I Can’t Get No Satisfaction (Contentment #3)
What is the secret to contentment? Most people on planet earth suffer from a chronic case of discontentment. And it is not just a disease that plagues those without Christ. Many Western believers endure the same malaise—and ironically, in some ways, suffer even more from it. In this article, one of a trio of articles around this subject, we explore why. (See Contentment, Part 1 and Contentment, Part 2 here.)
We’re constantly looking for “something” ahead of us, in our future, to bring us the sense of contentment we believe we’re missing now. Whether this “something” is a promise we hope for, a breakthrough we anticipate, an achievement we aim for, a new spiritual discipline we plan to implement, a life goal we seek … we could well be on the same “treadmill” anyone pursuing the proverbial “American Dream” is.
Yes, we may not be lusting after a fifth car or a third holiday home, but we may be swaying to the same destructive “carrot-dangling” tune. And because what we’re pursuing is defined in spiritual language, we often don’t realise the trap.
In fact, it seems to me, that a lot of Christian teaching or ministry may actually encourage us to embrace this “spiritual treadmill” version by unconsciously implying that…
- unless we do A or
- discover B or
- pray C,
…we’re not going to experience the “deeper life” … or … we’re going to fall short of “maximising our potential” … or … (add the latest hip promise).
How many Christian books and messages fall into this, “Do A, get B” mantra? In this sense, many sincere Christ followers may in fact be suffering from a more chronic and resistant strand of discontentment.
The bottom-line is simply this (even though it so hard for us to simply believe):
True contentment is found essentially in our relationship with Father God (and in cooperating with His revealed will for us).
Yes, everyone will nod in agreement to this statement. In fact, some may even yawn and say, “Duh! That’s just Salvation 101”. (And after the yawn, there’s a good chance they’ll jump back on the treadmill and get back to chasing down another deceptive dead-end).
But get this down for good. Contentment is something we have to learn. To the church at Philippi, Paul wrote:
Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
We cannot get contentment from a book, a formula, a spiritual discipline or a prayer. We learn contentment through processing what we go through—both the highs and lows—from Father God’s perspective, seeking His counsel through personal relationship with Him and communal life with others.
Both discontentment and contentment are learnt behaviours.
So, what did this mean for me?
I was absolutely spent having worn out my umpteenth version of the religious treadmill. Learning that I was no more yet no less than a child of Father God—this is our supreme and sublime pleasure—brought a full experience of salvation to my entire being. Finding my security and significance in Him, I learnt (and am still learning) to avoid trying to quench my thirst in artificial sources outside of Him.
So is contentment found just in cuddling up to Father God?
Yes and no.
Yes, contentment is only possible in an essential and functional relationship with Father God. (Miss this and miss the entire ball game; in fact, miss this and there is no ball game!)
And no. Contentment is consummated; so to speak, as I learn to cooperate more fully with His revealed will for me. (In this sense, God has designed our contentment to be fully realised in cooperating with His will).
Think again of our genesis as the human race.
Adam walked in complete harmony with God and from this essential union, he derived great pleasure from his fellowship with Eve and reward in fruitfully tending the garden God had entrusted to Him.
First, Adam didn’t need to use Eve to get his security fix; nor did he tend the garden in order to prove his significance. The quality of his relationship with Eve and his work were an overflow—the consummation—of his communion with God.
Yet, God never intended him to space out under a fruit tree singing Kumbaya all day. Rather, God brought Eve into Adam’s life (relationship) and entrusted a garden to his care (stewardship).
Thus, our contentment in God is consummated as we walk in healthy inter-personal relationships and faithfully steward our God-given “garden” fruitfully.