One of the great mysteries of Christianity is contentment. At least one must presume it is a mystery, because so few people live it. Yet contentment is not something that's found; it is an attitude.
There are many people who seemingly have little or no regard for material possessions. They accept poverty as a normal living condition, and their major concern is where they will sleep that night or eat that day. In contrast are the affluent, who have the best our society has to offer at their disposal. Their houses, summer cottages, winter chalets, and automobiles are the envy of the community. Does either scenario bring contentment? No!
If money can't buy contentment and poverty doesn't provide it, what is contentment and how is it attained? Contentment, contrary to popular opinion, does not mean being satisfied where you are. Rather, it is knowing God's plan for your life, having a conviction to live it, and believing that God's peace is greater than the world's problems.
So often Christians get so involved in the day-to-day activities of earning a living and raising a family that they forget their real purpose in life: to serve God. They discover that their lives are out of balance and don't know how to bring them back into balance. So, they buy more things or get rid of things in order to bring back the balance. However, nothing seems to work.
Christians get trapped into a discontented life by adopting worldly goals: more, bigger, and best. The Bible identifies these as indulgence, greed, and pride. For a while after accepting Christ as Savior, there is a peace and a real willingness and desire to commit everything to God. After a while there is a tendency to fall back into the same old routine of desiring and getting more, rationalizing that somehow it is "serving the Lord." The evidence to the contrary is a lack of peace, a lack of spiritual growth, and a growing doubt about God's ability to provide.
In today's society it's not normal to step down. Once a certain level of income, spending, and lifestyle is attained, most will go into debt in order to maintain that level. Stepping down to an affordable level is considered failure. Yet, contentment can't be achieved without personal discipline and staying within the lifestyle parameters God has established, based on His provision (Luke 12:15; 16:13-14).
In poverty, the issue is usually black and white—you either have it or you don't. In affluence, the deception is much more subtle, because anxieties and worries are not usually related to the lack of things but rather the loss of things. In essence, most affluent Christians fear they might lose the material things they have acquired. Unless they are so detached from the goods that they must be willing to lose them they won't find real contentment. That does not necessarily mean that they have to surrender all of their material possessions. It means being willing to do so.
God's plan for contentment
Although many Scriptures teach about the dangers of material riches, God's Word does not teach that poverty is God's alternative. God wants us to understand that money is a tool to use in accomplishing His plan through us. If we are to find true contentment we must establish some basic guidelines.
- Establish a reasonable standard of living. It is important to develop a lifestyle based on conviction, not circumstances. God will assign Christians at every economic level. On whatever level He has placed you, live within the economic parameters established and supplied by Him. Just having abundance is not a sign of God's blessings. Satan can easily duplicate any worldly riches. God's abundance is without sorrow and is for the purpose of bringing others to Christ.
- Establish a habit of giving. Along with the tithe, God desires that every Christian provide for the needs of others through the giving of offerings, gifts, and personal involvement.
- Establish priorities. Many Christians are discontented—not because they aren't doing well but because others are doing better. Too often Christians look at what they don't have and become dissatisfied and discontented, rather than thanking God for what they do have and being content with what He has supplied.
- Develop a thankful attitude. It is remarkable that in America we could ever think that God has failed us materially. That attitude is possible only when we allow Satan to convince us to compare ourselves to others. The primary defense against this attitude is praise to God. Satan uses lavishness and waste to create discontent and selfish ambition. Thankfulness is a state of mind, not an accumulation of assets. Until Christians can truly thank God for what they have and be willing to accept God's provision, contentment will never be possible.
- Reject a fearful spirit. One of the most effective tools used by Satan against Christians is the question, "What if?" Dedicated Christians get trapped into hoarding because they fear the "What if?" of retirement, disability, unemployment, economic collapse, and so on. Although God wants us to be concerned about these things, when fears dictate to the point that giving to God is hindered, foolish risks are assumed, and worry seems to control every decision, contentment is impossible.
- Seek God's will. "More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ" (Philippians 3:8).
- Stand up to fear. "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13).
- Trust God's promise. "The peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7).
Contentment is so far removed from many Christians that it seems that they will never be able to find it or be at peace. However, contentment is not something that must be searched for and found. It is an attitude of the heart. Once the attitude has been modified and all has been transferred to God, contentment will be evident.