Very few of us would ever walk around proudly declaring, “My contentment rests on complex contingencies,” however, many Christians still live like this is true. Our lives tell on us. Our fears expose our excessive attachments and our compulsions uncover our conditions for contentment. What I make necessary for my contentment, I make a little lord in my life. Anything and everything to which I attach my joy, my peace, or my security, I make a contingency to my contentment.
The older my children get and the more complex their needs and their worlds, the more I am realizing how much my contentment is contingent upon them: their health, their joy, their mental and spiritual well-being. These are not bad things for which to pray on their behalf, but I cannot let my contentment be contingent upon them. To do so is both unwise and unbiblical.
One of the gloriously unique realities of Christianity is contentment in Christ. Such a contentment has zero contingencies, yet we must contend for it. Paul was able to tell the Philippians that he had learned the secret of Christian contentment. He gradually learned that, whether he abounded or was abased, he could be fully and completely content in Christ and with Christ (Phil. 4: 11-13). The following principles have been helping me contend for simple contentment in Christ.
1. Receive with gratitude, but don’t grasp.
Paul longed for the early churches to know this kind of contentment without contingencies. He longed for them to be freed from joy-suffocating and peace-diminishing excessive attachments to this world and the things of it. It was not that he wanted them to reject good things or deflect temporal blessings. He knew that all things created by God were good (1 Tim. 4:4–5); however, he also knew the tendency of the human heart towards worshiping and serving created things rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25).
We need not be ascetics to contend for contentment in Christ. We need only receive his blessings without grasping. As the psalmist wrote, “When riches increase, set not your heart upon them” (Ps. 62:11).
2. Be sated with favor, not favorable circumstances.
When I feel impoverished by circumstances or trapped in contentment full of contingencies, I lead my heart to remember our sure, unfading inheritance in Christ. Before Moses died, he spent time blessing each of the twelve tribes of Israel. These blessings are mere hints of the fullness we have received in Christ.
Lately, Moses’s blessing over Naphtali has been both confronting and comforting my heart.
“And of Naphtali he said, ‘O Naphtali, sated with favor, and full of the blessing of the Lord, possess the lake and the South’” (Deut. 33:23).
While the tribe of Naphtali probably enjoyed having the lake land as their portion, we have something far more astounding: the living waters springing up from within us in Christ (John 4:10–14). Oases of creature comfort, though gifts from the Lord, are susceptible to drought. But the living water of Christ will never run dry. Thus, to base our contentment on anything other than Christ is to live with complex contingencies.
When circumstances are favorable, when your children are close by and healthy, when work is going well, when marriage feels like a walk in the park, thank God. But don’t build your contentment on the shakeable base of favorable circumstances. Do the hard, God-honoring, soul-keeping work of finding contentment in the favor Christ has secured for you.
3. In the midst of presents, be content with his presence.
Contentment is less about tallying his presents towards us and more about remembering his presence with us. Our culture is all about gratitude and counting our blessings. While gratitude is a good thing, Christ invites us into something much deeper than lists of blessings: he gives us access to the Blessed One (1 Tim. 6:15).
The writer of Hebrews makes a powerful connection between contentment and the presence of Christ. Towards the end of his letter to the Hebrew believers, he writes,
Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’.
As life grows more intricate and complex, our contentment does not have to grow in contingencies. Having Christ, we have all we need to ride out the ebbs and flows of circumstances until we are with him forever.