Contentment: Seeing God's Goodness
Do you ever think about how much we complain? We complain about the weather: too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry. We complain about our jobs: deadlines, difficult bosses, co-workers. We complain about our families: our spouses, children, in-laws. We complain about life: traffic, waiting rooms, jury duty, illness. We complain about the church: our pastors, the sermon, the music, the a/c. And politics? Well, that too.
Whether or not we're aware, we spend a lot of time complaining. Isn't it just part of being human? After all, we live in a fallen world, and life can be difficult. Our bodies get sick and hurt. Our relationships suffer. Work is hard. But is that all there is to it?
In her new book, Contentment: Seeing God's Goodness, Megan Hill reminds us that complaining or being discontent can often be a sinful response to our circumstances. Why is it sinful? It's sinful because it says we don't really trust God to take care of us. And that can start a domino effect of other sinful behaviors.
As Hill explains:
Once it takes hold of our hearts, discontent quickly leads to other sins. Because we fundamentally distrust what God is doing in and for us, our hearts give way to worry. Every new circumstance feels surprising and potentially harmful. Everything from the flu to the presidential election brings an onslaught of uncertainty. We do not believe that God is caring for us, and we have little confidence that the events in our lives will be for our good, so our minds and hearts spin with anxiety.(11)
So how do we find contentment in our sinful, fallen world? We're tempted to say, "If I just had (fill in the blank), then I'd be content." But that's not true. Like kids with new toys, even when we get what we want, before long we're right back to saying, "If I just had."
Is the answer to contentment a Zen-like detachment from the world around us? Should we just not care or attempt to be stoic and unemotional? No, as we've said, there are real pains and sorrows all around us. Consider the Psalms. David and other psalmists cried out to God in the midst of painful circumstances. Jesus was "sorrowful and troubled" (Matt 26:37) before He went to the cross.
Contentment isn't found in getting what we want or being unaffected by the world around us. It's found by trusting in the One who does not change, the One who loves us, saves us, provides for us, and cares for us. Hill writes:
The secret of contentment is not in having "enough" money (or status or relationships or education). Rather, the secret of contentment is placing our ultimate hope in something secure: The Lord will never leave us or forsake us; he is our help, so there is no reason to fear. The God who has loved us with an everlasting love (see Jer. 31:3) will continue to care for us through all the changing circumstances of our fleeting lives.(42)
Contentment is found in remembering and embracing the sovereignty of God (12). God knows our needs. But what's more, He is able and more than willing to give us what we need. God's sovereignty isn't cold or detached. He takes great delight in pouring out blessings on us:
We cannot overestimate the care that the Lord has for our bodies and our earthly circumstances. The one who knit our bodies together in the womb remembers that we are dust (see Pss. 103:14; 139:13). Out of his great love for us, he tenderly clothes, heals, prospers, and feeds us (Ps. 90:17; Matt. 6:26, 30; James 5:15). He numbers our days, the hairs of our heads, and every tear that falls from our eyes (see Ps. 56:8; 139:16; Matt. 10:30). It shouldn't be a surprise, then, that he wants us to ask him for our material needs.(53)
Hill's book, Contentment, is a 31-day devotional focusing on contentment. Each day focuses on a different aspect of contentment under a handful of headings: The Value of Contentment, Finding Contentment by Looking to Christ, Cultivating a Right Understanding of My Circumstances, Cultivating Right Desires, Cultivating a Thankful Heart, and Pursuing Contentment in Specific Circumstances. While the individual devotionals are fairly short, there is great depth in the topics covered.
What I appreciate most about Hill's writing, besides the encouragement she draws from the Scriptures, is how she draws us back to the gospel. Hill doesn't beat us down with our sin and tell us we've just got to do better. Our hope is not in ourselves, and this isn't a self-help book. Our only hope in salvation, in life, and in our search for contentment is found in Christ:
The good news of the gospel is not simply that Christ tells us how to be content but also that Christ is powerfully at work in us to bring us to contentment. The same Christ who was himself perfectly content to submit to the Father's will (see Phil. 2:5-8) is the Christ who--by his Spirit--enables us also to pursue a life of contentment.(29)
God is at work in us, and He will finish what He's begun in us (Phil 1:6). God calls us to press on (Phil 3:14). Hill's book is an excellent resource for us all as we seek to be like Christ trusting that the Spirit is at work sanctifying us and teaching us contentment.