“More” is more than a four-letter word. It’s a thief that robs us of the enjoyment of the present. It’s the motivator of jealousy that destroys relationships. It’s the instigator of anxious thoughts about the future. It’s the provocateur of feelings of inadequacy. It’s a cruel taskmaster that will not allow us to rest. More is a disease that is no respecter of persons. Everyone is susceptible.
The desire for more (or better, larger, different) is harmful when it prevents us from enjoying what God has already given us in the present and provokes us into worrying about the future. God wants us to be free from the tyranny of chasing after more, better, different, and larger. The opposite of “more” is not “less.” Instead, it is “contentment,” and it is one of the marks of a true follower of Jesus Christ.
Contentment doesn’t come naturally. In fact, everything around us – as well as within us – wars against being satisfied with what God has provided rather than being obsessed with what He hasn’t chosen to give us. That is why Paul said that he had to learn the secret of contentment.
The word “contentment” comes from a word that means “containment.” It describes a person who is “self-contained.” That is, he derives his sense of well-being from inner resource rather than his external circumstances.
As one who struggles with this issue of contentment daily (if not hourly), let me share two practical ways that I have tried to learn contentment.
1. Regularly express gratitude to God.
Light and darkness cannot coexist. One will always displace the other. In the same way it is impossible for discontent and gratitude to exist in the same heart. If you are truly grateful to God for what He has provided you, you cannot be discontent over what God hasn’t given you.
Remember the story of the ten lepers that Jesus healed (Luke 17:11-19)? The fact that only one of the ten thought to come back to Jesus and thank Him illustrates that gratitude is not an automatic response to God’s gifts. We have to work at it. Expressing thanksgiving to God is more than a ritual we perform before digging into a meal. We must discipline ourselves to take time to genuinely tell God how much we appreciate what He has already given us before we rush into His presence asking for more.
But the primary benefit of gratitude is its ability to quench the otherwise insatiable desire for more.
Gratitude is the key that frees you from the prison of thanklessness and discontent. May I suggest that right now you stop reading, close your eyes, you thank God from the depths of your heart for what He has given you? And in the future, may I suggest that you make a commitment to never come before God asking for something more, different, better, larger, without first thanking Him for something He has already done?
2. Adopt a life purpose bigger than yourself.
The apostle Paul had not always experienced contentment. There was a time in his life when he was obsessed with obtaining advanced educational degrees and climbing the hierarchy of the Pharisees. But his face-to-face confrontation with Jesus Christ changed all of that. While in prison, he wrote in Philippians 3:7-8: “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.”
Paul had been trying to satisfy that inward desire for significance by chasing after more and more achievements. Instead of quenching his thirst, those successes only caused him to crave more.
Had Paul’s life purpose been peace and prosperity, then being imprisoned would have been a catastrophe for him. But Paul had adopted a purpose in life larger than his own personal comfort. He was obsessed with sharing the gospel of Christ with as many people as possible. And that goal provided him a filter through which to view negative circumstances (Philippians 1:12-14).
Far from being a setback, Paul’s imprisonment was actually working to help him fulfill his life’s objective. Paul was chained to a different Roman guard every six hours, every day, for over two years. He shared the gospel with so many of these guards that Christianity was spreading like wildfire through this elite unit of the emperor’s army. Other Christians were being encouraged to share their faith as a result of Paul’s boldness. Most people would consider imprisonment a tragedy. Paul viewed it as a triumph because he had larger purpose in life.
What is your real purpose in life? What are you really chasing after? Your answer will determine how you view what appear to be negative circumstances.
"Gratitude is the key that frees you from the prison of thanklessness and discontent."