In Search of Contentment

Background Passage: Philippians 4:4-13

We live in a world of simmering discontent fueled by politicians and talk show hosts and fanned by the extremist opinions expressed in an all-too pervasive social media. Many among us look at our life circumstances… longing for a past veiled in a mist of greatness that never was as great as we remember. Angry about a present that seems stuck in a downward spiral. Jaded about a future we anticipate with overwhelming pessimism.

We pursue what we think will bring happiness only to discover emptiness. We buy more things…incur more debt…only to suffering the anxiety of paying for it all. We move from place to place…seeking a better house, better neighborhood, better schools…rarely staying in one place long enough to develop cherished friendships. When we let circumstances define us, when life unfolds as a series of unfulfilled dreams based on unrealistic expectations, contentment remains elusive.

Such a world view is distinctly anti-Christian. That’s not to say there aren’t some real problems we must address. It is saying, however, that as Christians, our world view needs to reflect a different attitude.
Contentment, as the world defines it, finds its root in a Greek word meaning “self-sufficient” or “independence.” It is derived from an ancient Stoic philosophy that calls one to detach oneself from ones emotions, to become indifferent to the ups and downs of life.

Contentment is not complacency. We should work to better ourselves and our circumstances as God grants us the opportunity to do so. God praises hard work that is not driven by greed and selfishness. We can prepare ourselves through education and training and work to better our circumstances as long as we are submissive to God’s will. Contentment is not settling for less. It is submitting your circumstances to God and trusting in his sufficiency.


The preacher languished in a foreign prison on trumped up charges. Punished and persecuted for sharing his faith that ran counter to the government-sanctioned philosophy and religion. Far from home. Isolated from most of his friends. Facing an almost certain death sentence.

The missionary could have shaken his fist at God, angry at the situation in which he found himself, wallowing in discontent and feeling abandoned by God and friends. Yet, the preacher continued to share the gospel of Christ to the prison guards, fellow prisoners and those he could reach by letter. In the darkness of his imprisonment, he received an unexpected gift from church friends trying to relieve the burden of his circumstances.

While he certainly appreciated the support during a difficult time, the Apostle Paul used the gift as an opportunity to teach the church at Philippi about his victory over discontent.


Paul took the definition of contentment in a different direction. For the apostle, contentment was the peace one finds when living within the will and strength of God. He said, “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.”

Reading the letter today you can imagine the people holding their breath waiting for Paul to reveal the answer. The secret of contentment, Paul said, is knowing…“that I can do all things through him that gives me strength.”

That seems to me to be the key. Our ability to do anything, to overcome everything life throws our way, is predicated on our understanding that God is sufficient in all things; that within his strength, all things are possible. Contentment is that inner sense of peace that stems from our personal relationship with the Father and dependent upon our willingness to embrace his lordship. To yield control of our lives to him.

Easy words to write, but difficult to do…unless we live a focused and purposeful life. Look at Philippians 4:8-9.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

It’s a simple formula and I’m content with that.

Do Not Lose Heart

Background Passage: Hebrews 12:1-3

Has there ever been a time in history when the world watched as closely the actions and reactions of Christians to world events? Certainly, the new, polarized media and the prevalence of social media contribute to the intense scrutiny of the verbal and living testimony shared with those we encounter. The intolerance directed at Christians who stand for their faith is counterbalanced at times with our own intolerant and unloving attacks on those who oppose our views.

The mistakes we make in our relationship with the world casts a dark shadow over those who attempt to live right and well. Like Sisyphus continually pushing the boulder up the hill only to lose his grip and let it roll back to the valley, one trying to build a bridge to those in need of Christ’s love, can easily grow so tired of the effort that giving up feels like a sensible option. In a world that fails to listen to the call of God, it is easy to grow discouraged.

The writer of Hebrews speaks a word for the weary that theologian William Barclay called “one of the great, moving passages of the New Testament.” The unknown author of Hebrews calls upon us to remember the heroes of our faith, to recall the difficult circumstances they encountered and the faith that sustained them. So the first clear message of this passage is that we are surrounded by those men and women who stood firm in faith despite setbacks and hardship. This “cloud of witnesses” ought to inspire us with their life testimony to persevere in our own effort to live as Christ commands.

With the memory of those bastions of faith behind us, we are urged to toss away every hindrance to running the race along the “course that is marked out before us.” The will of God for our lives. The path he desires us to walk. We are neither an unconcerned bystander, nor spectator, nor tourist along for the ride. We are called to run the race that God set out for us to run…regardless of where it takes us, how long or rugged the path. God has set the goal before us. Our task is to rid ourselves of the beastly burdens and bad attitudes that make the race feel impossible. To run with dogged dedication the gauntlet of a life lived for Christ.

The task is easier said than done when it feels as though the whole world is rooting against us. We feel the sting of ridicule from an unbelieving world each time we fail to live up to God’s standards, making it more difficult to accept his forgiveness and start anew. We feel the pressure of other believers who wrap themselves so tightly in the cloak of politics that faith becomes a social movement rather than a matter of the heart.

How then does the writer of Hebrews suggest we stay steadfast on the course God laid out before us? Simply this: “Fix your eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” In a moment of personal insanity many years ago, I once ran a half-marathon. I am not physically built to run a half-marathon. With no hope of winning, all I wanted to do is finish sometime before supper. In the last quarter of the race, my breath grew labored. My legs tired. My head telling me to stop the madness. Instead, I ran five miles staring at a runner about 100 yards in front of me. I told myself “If I lose sight of him, I’ll quit.“ Keeping my eyes focused on that man and with the help and encouragement of a friend over the last mile, I managed to finish what I started. We invariably quit the course laid out for us when we lose sight of Jesus. This we cannot do.

Hebrews tells us to think of all that Christ endured…the difficult journey, the constant opposition, the unhearing hearts, the agony of the cross…for despite the suffering, he endured it all because he could anticipate the joy that his gift of salvation would bring to the world. What God started in our lives, intending it all for good, must not be cast aside when the going gets tough. Think instead of the joy we will know when the task is done.

It is a strange world in which we find ourselves today, filled with frustration and heart break. You may feel, as I do at times, that you are not making a difference…that for every one step forward, the world pushes you two steps back. Know that it is not so. Acts of faith never return unrewarded.

At the end of the day, we must fix our eyes on Jesus and consider his enduring faith so that we “will not grow weary and lose heart.” Barclay called it one of the great, moving passages of the New Testament. I call it a message I needed to hear.