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 through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13 ESV)
Do you struggle with finding contentment in the life God has assigned to you? I sure do. I, unlike the Apostle Paul, have not yet learned how to be content in whatever situation I am. Indeed there are days in my life when dis-contentedness so fills my heart that not a single pleasure in this world could even begin to drive it out.
A few years ago, I came across a wonderful book written by a Puritan preacher named Jeremiah Burroughs called The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. This book has proven very helpful to me on a couple of occasions in my life as I learn the “secret” of genuine contentment in Christ, albeit ever so slowly.
The last section of the book is worth the price of the book, in my opinion (even though you can read it here for free). There Burroughs lays out some things the Christian should consider as a means of pursuing true spiritual contentment. I have taken the liberty of restating and summarizing most of his main points in this post.
In the fight for contentment, Burroughs counsels us to meditate long and hard on a number of humbling truths:
First, consider the mercies of God in your past, whether you are experiencing all that you want in the present or not. There is mercy in your past if you will simply look back to refresh your memory. God has been good to you. Remember that. Don’t lose sight of the goodness God has shown to you throughout your life to this point.
Second, consider the abundance of God’s mercies that He gives and you enjoy daily. Consider all of the ways God has shown kindness to you today. How many of those kindnesses were given to you without even having to ask for them? You may have to force your eyes open to see it, but God has been good to you today, in ways you likely have taken for granted.
Third, consider the shortness of your life and the fact that you will never suffer except in this world, if you are a Christian. These afflictions, are truly light and momentary (2 Corinthians 4:17), in light of all that awaits you. Your desires may go unfulfilled for a time, but it will not be that way forever. If you are a Christian, you will never know the worst kind of suffering that there is, and one day even the lesser forms of suffering you now know will come to a swift, sudden, and final end.
Fourth, consider the difficult lives of men greater than yourself. Jesus is a much greater man than you, yet you have not experienced anything close to what He experienced for you. Consider faithful saints who have died calling out to God for help; the cloud of witnesses who ran the race before us, who looked ahead to a better country (Hebrews 11:16), and who willingly suffered the loss of all things in order to gain Christ (Philippians 3:8). Men and women greater than you have suffered far more than you throughout history. Even if the life you are living is not the life you desire – it is still far better than the life you deserve. And men who have deserved more than you (from a human standpoint), have gone with much less than you ever will.
Fifth, consider the ways you have been so easily contented with the world and think – If the things of the world can make you happy without God, then surely God can make you happy without the things of this world! And is he not far better than anything the world can offer? Anything you could possibly desire is rubbish compared to Christ (Philippians 3:8).
Sixth, consider the times God has given graces, effecting little to no change in your life. In other words, think of all the times God gave you exactly what you wanted, and you remained discontent and no holier for it. It happens all the time. The grass is always greener on the other side, as they say. That is because, whatever you desire (unless it is Christ himself) won’t ultimately satisfy you anyway.
And finally, consider the experiences of God’s past comforts in times when desired pleasures were withheld. Don’t forget the goodness and grace that is reserved for those who find themselves being brought low by the waves of affliction and times of intense waiting. There is often a kind of goodness reserved for us in times of drought that is far better than anything we may have even thought to ask for. We need to remember that God knows what is best for his children and is relentless about giving it to us, even if that means letting some of our lesser desires go unfulfilled in this life.
May these wise words encourage you in your pursuit of contentment in Christ, so that whether in hunger, abundance, or need – Christ may satisfy you more and more.