Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources

Is Contentment Really Something We Can Control?

Man in an office reclining back

I recently read the story of a 92-year-old, petite, well-poised and proud lady, who is fully dressed each morning by eight o’clock, with her hair fashionably coiffed and makeup perfectly applied. What makes Mrs. Jones even more extraordinary is the fact that she is legally blind. Her husband of 70 years recently passed away, making her move to a nursing home necessary.  

After many hours of waiting patiently in the lobby of the nursing home, Mrs. Jones smiled sweetly when told her room was ready. As she maneuvered her walker to the elevator, she listened to the kind nurse describe Mrs. Jones’ tiny room, including the eyelet sheets that had been hung on her window. “I love it,” she stated with the enthusiasm of a child being presented with a new puppy! 

“Mrs. Jones, you haven’t seen the room... just wait.”

“That doesn’t have anything to do with it,” she replied. “Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn’t depend on how the furniture is arranged. It’s how I arrange my mind. I have already decided to love it. It’s a decision I make every morning when I wake up. I have a choice. I can spend the day complaining about the parts of my body that no  longer work, or I can get up and be thankful for the ones that do.”

Mrs. Jones has certainly discovered the secret of contentment. Many of us are constantly looking for something better. Deep in our hearts, we long for something more. What is the secret of contentment? To answer this question, we turn to the life of Paul--a man I think had every reason to be discontented. Seriously!

Paul writes the book of Philippians from prison where he was awaiting his trial, facing possible execution. Paul was old and alone. He had been beaten, stoned and ridiculed. His health was bad, and he was almost blind.

And yet, through the darkness of his pain, Paul declares, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. 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” (Philippians 4:12, NIV).

Philippians is a book of joy and gratitude. Given his circumstances, Paul still wrote an entire book of the Bible with an undercurrent theme of gratitude. I want to know how he did it!

After all, Paul had every human right to be angry at God. Paul had been faithful. He had given up much and endured great pain. But Paul’s words exude gratitude because Paul chose to be grateful. Paul demonstrated a learned perspective of contentment. In this passage, “learned” literally means “educated by experience.”

In other words, Paul is saying that all of the experiences in his life--the good, the bad, and the ugly--had become his tutor in contentment. Both the mountains and the valleys taught him to be content.

Now don’t miss this amazing truth! The word “content” means “contained.” In other words, Paul had trained his heart and mind to focus on his inner resources instead of allowing his outer circumstances to dictate his attitude. 

Paul chose to be grateful.

Paul chose to praise God--no matter what.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 “No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”

There is an old poem that captures this idea well.

I rejoice in knowing that 

 There is no oil without squeezing the olives, 

 No wine without pressing the grapes, 

 No fragrance without crushing the flowers 

 And no real joy without sorrow. (Author unknown)

The most broken life is the most beautiful life. God is drawn to broken people. That’s why He came.

Paul knew He could trust God. Paul knew that He could count on God to come through. Why? Because God had always come through for Paul. Paul knew that there is a money-back guarantee on every promise of God. What? 

Psalm 138:2 “I will give thanks to your name for your unfailing love and faithfulness, because your promises are backed by all the honor of your name.”

Every promise is backed by the honor of Jesus’ name. It’s like a money-back guarantee on steroids, and I love money-back guarantees! We once bought a car to replace a van that had 125,000 miles on it. Our first vacation in the new car was a disaster.

We began having trouble the very first day. We stopped in four different cities, trying to find a mechanic who could repair the car. No one could explain or even find the problem. Needless to say, we were not happy campers. But when we returned home and contacted the dealership, we were told that because of the guarantee on the car, we could get our money back or trade it in for another one. Loved. It.  

Paul understood and lived by the truth that God is constantly at work in and around us, monitoring every step we take. Paul examined every circumstance, understanding that it had already passed through His Father’s hands--with His permission.

Every crisis, every trial is an opportunity to trust God and choose gratitude over fear. Gratitude not only brings contentment, but perseverance and strength as well. Oh, it’s easy to practice gratitude when the seas are calm, the sun is shining, and the nets are full of fish. Right?

But the real test of gratitude is in the middle of the greatest storm in your life. Gratitude is wrapped around trust and contains the element of acceptance. Gratitude understands that God is sovereign and that His ways are not our ways. But even though we won’t always be able to understand God’s process, we can always trust His heart.

It is said that in Africa there is a fruit called the “taste berry.” It changes a person’s taste so that everything eaten after the berry tastes good and sweet. Gratitude is the “taste berry” of the Christian’s life.

I know life can be hard. Some of you are in so much pain that it is hard to breathe. But God knows where you are and what you are going through--and you really can trust Him. 

Choose faith over fear. 

Choose trust over doubt.

Choose gratitude above all. 

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Deagreez

Mary Southerland is also the Co-founder of Girlfriends in God, a conference and devotion ministry for women. Mary’s books include, Hope in the Midst of Depression, Sandpaper People, Escaping the Stress Trap, Experiencing God’s Power in Your Ministry, Fit for Life, and 10-Day Trust Adventure, You Make Me So Angry, How to Study the Bible, Fit for Life and Joy for the Journey. Mary relishes her ministry as a wife, a mother to their two children, Jered and Danna, and Mimi to her six grandchildren – Jaydan, Lelia, Justus, Hudson, Mo, and Nori.


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