Contentment – An Art and an Attitude

The Oxford Living Dictionary defines ‘contentment’ as a state of happiness and satisfaction. The origin of the word points to the late Middle English denoting the payment of a claim. Happiness is pursued all over the world. The first World Happiness Report was published in April 2012 in support of the UN High Level Meeting on happiness and well-being. In February 2017, the United Arab Emirates held a full-day World Happiness meeting as part of the World Government Summit. Again the World Happiness Day was held on March 20th, 2017 at the United Nations. The top four countries which rank highly on global happiness rankings 2017 point out that all the main factors found to support happiness are: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance. All of the other countries in the top ten also have high values in all six of the key variables used to explain happiness differences among countries and through time – income, healthy life, having someone to depend on in times of trouble, generosity, freedom, trust, and absence of corruption are some of the other criteria which count for contentment. As per the above index, happiness depends primarily on social and personal factors and to some extent local political factors. Discontentment in human beings dates back to the fall of man. When the first parents were tempted with the prospect of becoming larger and more than what they were created to be i.e. becoming wise as God, contentment eluded them. Even now, it is a challenge. Physically, we say we are not as handsome or beautiful as we would love to be. Some of us are not happy of being born to a race, class, caste, family and even country, though these are beyond one’s control. We are stressed out emotionally. Rat race to earn name, fame and wealth make us spin around. Spiritual bankruptcy makes us feel guilty of being dissatisfied physically, mentally, emotionally or materially.

In all ages, even so more in the present generation, there is strange craze for material possessions, wealth, and money. This century has witnessed more millionaires and billionaires than ever before. Amassing wealth by unlawful and unjustified ways are often read and heard in our society. Some manage to stay rich by perverse means. Most of these rich persons do not lead happy lives. Much cares and anxieties and greed for possessions do not allow them to be in peace. Greek philosopher Socrates once observed: He who is not contented with what he has, would never be contented with what he would like to have. A rich young ruler asked Lord Jesus about inheriting eternal life. The rich man mentioned that he had been observing the commandments of Jesus Christ. When he was counselled to distribute his wealth to the poor, he went away sorrowfully as he was very rich. “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (I Tim 6:10). It’s not wealth or possessions which lead to discontentment, rather, it is the love of money and covetousness. Covetousness and contentment do not go together. “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” (Luke 12:15). On the contrary, have-nots worry and are anxious about food, clothing, provisions and other needs which may lead them to discontentment. The Lord Himself exhorts not to worry about food and clothing. We are much more valuable and precious to God than birds of the air that God feeds and lilies which are arrayed in all splendours (Luke 12:24-28). God meets our needs but not greed. Jeremiah Burroughs, English Congregationalist, in his book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment described contentment as ‘a rare jewel’ and hints on how to obtain this jewel as follows: The world says that you will find contentment when your possessions rise to meet the level of your desires. The Christian has another way to contentment, that is, he can bring his desires down to his possessions. Our benchmark of contentment is expressed in Pauline words: “If we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content.”(I Tim 6:8).

The world is full of people seeking pleasures. Indulgence is the fascination of many as it keeps them absorbed, engaged and happy. In fact, some of them resort to these to avoid the reality of life. It may keep people cheerful occasionally but eventually it leads to devastation in life. King Solomon did not withhold his heart from any pleasure. But at the end he concluded that all were meaningless and empty. Longing and striving for power, authority, status, fame and recognition is considered common mode of and an indicator to contented and fulfilled life. It results in unhealthy competition, strife and conflict in workplace, college and in every arena of the society. Unrestrained lust for power and glory result in destruction, pain and suffering. Many celebrities are not in a position to lead happy lives. Success does not bring real happiness to them. They resort to unusual indulgence leading to depression and, sometimes, tragic ends. External popularity does not necessarily bring real fulfillment of internal ambition. The Bible teaches us: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Phil.2:3). Being ambitious, in and of itself, is not wrong, it’s what we esteem or honour that can be a problem. The Scripture teaches us that to be first in the kingdom is to become a servant (Matt. 23:11-12).Charles Spurgeon, famous English author, wrote: Revenge, lust, ambition, pride and self-will are too often exalted as the gods of man’s idolatry, while holiness, contentment and humility are viewed as unworthy of a serious thought.

A person is discontented when he makes effort to find fulfilment in life outside his creator. When a person receives Lord Jesus as Saviour and Lord, he becomes a new creation. Unspeakable joy fills his heart. His goal, ambition, dimension, and life’s focus are transformed. This is the first step to a contented life. His contentment is not contingent upon circumstances. As he progresses in spiritual journey, he learns to remain content in any and every situation whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. He knows what it is to be in need and what it is to have plenty (Phil. 4:12). He takes adversity and prosperity with equanimity. He is content with what he has (Heb. 13:5). He does not fret over the success of others, neither does he envy others (Psa.37:1). He understands comparison steals away his joy. Therefore, he trusts in the Lord, does what is right and takes delights in the Lord and the Lord gives him the desires of his heart. He commits his future to the Lord and trusts in Him and the Lord acts on his behalf (Psa. 37:4-5). He declares he can do all things through Him who gives him strength (Phil. 4:13). For him, contentment is not being complacent.

He thinks and pursues excellence in all endeavours God has called him to do (Phil. 4:8). He believes that God’s grace is sufficient for him. For his strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12: 9). That is why, for Christ’s sake, he takes pleasures in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties (2 Cor.12:10). He rejoices always and gives thanks in everything (I Thess. 5:16-17).He is not anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving he presents his requests to God (Phil. 4:6).He believes God shall supply all his needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19).

Martin Luther, the great Reformer, believed: “The secret of contentment is the realization that life is a gift, not a right. Next to faith this is the highest art-to be content with the calling in which God has placed you.” Contentment is an attitude. It is not something that is found. It is a state of being and not a state of doing. The well known Bible teacher and conference speaker Joyce Meyer teaches, “Contentment with life is not a feeling but it is decision we must make”. As we face challenge for deciding to lead contented life, Apostle Paul takes us one step ahead as he admonishes: godliness with contentment is great gain (I Tim. 6:6).

Nanda Dhulal
The author is presently working as Group Director in a Central Government Department. He resides in Bangalore with his wife Geetanjali and daughter Bonita. He and his wife are involved with UESI ministry right from their student days.

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