Sticking with the theme of last week’s post on cultivating, over the summer I’m going to be writing about cultivating certain areas of our lives, that we may continue to grow and flourish in our relationship with Jesus.
The first series will be about cultivating contentment.
Contentment is something I’ve been growing in for many years. Learning to be content in Christ even when circumstances aren’t perfect. Learning to live fulfilled in Christ even when dreams go unfulfilled. Learning to see my life, and myself, as beautiful and glorious in Christ, even when things are a bit broken and messy.
Contentment can be elusive. It doesn’t take much for the wishing and wanting and waiting to dislodge it from our hearts. We are back to searching for it again, looking and hoping to find it in situations of perfection and successes achieved and possessions attained. And while we may see its shadow and sense its shape in these times, we can never seem to capture it through the perfecting and achieving and attaining.
What exactly is contentment, this state of being we chase so relentlessly? What does it mean to be content?
Look in a dictionary, and you’ll probably find a definition that is something like, “satisfaction with one’s possessions, status, or situation.”
From this definition, we may get the idea that contentment is based on our status, possessions, or situation. But when we look at what God’s Word has to say about contentment, we see this isn’t true.
In Philippians 4:11-12, the apostle Paul declares, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (NIV)
At the time of writing this, Paul was under house arrest for sharing the Gospel of Christ. At other times in his ministry, Paul had been imprisoned, shipwrecked, and beaten.
Whatever the circumstances.
Paul found his contentment in Christ. Not in his circumstances.
Another word we see used in Scripture that speaks of this is the word joy. Biblical joy is a contentedness in all. It is a sense fulfillment in all. And this contentedness and fulfillment is only found in Jesus.
In John 10, Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (v. 10, NIV)
Full life. Fullness of joy. Fulfillment.
A life that is full is not empty.
But there is a thief. One who would empty us of all joy and contentment, so we do not experience the fulness of Jesus. He steals contentment to keep us chasing and striving things other than Christ. He kills joy to rob us of our strength. He destroys fulfillment so we feel worthless.
Discontentment causes us to focus on ourselves and only be concerned with getting, having, attaining more. We grapple and take. We hold tightly with closed fists. It’s all about me.
But when we are content, we have enough and are satisfied, and so we become selfless and generous. We open our hands and hearts to pour out love. To share the enough we have.
When we are content in Christ, circumstances do not hinder us from sharing Christ. They didn’t stop Paul, those prisons and beatings and arrests. For Paul found his strength, his sufficiency, his satisfaction in Christ. His ability was totally dependent on Jesus. And when one is totally dependent on Jesus, one is able to do anything. (Philippians 4:13)
How does the thief steal, kill, and destroy contentment?
Two big ways are through jealousy and worry. And at the root of these is the belief that our lives and ourselves are not good enough, and that we have to attain some level of perfection for there to be full life and fulness of joy.
We see the lives of others, and it’s so easy to get caught up in the comparison trap. Scrolling through social media and seeing pictures of smiling friends on their fun adventures with their cute boyfriends, feeling our lives are empty and boring in comparison. Hearing about an achievement or accomplishment of another woman, which makes us feel like our lives aren’t as important or meaningful. Noticing the beautiful looks of others and wanting to hide our ugly selves away. We become envious and jealous.
We’re not perfect.
And when the hard times hit, it’s so easy to worry about making it through. When we’re with others, it’s so easy to worry about what they think of us. When we’re making our plans, it’s so easy to worry about what could go wrong.
The stress of all the moving parts of life presses in and puts pressure on our minds and hearts, bringing to the forefront all that isn’t right, all that needs to be fixed, all that could be better.
Our lives aren’t perfect.
But the thing is, contentment is not about perfection. It’s about perception.
Jealousy is a focus on other people that highlights our imperfection. Worry is a focus on circumstances that highlights life’s imperfections. This focus causes us to perceive our lives and ourselves with discontent.
Psalm 34:5 tells us, “Those who look to the Lord are radiant with joy.” (CSB)
Hebrews 12:2 says, “Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before Him, He endured the cross.” (CSB)
In Matthew 6, Jesus teaches us not to worry, but to instead “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33, NIV)
Focusing on Jesus brings joy. Focusing on Jesus brings full life.
Paul could say he was content not because his situation was perfect, or even ideal, but because he focused on his perfect God. And in focusing on God, he saw God’s plan, provision and Presence even in the imperfect.
Yes, life can be horribly imperfect. There’s a lot the steals from us peace and hope and confidence and happiness and comfort. There’s tragedy, loss, betrayal, rejection, hurt, pain, suffering, loneliness, sorrow, hate, injustice. All brokenness. All a fall from perfection.
Yet when we focus on Jesus, we will view our life through Jesus, and in the midst of the broken and the fallen, we will see His love and grace and goodness. And in His love and grace and goodness, we are content, for in His love and grace and goodness, we have all we need. Jesus redeems and restores. He does not leave the broken in pieces. He does not leave the fallen in the pit.
Being content in Jesus doesn’t mean we ignore the broken and the hurting in our lives or in the lives of others. It doesn’t mean we become complacent about easing suffering and standing up for justice and growing in our faith and reconciling relationships. It does mean that in all the circumstances and situations we go through, we go through with eyes fixed on Jesus. It does mean that even though everything isn’t perfect, we rest in knowing we are perfectly loved in everything.
The post Cultivating Contentment Part 1: Perfection versus Perception first appeared on The Overflowing