Contentment. Just saying that word takes me to a specific frame of mind. In my mind, it’s a cool, rainy day. I’m snuggled into a sweater and thick socks, sitting next to a fire, reading a book, and listening to music play quietly in the background. Meanwhile, a loaf of banana bread is baking in my oven… that is my happy place. Yours probably looks different, and depending upon your personality, mine may even seem boring. That is the beauty of contentment; it looks different for everyone.
Contentment means to be pleased or satisfied; yet, what satisfies us as individuals is going to be as different as our personalities. For instance, if I run my car through a quick wash, I am satisfied that it is clean. My husband is not! He is going to spend another hour detailing all the places the car wash missed. Likewise, when he says the kitchen is clean, that basically means he put all the dishes in the sink and wiped the visible portions of the counter. For me to be satisfied that the kitchen is clean, the dishes must be loaded in the dishwasher, counters and appliances thoroughly scrubbed, and the floor has been at least swept (preferably mopped). So, you see, the term content can differ based upon what satisfies us from our own point of view.
This simple fact, explains the confusion over what the biblical term contentment truly means. In the lives of many Christians, apathy and idleness have been given a spiritual cloak by twisting verses like Philippians 4:11, where the Apostle Paul writes, “…I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Through prioritizing our personal satisfaction, complacency has started taking over Christianity disguised as contentment.
Is that really what Paul had in mind? If you know even a little about the apostle Paul, then you know how diligently he served the Lord. He was a church planter and stayed busy journeying among the churches. However, at the time he wrote the book of Philippians, his usually hectic schedule had come to a screeching halt. He was in jail. It was in that cell that he penned these words about contentment, but unlike today’s Christians, Paul hadn’t given up his ministry to enjoy a life of idleness and self-indulgence. He had found a new way to minister. Even though his outward circumstances had changed, his heart and passion for Christ had not; that is what Paul meant when he said “I have learned..to be content.”
Imagine as Paul realized for the first time that he would be going to jail. He probably prayed fervently for the Lord to deliver him from that situation, but God did not. Then, as he begins to spend night after night in that cell, his new reality sets in. Have you ever been there? Your world gets turned upside down, and you have no clue how this could possibly fit into God’s will. Possibly, it’s even the polar opposite of how you imagined God’s will for your life; but nonetheless, there you are. No doubt, Paul experienced a wide range of emotion in those first few days; but when the dust settled, he decided to do what he could while he waited. Consider this. If it had not been for his time in jail, we might not have the books of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, or Philemon in our Bibles. Therefore, during what might have been Paul’s darkest days, he wrote books that have encouraged millions of people in the following generations, and thus have become a part of his longest lasting contribution to the cause of Christ.
Can you see how this biblical idea of contentment is more meaningful than what our modern definition conveys? Biblical contentment is not merely doing whatever makes you happy. Biblical contentment is trusting in Christ’s plan and being satisfied with whatever God’s will may be, even when it goes against what you desire. Trying to make the Bible fit our modern idea is endangering Christianity as a whole. Many have grown indifferent, judgmental, and hypocritical, all the while, convincing themselves that they are simply being content with the hand they were dealt; but those are not qualities of contentment. They are the evidence of a heart that has grown complacent!
Complacency is comfortable. It is a state of being aware of shortcomings, but still not being driven to do anything more than is necessary or to have anything beyond what you currently possess. That’s why complacency is especially attractive during hard times; because it requires no effort. Let me share a little of my personal journey with you. I grew up in church; I was faithful and involved in several ministries. I not only had a consistent, personal walk with the Lord, but also I tried to be aware of opportunities to minister to others. That is, until I experienced a physical loss that shook my entire world. The spiritual battle that followed this tragedy was bigger than anything I could have previously imagined. I was ashamed to admit how overwhelmingly depressed I felt, and I could not seem to pull myself off of this gradual decline. First, I quit looking for ways to serve others; after all, I was doing good to just get myself through the day. Then it was easier to stay in bed a while longer than to spend time with the Lord. Slowly but surely, I surrendered multiple pieces of my relationship with Christ, my family, my friends, and my ministry over to that complacency. It took a few months, but by God’s grace, I finally got through that storm. I wouldn’t say that I weathered it gracefully though. Honestly, it wasn’t until I began to put things back together, that I even realized how much ground I had lost.
Life is hard sometimes! During those battles, while you’re tired and distraught, it becomes easiest to surrender to whatever requires the least amount of effort. The easiest decision isn’t generally the most beneficial though is it? Do you ever find yourself growing complacent? Maybe you missed one day of quiet time, and suddenly you realize that you haven’t opened your Bible in weeks. Maybe you ignored the Holy Spirit prompting you to help that family, who was broken down on the highway, but now you can’t remember the last time He spoke to you at all. Maybe you grew discouraged over an unanswered prayer, and currently your prayer list is buried under a pile of magazines. Maybe you used to faithfully attend church. You went in every service desiring to be used, participating in the service, and listening intently to the sermon; but now if you do go, it is out of a mere sense of duty. You know in your heart the areas of your life in which you have become complacent.
The most valuable lesson I have learned during my seasons of complacency is that an apathetic attitude will only breed more complacency; it will spread into every aspect of our lives until there is little evidence of Christ to be found. We begin to focus on ourselves and forget about reaching others or showing the love of Christ. In Matthew 5:13-14, Jesus teaches that Christians are to be “ the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world”. However, when we become complacent, then we slowly lose our savor and hide our light. We are carrying the badge of Christianity, but contributing nothing to the cause of Christ. The only way to end this cycle is for us to stop being content with our complacency!