The Lesson of Contentment
It is not an easy lesson to learn! At least a great many people seem unable to learn it. Evidently, however, there is a duty of being contented. The whole teaching of the Bible enjoins it. Besides, it is one of the elements of beauty in a Christian life. Few things mar a disposition, more than fretfulness and discontent.
The lesson can be learned, or it would not be so continually set before us in the Scriptures as a duty. Nothing impossible is ever asked by the Master of his followers. It is a lesson well worth learning, too, for it brings much happiness into the life.
Discontent adds greatly to the burden of living. If we could learn to live contentedly, it would add immeasurably both to our influence for good and to our capacity for usefulness.
But how can the lesson be learned? Paul has told us of his experience. In one of his epistles, written from a prison, he said, "I have learned in whatever state I am, therein to be content." He did not say that he was satisfied, nor did he say that he did not suffer in the midst of life's trials and troubles.
We should never rest satisfied with present attainments — but should always look toward better things yet to be realized. Phillips Brooks said: "Sad will be the day for any man, when he becomes absolutely contented with the life he is living, with the thoughts he is thinking and the deeds he is doing; when there is not forever beating at the doors of his soul some great desire to do something larger which he knows that he was meant and made to do, because he is a child of God."
Satisfaction in any state, when it is in our power to grow out of it into something better — is unworthy of an immortal being. Contentment is not satisfaction. Nor can we eliminate pain from our experience, when our condition is one of affliction or trial.
What Paul said he had learned, was to be content — that is, not to fret, murmur or chafe in any circumstances.
It is a comfort to us as we sigh over what seems to us an impossible attainment, to notice that Paul says he had "learned" this lesson. Contentment did not come to him naturally — it was a lesson which had to be learned like other lessons in life. We may be quite sure, too, that it was not easy for him — no lessons that are worth while, ever come very easily. All really good and beautiful things in character, cost much.
It is also instructive to remember that Paul was quite well up in years when he said he had learned this lesson. We may say, therefore, that it took him a long time to acquire the art. This gives hope to us, especially if we are young.
There is another word in this famous saying which reveals to us the secret of Paul's contentment. The thought is that he carried in himself the secret. He was not dependent upon external circumstances or conditions. In his own heart there was something which made him independent of everything outside of himself. He carried there, the peace of God and the joy of Christ.
When he found himself in hard conditions, as, for example, when he suffered persecutions, when he was beaten, or cast into prison, or stoned — there was that within his own heart which lifted him above all his trials.
We see him in a prison at Philippi after having been cruelly scourged, his feet held fast in stocks, the noxious air of the dungeon about him — yet singing hymns of praise to God.
We see him again on a ship, during the progress of a fearful storm, whenever the old sailors were in terror and when there seemed to be no hope — yet quiet, calm, trustful, and at peace.
So it was in whatever experiences he found himself. When he was enjoying life's good things he was contented — but he was no less contented when these things were taken away. He tells us in the same connection: "I know how to be abased, and I know also how to abound. In everything and in all things, I have learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in want. I can do all things in him that strengthens me!"
Jesus gave us the secret of contentment in his words to the woman at the well. "Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up into eternal life." That is, the grace of God, received by faith, becomes a living fountain in the heart of him who receives it.
He is not dependent upon circumstances. He carries his supplies with him, in his heart, and though the way be through barren wastes, he does not suffer. The warmth of his life does not rise and fall with the variations of the temperature of life about him. Wherever he is, through whatever experiences he is passing, his heart reposes and he is at peace.
Here we have the secret, therefore, of Christian contentment. It is found in making Christ all in all in our life! If we depend altogether and only upon him, then we need not care what may come; we shall be restful and calm in any circumstances.
"Though he slays me — yet will I trust in him," said the old patriarch.
Jesus promised his own peace to his people, bequeathing it to them as his parting legacy. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you." To have the peace of Christ in one's heart lifts one above the reach of all earth's floods.
There is no other true way of learning the lesson of contentment. Philosophy may do something. We may train ourselves into a habit of contentment. But there must be grace within, to begin with. Of course we must get the habit wrought into our life, though the secret is Christ in the heart.
The most beautiful graces of Christian life must become habits. A young Christian cannot expect all the fruits of the Spirit to come out in full form in his character the day after he is saved. The Christian life is a school in which the lessons must be learned. They can be learned only through patience and long and diligent application. We have very much to do ourselves, even after God has done his part, to get into our life and character the things which Christ commends.
Everyone should seek to learn this lesson of contentment. If we trust God fully and do our whole duty day by day, as the days come to us, nothing remains but to go quietly on in the way of peace.