“I have learned to be content with whatever I have,” Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi. “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through He who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)
I bet that wasn’t easy for Paul to say at first. I can only imagine what it was like traveling among those hidden, beleaguered house churches, working to earn their trust, and then depending economically upon their generosity. But he had sorely tried Christ’s trustworthiness, after all, and had found it solid, time and again. He must have grown to trust God from deep within himself, to launch into – and stay on – such a risky adventure.
In Growing Generous Souls, I define contentment as “a sense of sufficiency that leads us to act upon a sense of responsibility toward others in gratitude for all that we’ve received.” When we begin, not with our fears of the unknown but with our experience of God, we can end up embracing contentment as both a decision and a process. As Christine Roush1 says, we can choose to look down the economic ladder instead of up, noticing how much more we have to work with than those who struggle with less, instead of comparing our assets with those who have more. And as Jesus showed us, we can start with what we have, instead of with what we lack.2
In Contentment: The Secret to Lasting Calm, Richard A. Swenson3 lists some prescriptions for finding contentment in a consumer-saturated world that pulls us toward love of money. Five of them jumped out at me:
Rx: 1 – Base Contentment on God Rather Than Economics. God promised never to leave us or forsake us. Money can’t give that guarantee.
Rx: 2 – Find Activities That Don’t Cost Money. Reading, walking, sitting in the park, watching children don’t require money, but they do strengthen community and friendship.
Rx: 3 – Explore Employment Options. It can be great to look for a better job. But if we improve our conditions, are we called to be content to “live within our harvest?”
Rx: 4 – Don’t Link Self-Esteem to Money. It can take real strength of self to swim against the current of our culture. But that’s what Jesus did, and told us to follow His example.
Rx: 5 – Resist Saying, “I Will Be Content When . . .” The Bible does not say, “Be content when you have; it says to be content with what you have.” Real contentment is not based on certain conditions, but on God alone.
Each day, we can decide to be content, choosing that life-giving process.
1 – Christine Roush, Swimming Upstream: Reflections on consumerism and culture, pp. 48-55.
2 – At the feeding of the 5,000, John 6:1-13.
3 – Cited by Gary Hoag at www.generositymonk.com for June 8, 2018.