The Lost Virtue of Contentment

Steve JolleyCommunity News

We are living in a cultural moment where discontentment is being promoted with breathtaking zeal. Lack of contentment is in the social air we all breathe. Many in our society are focused on making us unhappy with our current circumstances and lot in life. Do you own a condo? We are told in a myriad of ways we would be so much happier in a cute home with a yard. Do you own a home with a yard? The not-too-subtle message we hear is that life would be more fulfilling if you had an extra bedroom or two, a new kitchen (with granite counter tops) and a bigger yard, and even greater contentment comes with Craftsmen or Modern architecture. Whether it is your car, your investments, your physique, your wardrobe, or your spouse, advertisers want you to long for more (or maybe less when it comes to your weight) and so they work to make you unhappy with what you have, how you look and who you are.

Donna and I live in deep Goleta, very near Costco. We go there often to help support our economy. Recently I found myself enamored with the amazing array of high definition flat screen televisions that greet you as you enter the store. The resolution that the new 4K Ultra HD technology provides is so vivid and pleasing to the eye that it now makes the watching of television a greater joy than any other time in history. Unfortunately, now when I watch my old fashioned, antiquated, pathetic high definition television (but not 4K Ultra HD) I find that I am discontent, longing for the greater clarity I know is available.

The marketing of discontentment is a sophisticated assault on what is increasingly the lost virtue of contentment. The blame, however, for a lack of contentment should not be simply placed on greedy advertisers. There is something inside many of us that longs for more. As Socrates has pointed out, He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have. No matter how blessed we are, a deep dissatisfaction can grip our souls robbing us of joy and contentment.

Of course discontentment is much bigger than simply lusting after more material possessions.At its root a lack of contentment is a spiritual problem. Discontentment ultimately points to a soul that is searching for gratification in all the wrong places. The elusive quest for contentment when pursued wrongly is like a person who continues to fish in the Dead Sea. There are no fish, but we keep fishing.

It was Francis Schaeffer who suggested in his book, True Spirituality, that one of the main tests of whether or not we are actually living the Christian life is whether we love God enough to be contented with him. The Bible speaks a great deal about finding our contentment in our relationship and security with God. Mature Christians are believers who are content in life because of God.

Contentment is a spiritual virtue to be learned. It was the apostle Paul, who knew a thing or two about difficult life circumstances, who said, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances (Philippians 4:11). If contentment does not come easily to you, find comfort that this is a spiritual virtue that can be learned with practice.

Here are two suggestions on how a Christian can learn the spiritual virtue of contentment.

First, remind yourself that contentment is ultimately found only in God. Hebrews 13:5 says, Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Notice how quickly the author moves from the very earthy reality of loving money to the final security that can only be found in a God who is faithful to never leave us. This is a very similar thought to 1 Timothy 6:6-7, But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. In both of these statements the idea that contentment can be found in our financial investments is debunked. Ultimate contentment is only found in God. This is true, not just with money, but in every area of our lives where we strive for contentment.

The biblical synonym for contentment is satisfaction. The Psalms speak frequently about finding our satisfaction in life in a confident relationship with God. In rich poetry David describes the reason for this satisfaction. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips (Psalm 63:3-5). The iconic 60’s rock band, The Rolling Stones, famously crooned, I can’t get no satisfaction. But it was King David, who knew what it was like to look for love and satisfaction in all the wrong places, who ultimately found his contentment in a loving and kind God.

Secondly, spiritual contentment can be learned when we bombard discontentment with thanksgiving to God. As Christians we are called to wage war on the sin of a thankless heart. We fire a salvo on ingratitude every time we remember to be thankful. When we have consistently thankful hearts there is a tangible result of joy, gladness and peace that will permeate our lives. Put simply, thanksgiving will chase away discontentment. The believer who practices the discipline of a thankful heart has found the perfect and God given antidote to discontentment.

This would be a good time to start practicing thankful contentedness. Before you put this Community News article down think of a dozen things for which you are thankful. Think of both everyday things of life and the spiritual blessings we have in Christ. How about a hot shower, a toilet that flushes, your dog, friendships, living in a beautiful town by the ocean, and Trader Joes! And now for the most important—ponder a God who has pursued you, loves you, provided redemption and forgiveness, and a Bible to tell us about that salvation. Consider a spiritual security that is contingent on his character, and the promise of a joyful eternity in heaven where tears and pain will be a thing of the past. Wow!

There is a sense, however, in which no matter how content and satisfied we are now we will never be finally satisfied until we get to heaven. In Psalm 17:15, David said, I shall be satisfied when I awake in your likeness. Thankfully this ultimate contentment will come to us and there will never be another moment of dissatisfaction.