Overflowing Joy: Contentment (Inexpressible Joy #5)

Overflowing Joy: Contentment (Inexpressible Joy #5)

We’re constantly being told that we need more, and yet more is rarely enough. The world around us is constantly trying to tell us that joy and satisfaction is found in all sorts of things. We long for more, but the truth is that there is never enough money, enough wealth or enough possessions to be had. Our culture esteems instant gratification – we want more, and we want it now. Many of us experience a restlessness about the things we want and what we are willing to do in order to get them says a lot about us.

Someone wisely said: “If I am not satisfied with what I have, I will never be satisfied with what I want.” There is also the desire to change things about our situation – health, relational status, job, house, children, adventure and so on. Of course, these things are good things, but we often find ourselves repeated asking the question ‘if only’. This makes it hard for us to be content with our lot?

Messages like these are a big part of how society feeds discontentment among us. Our society focuses more on change rather than contentment. Of course, we should want to grow, develop and mature – these are good things, but you only have to spend some time on social media to realise that we are constantly being told that what we are, what we look like and what we have are seen to be is deficient in some way or other.

In this post my premise is that finding Joy in Christ grows within us a deep sense of contentment, which in turn overflows into rich generosity towards those round us!

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

Our first destination is the book of Philippians which was written by Paul during a period of imprisonment. Paul wants to thank them for their support. He also wants to challenge them to continue growing in Christ and teaches them about contentment. There is much written about joy in this letter. Near the beginning of chapter 4 Paul tells the Philippians to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (4:4). Only a few verses after this verse Paul comes to the question of contentment:

10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:10-20

Paul rejoices because of their concern and their eagerness to embrace this opportunity to meet that concern (v10). Paul wants to be clear that whether he is in need, or in plenty, he has learned to be content. He was content before their gift, and he will still be content after! Sure, it was an encouragement, but Paul is describing an inner contentment that isn’t impacted by any gift. Whether facing persecution, suffering or imprisonment Paul had learned to be content in any and every circumstance (v11, v12). Paul wants them to experience contentment in Jesus also. Notice that they had a history of supporting him generously (v14-16), but again Paul isn’t so much eager for their gifts but more that it be credited to their account (v17-19).

Paul suggests here that contentment does not come naturally – it is something that we have to learn. I think it’s very encouraging to think that this was something even Paul had to learn. Moreover, it is encouraging to think that even in spite of all that Paul faced, he was able to learn this secret.

I don’t know how you read these verses, but it seems like Paul explains this secret here in v13 when he says that he can do all this through Him who gives him strength. People quote this verse, perhaps sometimes unhelpfully, in the context of many kinds of things. Yet its context is the contentment Paul has been describing and which he wants the Philippians to imitate. Andrew Davis in The Power of Christian Contentment writes: “An abiding Christian contentment in any and every circumstance is an act of supernatural strength…” (p36). We will only find contentment through the strength that only Christ can give.

374 years ago a Puritan named Jeremiah Burroughs (1648) wrote the following definition of contentment:

“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”

The Rare Jewel of Christian contentment, © 2013 Banner of Truth, p19.

I love the way that it weaves together a mindset (frame of spirit) which is freely in submission to God and His plans for us. There is something deeply attractive (Burroughs says sweet) about it. It is something which is internal – the outward flows from change on the inside. There is a quietness involved in just getting on with things – watching and waiting to see what God will do. It is gracious because it is the work of God’s grace in our lives. By God’s disposal, described as wise and fatherly, Burroughs is speaking of God’s decisions about us worked out through His Sovereign plan. Contentment involves submitting to all that God is doing. That does not mean just putting up with all life brings – but continuing to praying and seek help and deliverance.

“Christian contentment is about finding delight in God’s wise plan for my life and humbly allowing him to direct me in it.”

The Power of Christian Contentment, Finding Deeper, Richer Christ Centred Joy, Andrew Davis, pg. 54. 

I would have to confess that contentment is probably not one of my greatest strengths, but I am learning. It has been a blessing to reflect on it here. I do think I’ve grown a fair bit in this area over the years – trusting God more to supply our needs has become a bit easier and there has a lessening desire to have lots of things we don’t have.

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Secondly, I want us to look at the example of the Macedonian believers in 2 Corinthians 8. Despite facing severe trials and poverty Paul tells us that they responded with rich generosity:

1 And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 

2 Corinthians 8:1-4

Looking closer it is hard to miss the reference here to joy. These poverty stricken Christians who were facing severe hardship, were also full of joy. Indeed, it says that they were overflowing with joy. It would be easy to assume that poverty, hardship and trials are opposed to joy, but as we saw in session 3 there is a perspective of joy that transcends all our circumstances. Paul links this with the idea that God had given grace to these Macedonian churches. God’s grace had led to overflowing joy and that joy had welled up in rich generosity.

The key once again is finding our joy in Christ. There are plenty of things that we will find pleasing in life, but only Christ will truly satisfy. If we want to be the kind of people who well up in rich generosity then we also need to be those who find our joy primarily in Jesus. Tough times are part and parcel of living in this world. Joni Eareckson-Tada helpfully points us not to the things of this world but to what is coming in the next. Only when we channel our hunger towards Him will we find that place of contentment:

“For me, true contentment on earth means asking less of this life because more is coming in the next. Godly contentment is great gain. Heavenly gain. Because God has created the appetites in your heart, it stands to reason that He must be the consummation of that hunger. Yes, heaven will galvanize your heart if you focus your faith not on a place of glittery mansions, but on a Person, Jesus, who makes heaven a home.”

Joni Eareckson-Tada

We commonly say that the Grass is always Greener on the other side. In this we tend to focus on wanting something different than we have. We believe that things will always be better if only… The reality is often quite different – perhaps the grass really isn’t any greener or perhaps others actually think our grass is greener. Perspective is everything!

So often, we believe the lie that our joy will be realised when we have that certain something or certain someone. We ask if only and long for things to change in some way. Our lack of contentment robs us of our joy. Once again what we see here is that first and foremost it is about finding joy in the person of Jesus Christ. When we do so, will the things of earth begin to fade:

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.”

Helen Howarth Hemmel

See other posts in this series: 

  1. No Greater Joy
  2. The Joy of your Salvation: Living in Grace
  3. Consider it Pure Joy: Tough Times
  4. The Joy of our Hearts: God’s Word
  5. Overflowing Joy: Contentment
  6. Everlasting Joy: New Creation

Cover Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash

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