surely move His heart (prayers for lost souls, certainly; prayers for healing; prayers of repentance, etc.), but our prayers of contentment reflect a soul that rests in Him.

Then Lepine says, "Model reasonableness in your life." I had to think about that one. Lepine took that concept from verse five. What does it mean to model reasonableness so everyone can see it? I looked up that verse in various versions, hoping to get a fuller picture.

  • Let your reasonableness be known to everyone... (ESV)
  • Let your gentleness be known to all men... (NKJV)
  • Let your gentleness be evident to all... (NIV)
  • Let your forbearance be known unto all men... (ASV)
  • Let your graciousness be known to everyone... (HCSB)
  • Let your moderation be known to all men... (WBT)
  • Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you're on their side, working with them and not against them. (The Message)
  • Let all men know and perceive and recognize your unselfishness (your considerateness, your forbearing spirit). (Amplified)
What does that have to do with contentment, I wondered, if it even does ~ especially since the second half of the verse reminds us that "The Lord is near," coming soon! This reminded me of James 5:8, which says we must be "patient and stand firm" with our focus on the Lord's return.

These words ~ reasonableness, gentleness, forbearance, graciousness, moderation, considerateness ~ are traits of a person who doesn't indulge in excesses, but is careful and controlled, especially with the expectation that the Lord could return at any moment. There is a calmness here... a moderation of passions. I think that I could envision that also meaning an exhibition of contentment. There is a sense of modesty in behavior and choices that the world notices.

I think of the early church, persecuted and banding together, even having all things in common (to survive, perhaps). There was no place for selfishness and discontent ~ no room for hoarding or lusting for more ~ and the world took note of their unity and love. They were of "one mind," eager to help each other.

Lepine's final point was, "Spend more time rejoicing than you do" (v. 4). In The Message, this reads, "Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him!" I have discovered that this is true. So much of my Christian life has focused on making choices for righteousness so that I might glorify God. But I think the Westminster Shorter Catechism has it right. Glorifying God must also be linked to enjoying Him. When I learn how to enjoy God for who He is, then I understand that He is my gracious provider. I can be content and thankful. He is all I need.

The rest of the broadcast that day dealt more with the body and appearance, and everything DeMoss and Lepine said was good ... but I kept meditating on Lepine's four points for a long time. For this often-dissatisfied woman, it was (and is) a good formula for pursuing contentment.


Kay Swatkowski said...

I appreciate this article on contentment. I've been thinking a great deal about this topic lately and will suggest some friends to read this as well. There is such "peace" in contentment. Thank you

Dawn Wilson said...

Thank you, Kay. We all need to rest in God's presence and experience that peace.

Marja said...

Good post Dawn, we don't hear much about contentment... I need to be reminded that rejoicing is the key!