|Do you see the blooming flowers? Or the dead tree and the weathered fence?|
"Christian contentment is that sweet inward ... frame of spirit..."
So says Jeremiah Burroughs in The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. He explains that being content isn't just a matter of not verbalizing our dissatisfaction. If it were only a case of keeping quiet outwardly, there wouldn't be much to learn. But, he says, "God hears the fretful, peevish language of [our] souls." Now, even though I love the way old-fashioned terms like "fretful" and "peevish" create a picture in my mind, the reality in my soul is an ugly thing. So, it's having a quiet heart that God wants of me.
I remember as a young wife, in a Bible study confessing my sin of covetousness and my tendency to inordinately want things. One of the other young women, only slightly older than I, said she could relate.
"I used to feel envious," she said, "and then we started to get some things."
While it was comforting to find I wasn't alone in my temptations, her answer seemed to be no answer at all. How could the solution to a temptation simply be to satisfy the urges of that temptation? (What if we applied that reasoning to a man's lust for another man's wife?!)
I pictured people living in mud huts or in refugee camps having experienced the loss of all material possessions. If it were only "getting some things" that could produce contentment, then surely we affluent North Americans should be the most content people on earth. And conversely, those in great poverty would never be content. Yet that's not the case on either end of the spectrum.
My experience, even those many years ago, had been that the satisfaction produced by "getting something" was pitifully short-lived. No, it had to be something other than "things" that brought contentment.
I discovered some closely-related attitudes that, when I practice them, quickly bring me into a state of contentment:
1.Relinquishing Ownership. When I first understood that God owns everything and has only assigned me as a caretaker of some of what He owns, I roamed around my little home and relinquished all I had to Him. It was surprising to me how much there actually was, and how that led to the next attitude...
2. Gratefulness. (Recognizing that what I have comes either from God or others.) There is something about physically listing all that I have to be thankful for, that changes my frame of reference. Singing hymns of gratitude is another transforming exercise.
3. Confidence in Providence.
"Providence is the almighty and ever-present power of God
by which He upholds, as with His hand,
heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that
leaf and blade
rain and drought,
fruitful and lean years,
food and drink,
health and sickness,
prosperity and poverty--
all things, in fact, come to us
not by chance but from His fatherly hand."
-Heidelberg Catechism, 1563, A. 27
4. Abiding. I learned early on, that regularly reading and pondering the Bible was an antidote to discontentment. I took seriously Jesus' warning that "...the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word [God's truth]". God's Word has a way of directing my thoughts to what's really valuable in life, changing my self-focus to thoughts of Him and all He has given me. In that way, He becomes all I need.