How to Cultivate Contentment
How do I learn to be content? I am never happy. I always want more. I feel like drowning, overwhelmed with my family problems and my health. I am mad at God and I don’t know how to stop. Please help.
One of my favorite pictures of contentment is a small kitten following a leaky cow. I learned a lot about contentment from my Dad.
“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price has been forgotten,” said my Dad on many occasions.
“Don’t sell your peanuts at the end of the parade” was another favorite.
”When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”
“He who whispers down a well about the goods he has to sell, doesn’t have as many dollars as he who climbs a tree and hollers.”
“Roger,” he used to say, “if you learn to love people and work hard, you will always be a success.”
Whenever I faced a difficulty in life, “Roger, you’re just the man who can do it,” he’d say with enthusiasm.
Dad repeated his sayings over and over to drill practical truth deep into my brother Ron’s and my life. I could go on and on. But, it’s time to stop. Well, not quite. He had one favorite saying that he repeated most of all, especially when life got rough: ” I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13).
Paul’s relationship with the Philippian church was being renewed. They sent him a gift. He wrote Philippians from a Roman prison to say thank you. Incidentally, his prison was the Mamartine prison near the Roman forum. You can visit it the next time that you go to Rome.
Mamartine prison was an awful place. The stairs from the upper floor to the bottom of the enclosure are a recent addition. Paul was thrown down through a hole. Filled with other prisoners, the dungeon was dark, dank and must have reeked of mold, sweat, and urine.
Yet, in this somewhat “God forsaken” prison cell, Paul wrote a most joyous letter. “Rejoice in the Lord always,” he repeats over and over again.
Now, this seems rather strange to me—especially in light of my Dad’s favorite verse.
Paul said that he could do all things through Christ, but he couldn’t get out of that jail.
Paul was chained to a Roman guard, and said that he could do all things through Christ, but he but he couldn’t get out of those chains.
Paul claimed that he could do all things through Christ; but as I read the text, there were all sorts of things he couldn’t do.
Paul sounds a bit rude as he thanked the Philippian Church and then wrote, “but, I really didn’t need it.” Certainly, he enjoyed the gift; but he had something better in mind!
“I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want (Philippians 4:10-12).
Contentment does not come naturally. It is something we must learn. How do we learn it? Through the fires of affliction.
Dr. Harry Ironside was getting hard of hearing as he finished out his teaching career at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. A student asked Ironside to pray for him to be more patient. Ironside began, “Dear Father, could you send this young man some problems…”
Thinking that Ironside had misheard, the student interrupted the prayer and said, “No. No. Not problems. I need patience.”
Ironside began again, “Dear Father, could you send this young man some problems…”
Again, the student assumed that Ironside didn’t hear right. Again, he interrupted the prayer and said, “No. No. Not problems. I want patience.”
Ironside paused, looked at the young man and quoted from James 1, “Don’t you know that troubles and pains are what produce patience.
No wonder Paul had learned such contentment. Listen to his own words about how he learned patience.
“I’ve been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
Of course we say, “I’ve never had that many problems. Maybe I can’t learn patience.” Of course we can. We all have stories we could tell about the rough and tough times we’ve faced.
As Hebrews 12 tells us, if we refuse to get angry at God, or lose heart and quit, or fall into depression, and instead, submit to the will of our Heavenly Father, we will be learning contentment in spades.
Jesus “pouring in the power” doesn’t mean that He will necessarily remove the chains or free us from prison. It means that He will give us the personal power to be content and victorious in whatever troubles life throws our way—whether in jail or out, hungry or well fed, in the hospital bed or out.
Learning to handle difficulties well, while allowing Jesus to pour in the power, is the secret of contentment.
My dad knew what it is like for Jesus to pour in the power. He lived in Christ’s strength for decades. Lymphoma began to slow him down in his 84th year. He knew something was going wrong. He couldn’t walk his usual 18 holes of golf five days a week. He was feeling tired. After some medical tests he got the bad news. Subsequently, the doctors tried several cancer killers but none worked. They turned to an experimental drug. Three months later dad was in his wheel chair and I was with him in his doctor’s office when more bad news came.
“I am sorry to tell you that the experimental drug is not working. We have to stop treatment.”
“OK” said Dad. “What are we going to try next?”
“Roger, there is no next,” said the doctor.”
Slowly, the reality sank in.
“Well, doc, what am I supposed to do now?
With a sense of compassion in his voice, Dad’s doctor said, “Well, it’s time to just go home and die. I am so sorry.”
“How long do I have?”
“About three months.”
I sat there thinking what it must be like to be given your death sentence!
Dad thanked the doctor and we left the room.
We were passing the nurses station when I heard my father say quietly to himself, under his breath, “Well, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
By the way, we may do well to readjust our expectations of contentment. Paul wrote to Timothy: “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that (1 Timothy 6:8).”
Is that an intriguing statement for us today? Let’s be content!