What is Contentment?

Rare JewelI’ve been reading Jeremiah Burroughs classic book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, and wanted to share a bit of it here.  If you haven’t read this book, let me encourage you to get it and read it.  American culture fosters discontentment and all the miseries and heartaches that go along with it.  Discontentment is coveting what we do not have, longing for it, believing that if we have it, then we will be satisfied.  To be content is to obey the 10th commandment, “You shall not covet” in the power of Christ and the gospel of grace.  Here are 20 ways that Burroughs describes contentment:

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil 4:11).

1. Contentment is a sweet, inward matter of the heart. Many people appear to be calm on the outside, but inwardly, they are frantic emotional basket-cases.  True contentment is an inward peace and calmness of soul no matter what kinds of terrible trials and sufferings may be happening on the outside.

2. Contentment doesn’t mean that you don’t feel the pain of your suffering.  In fact, in order to learn contentment, you have to feel the pain of your sufferings.  The pains and sorrows of whatever crosses you bear are the things God uses to teach you to find comfort in Christ.  If you ignore the pain, belittle it, or muscle your way through it like a stoic, you’ll never learn the lesson of contentment.

3. Contentment doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to cry out to God and to your friends in Christ.  It’s only by crying out to God in faith and submission that you can find contentment. God brings you into contentment through communion with Himself. And often, God uses godly friends to speak the truth to you in love, to remind you of the graces of Christ and His comforts.

4. Contentment doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to end your suffering.  You should certainly seek every God-honoring and lawful means of ending the sufferings you’re experiencing in life.  Particularly, if an injustice is being committed against you, and it’s causing your suffering, then it’s your Christian duty to try to end it in any lawful way possible.

5. Contentment means that you should not grumble under God’s good hand.  If you’re content, you’ll remember that God Himself has a hand in your suffering.  Some people complain that God isn’t good or wise in what He has done, and they think they know better than Him.  But grumbling and complaining is forbidden for the believer.

6. Contentment means that you won’t become bitter, that you won’t angrily lash out at God or others.  Some get so deeply angry when trials come upon them in their lives that they lash out at God and other people. But God summons you to remain silent from the heart under His loving Fatherly rod of discipline.  He graciously calls you to contentment for your own good.

7. Contentment means that you’re not distracted from your God-given duties.  Some are so affected by their trials that it keeps from from the responsibilities God gives them in this life.  They may begin to neglect family, church, or their job responsibilities because of they are so discontent in their present circumstances.  But this isn’t how to handle our suffering.  Often it’s by doing what God calls us to do in a disciplined way that we can grow in contentment.

8. Contentment means that you don’t neglect communion with Christ. It’s possible for your fears and anxieties to become so great that you neglect your vital union and communion with Jesus.  But knowledge of Christ’s love and communion with Him is the very foundation of contentment and the source of peace with God and peace in this fallen world.

9. Contentment doesn’t give in to dark discouragements.  The believer who is content in God remembers God’s power and love, that He’s able to rescue sinners, to heal the sick, to make the blind see.  God invites us to trust that He will deliver us in His time and in His way, according to His good pleasure.

10. Contentment doesn’t try to sin to get relief from pain.  Sometimes when things are particularly dark, Christians are tempted to find comfort in their sin.  They look for some sinful escape or distraction from their trials.  Or they may be tempted to believe false doctrine as a means of escaping their pain and fostering some false hope of temporal rescue.  But Christ would have us to be content in Himself and to flee from sin and heresy.

11. Contentment doesn’t rebel against God.  When people are least content, they’re tempted to shake their fists in God’s face.  They blame God and accuse Him for their troubles and believe the worst of Him for brining trails into their lives.  But God only has thoughts of love in everything He does to those who belong to Him.  It isn’t from ill-will that God brings suffering into the lives of His beloved children.

12. Contentment is a grace that spreads through the whole person.  That is, a content person’s thoughts, emotions, and will are all content in Christ.  Sometimes people have a very hard time understanding why they should be content in their situation.  Other times, they may understand why they should be content, but they have a very hard time actually feeling content.  And still other times, people will not act contentedly.

13. Contentment comes from within, from the heart.  It’s possible for a person to warm up by a fire, but then he gets cold again when he leaves the fire. Some people get temporary contentment by surrounding themselves with arguments, with people, and with circumstances that make them feel content for a little while, but then, when circumstances change, their contentment leaves them.  True contentment, however, radiates from within by the Spirit of Christ.  It isn’t conditioned upon outward circumstances.

14. Contentment is a habitual character of the heart.  Someone who has learned to be content has a habit and discipline of bringing his heart into a state of stable and peaceful contentment, even though all the world around him is constantly changing.  He practices contentment during lesser trials so that he is strong and able to practice contentment during greater trials.

15. Contentment does not come from a natural sturdy disposition.  Some people have a natural ability to stabilize themselves by the sheer force of their will.  They do this by dulling their emotions and attachments to the world in a stoic way.  But true godly contentment is very different from this.  The source of godly contentment is Christ. It longs for Him, trusts in Him, and wants to honor Him in all of life.

16. Contentment submits to God’s sovereign will.  A content person bows under the sovereign hand of God and submits to what God has ordained in his life.  He acknowledges that God has appointed this hardship in life and so he must accept it from God’s hand.

17. Contentment takes pleasure in God’s sovereign will. Far more than just submitting to God’s will, a content person actually sees that there must be good in what God has ordained.  “I find there is honey in this rock, and so I do not only say, I must, or I will submit to God’s hand.  No, the hand of God is good, ‘it is good that I am afflicted.'”

18. Contentment submits to every kind of affliction.  Many people might be able to submit to God striking their own health and bodies.  But they wouldn’t be able to stand God striking their spouse or their child.  True contentment submits to all of God’s wise providences.

19. Contentment submits to God’s time-table of affliction.  Some would say, “This affliction has lasted too long.  The affliction itself is bearable, but the length of time I’m required to endure this affliction is unbearable.”

20. Contentment submits to afflictions when many come at the same time.  Some say, “This one affliction is bearable all by itself, but it has come with so many other trails and troubles at the same time.”  One suffering often comes with many other sufferings.  True contentment submits to God’s timing.

If you’ve made it to the end of this post, and you’re convicted of your own discontentment, as I am of mine, then the law has done its work.  The 10th commandment declares: “You shall not covet.”  But the law cannot save us or change us.  The law, which commands us to be content, has no power to make us content.  We can’t simply decide by force of will that we’re going to start keeping the law and become more content.

Rather, we need Jesus.  Only a believing sight of Jesus, our glorious Savior, can quiet our hearts and make us content.  If you are a believer, Christ died for your discontentment.  His blood washes away your discontentment.  His righteousness stands in the place of your imperfect contentment.  And in Him, you are fully accepted before the Father.  It’s only by thinking on Christ and His love for us, even in our sins, that we’re able to grow little by little, more and more, into content people for our own joy and for the glory our God.  It’s when you draw near to Christ from the heart in communion with Him as a way of life that you can learn to be content and reap the blessings of it.

This post originally appeared at another blog.  It has been republished here with the author’s permission.