Once we have identified discontent in our lives, how do we make our way to contentment? Paul had to learn contentment, as he tells us in his letter to the Philippians: “for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” And if the apostle had to learn this lesson, no doubt we will need to learn it as well, one assignment at a time with an occasional quiz or comprehensive test. So here are some more gleanings from those old preachers, Watson and Burroughs.
Contentment is not natural, but an inward work of grace in our hearts. We do not need any lessons in discontent. That is easy enough and the flesh runs that direction well enough on its own. But how do we learn contentment? By bridling our thoughts and emotions. That means putting a bit in the teeth of our thoughts, and steering them in the right direction. By mortifying (putting to death) our desires, and keeping our hearts from being set too much on the creature. These are hard lessons indeed. And if we think it’s as easy as snapping our fingers, we don’t yet understand contentment.
We often think that if we could get our circumstances up to our desires, then we would be content. If only we could pay off the debts or move into a bigger house or find the man of our dreams, then contentment would be easy. But that never really works. If you have a discontented heart, you will simply take it with you right into the bigger house and right into the marriage with you. And then you will find something else to be discontent about.
Rather, we come to contentment by subtraction, and not by addition. We come to contentment by getting our desires down to our circumstances. But no one really wants to do that. It goes against the grain, which means it goes against the flesh.
Contentment says, “What God would have, I would have too; I will not only yield to it, but I would have it too.” Obviously, that kind of attitude requires supernatural grace, and God is willing to give us that kind of grace. He gave it to Paul, and Paul learned to be content in all kinds of circumstances.
Consider 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 and 16-18, and then chapter 6:4-10.Â Paul was no pansy when it came to handling tough circumstances. He dealt with just about every kind: beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watchings, fastings, troubles, persecutions, dishonor, andÂ sorrows.
Contentment requires a change in outlook. Instead of looking for the things we want, those external blessings, contentment looks to our duties in our present circumstances. Thinking about other circumstances, all those enticing possibilities, is merely a temptation that we need to resist. Those thoughts only feed discontent, and we need to starve discontent right out of our hearts and minds.
So make a list of your blessings and a list of your troubles. Take your time and fill it in. If you do this honestly, you will have many more blessings than troubles. Thank God for it all. He is kindly loading you with blessings that are often overlooked. And those troubles in the other column are entrusted to you from a wise and loving Father. Use those troubles to turn a profit. Be a good and grateful steward of your blessings and your troubles, and God will see that you harvest a hefty crop of spiritual maturity and contentment.
Paul turned his troubles to a profit (2 Cor. 6:10): “As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”