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What We Need to Know about the Spiritual Discipline of Contentment

What We Need to Know about the Spiritual Discipline of Contentment

Philippians 4:11-13 says, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

We’ve all probably heard the latter part of this passage: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” It’s a beautiful message of strength, help, and confidence that is given by the Lord! However, the context of these words is so important to understand their message. Paul is explaining that he has endured lows, hunger, and need. It is in these trying situations that he was taught the discipline of contentment. It was then that he realized that he can do all things through the power of Christ.

What Is Contentment?

Not to rain on the parade of this beloved verse, but the idea that we have to endure hardship to understand what it means to be content and provided for is not as exciting as just focusing on the promise that we'll always, almost magically, have what we need in Christ.

Contentment from the Bible is usually associated with moderation, a sense of God's guidance, and readiness for obedience. The definition of contentment is the state of being satisfied or the source of satisfaction. How many of us long to be content with the lives, bodies, marriages, finances, circumstances, personalities, faith, and stories that we have been given?

Contentment is a discipline, and it is hard.

Comparison Prevents Contentment

I recently was thinking about this idea in the context of my body. I am 35 years old, a mother to four children, married for almost 15 years, and yet I still struggle with feeling that how I look is inadequate.

I guess when you are younger, you think that age means you maybe will suddenly stop worrying about what others think of you. While it is true that the degree of self-doubt and the pressure to maintain a perfect appearance does lessen with age, that negative self-talk never fully evaporates from your mind.

I still often wonder if I am enough. Am I thin enough? Am I cool enough? Am I fit enough?

I wonder, at what point can I just be content with the body I’ve been given? When can I be proud of the efforts that I put into maintaining a healthy lifestyle and accept that I will never fully live up to the mirage of perfection that lives in my mind? The point is not carelessness; my health and well-being deserve attention, but also how lovely it would be to live in a place of satisfaction, moderation, and acceptance of the body that God has gifted me.

If I really stop to evaluate my mindset, self-talk, and lifestyle, these sorts of doubts show up all over my life.

I wonder if we'll ever have enough money saved to count as truly responsible adults.

I compare my skills as a parent with others and feel discontent with the strengths and weaknesses I have as a mother.

I look at the marriages of others and wonder if they are more compatible than my husband and me.

I become dissatisfied with the faith community I am in, wondering if I am missing out on something better elsewhere.

I envy moms that are killing it at work and wonder why God called me home. And on and on the list goes!

Envy, ungratefulness, comparison, and fear are the things that stop us from living with contentment.

3 Things We Know about Contentment

1. Contentment is not a static state of being. It's the active pursuit of the life God has just for YOU. It's being ready to be obedient to God’s guidance in every season. It requires amazing focus on what God has for you without being distracted by what could be instead.

Contentment means we have to abandon the pursuit of perfection and instead strive for God’s beauty and redemption in our lives. Seeing God’s beauty often takes a change in mindset and not circumstances.

This may look like appreciating the way your body has served you even if it’s not in perfect shape; it can be choosing to show love to your husband even though you experienced many seasons of struggle together or focusing on the ways you are growing rather than obsessing over your failures. Letting go of the pride that says “I have to or I need to” can be one of the hardest things for believers to do. Yet, this is the type of surrender we are called to. Our lives are no longer our own, we are a new creation in Christ!

2. Contentment is a posture. It’s being in the presence of God first before we pursue action. It’s strategic stillness in our lives so we can have the right focus. Contentment feels like a strong sense of faith that your life is only possible because you are connected to your Creator. It’s living as though He is your strength and portion!

3. Contentment is a gift. It often can be a fleeting feeling of rightness in a moment or a season. The enemy is always working to steal our peace and push into our minds another reason to doubt, fear, worry, or need. God gives us the gift of assurance, peace, joy, and of knowing we are in his will and that we are loved. Even though it can be hard to find contentment in our lives, it is a good gift worth pursuing.

As I start a new school year, the question I am pondering for myself is how can I cultivate more contentment in my life and home? How can I model for my children peace and enoughness in a culture that screams more, more, more! What words communicate that God is enough for me, that my life is his, and while I am always moving forward, I am never asked to strive. I just have to walk hand-and-hand with Him. That is all that is required of me.

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Ivan Nadaski 

Amanda Idleman is a writer whose passion is to encourage others to live joyfully. She writes devotions for My Daily Bible Verse Devotional and Podcast, Crosswalk Couples Devotional, the Daily Devotional App, she has work published with Her View from Home, on the MOPS Blog, and is a regular contributor for Crosswalk.com. She has most recently published a devotional, Comfort: A 30 Day Devotional Exploring God's Heart of Love for Mommas. You can find out more about Amanda on her Facebook Page or follow her on Instagram.