Can You Learn to Be Content?
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.— Philippians 4: 11-12 Contentment. A comforting, powerful word. We are bombarded daily with promises for better health, looks, a nicer home, a newer car, a room full of furniture with no payments for two years. Does that make you feel content? Or like you’re missing out? That your life is too ordinary because you aren’t off on an exotic adventure or partying at a fun resort? (You’re probably paying for braces or school or rent instead.)
Or, can you look at your life and know, I am where God has put me. He has a purpose for my life.
The verse above says the writer, Paul, learned to be content. He had practice, seeing the Lord work in every circumstance, in every state of life. He had already been rebuked by Jesus because he had a propensity to “kick against the goads” (Acts 9:5). He had learned to calm down, and not worry about his current living conditions; he found contentment by trusting the Lord to be in charge of his life, whether he lived in poverty or prosperity.
The word “learned,” in the second half of this passage is different than the first usage. Here is means “initiated into the secret.” It is a word that was used by ancient pagan religions referring to “inner secrets.” Through trials and testing, Paul explained, in the language of the surrounding culture, that he had been “initiated” into the wonderful secret of contentment, whether he was “abased” or abounding.
G.K. Chesterton said, “True contentment is a real, even active, virtue—not only affirmative, but creative…It is the power of getting out of any situation all there is in it.”1
C.S. Lewis was more blunt when he said, “Nobody who gets enough food and clothing in a world where most are hungry and cold has any business to talk about ‘misery.’”2
God wants to pour tranquility and peace that is beyond understanding into our souls. Every day, He teaches us this powerful secret—contentment in all circumstances, based on the knowledge that Jesus loves us, this we know.
- Chesterton, G.K., A Miscellany of Men, (Kessinger Publishing, 2004), p. 106.
- Lewis, C.S., and Hopper, William, The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis: Books, Broadcasts and the War, 1931-1949 (HarperCollins, 2004), p. 271.