The Habit of Contentment

20110921-084439.jpgIn the 2005 movie adaptation of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice (Directed by Joe Wright, Screenplay by Deborah Moggach) Mr. Bennet, played by Donald Sutherland, closes out his final scene saying, “If any young men come for Mary or Kitty . . . send them in. I’m quite at my leisure.” Then Mr. Bennet leans back in his chair with a look of complete contentment on his face. He is content because Jane Bennet is to marry Mr. Bingley who has a good annual income and now Elizabeth (his favorite daughter) is to marry the wealthiest of men in Derbyshire. The concept communicated by this scene is that Mr. Bennet’s contentment relies upon the financial security of his daughters as well as that of himself and Mrs. Bennet.

Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines contentment this way: “the state of being happy and satisfied: the state of being content” ( Do we find real contentment in the physical blessings of the world? Where does God fit into our equation for contentment?

Contentment Requires Trust in God: Paul challenges the Romans to consider God’s work as a basis for their confidence and contentment. Notice these phrases: 1) “If God is for us, who can be against us?” 2) “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” 3) “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors . . .” God is in control (Rom 8:31, 32, 37).

Is God in control? Ask Joseph. His brothers hated him, threw him into a pit, sold him into slavery, and allowed Jacob to believe his favored son died at the hands of a beast. As a slave, his master, Potiphar trusted him, but not enough to take Joseph’s word against Mrs. Potiphar. Potiphar threw Joseph into prison based on his wife’s lie. Yet God took control of the events to provide security for the descendants of Abraham and Isaac (cf. Gen. 45:5-7). Paul tells the Philippians that he has confidence (trusts) that God can and will supply every need they have because of Christ (Phi 4:19). Trust God to take care of you.

Contentment Requires Satisfaction with Less or More: Paul describes his attitude of contentment this way, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” (Phil 4:10). My problem is that I do not always distinguish between wants and needs. I have to continually remind myself that my wants are not needs.  The line of poetry says, “Little luxury, don’t you cry. You’ll be a need by and by.” I want a new car. Specifically, I want a Nissan 370Z with the Touring/Sport package. But I do not need that car, I only need basic transportation. When Mt. Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79 and destroyed the city of Pompeii over 2,000 people died. They did not die because they did not have warning; they died because they did not want to leave their possessions. Some, who died, escaped days earlier only to return to get certain belongings. The fast flowing surge of lava (estimated at over 100 mph) overtook the city and turned people into statues of stone. Some of them lie near their treasures they thought they needed. Remember this line from the writer of Hebrews, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Heb 13:5). Write the following words from Paul, where you can see them, “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (1Ti 6:8).

Contentment is Independent of Circumstances:

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” (Phi 4:11-12).

Those are powerful words. When we look at Paul’s life, we see a life in near constant turmoil: kicked out of this city, thrown in jail here, and persecuted there. Some stoned and left him for dead. He survived shipwrecks. He spent years in and out of prison. Do not forget, he travelled by land and sea to preach in places that needed to hear the message of the Gospel. He felt responsible to Jews and Gentiles to make sure they knew Christ. He had great concern for the churches he helped establish. (cf. 2Co 11:22-33). Yet, in all of that, he remained faithful and confident knowing that God sustained him (Phi 4:13). Paul’s life teaches us that we learn this contentment as we experience trials (cf. Eph 3:14-21).

Contentment is Drinking from My Saucer: Bill Anderson and many others recorded the following song. Most lyric sites credit the lyric to someone named only as Johnson. They express the idea of contentment in a simple-man’s theology.

I’m Drinking from My Saucer

I’m drinking from my saucer cause my cup has overflowed

You know I never did make my fortune and I guess it’s a little late now

But I never did worry about that much

No shoot I was happy anyhow cause you see

As I have journeyed down life’s road

I have reaped a lot more than I’ve sowed

And I’m drinking from my saucer cause my cup has over flowed

No I’m not a man of riches

No sir and sometimes the going gets kinda’ rough

But I got me a good family an old horse and a dog

They all love me well that makes me rich enough

I thank the Lord for all these bless the mercies he has bestowed

I’m drinking from my saucer cause my cup has overflowed

Oh I’ve had lots of times when it seemed everything went wrong

I could feel my faith get well just a little bit thin

But the rain would stop and dark clouds would roll away

The sun would come shining right back down in my life again

So Lord don’t let me gripe too much about the rough row I’ve hoed

cause I’m drinking from my saucer my cup has overflowed

I’m drinking from my saucer my cup has overflowed

And now Lord if you can just give me the strength I need

And the courage when that old road gets steep and rough

I’ll not ask for any other blessing cause I have been blessed more than enough

And Lord don’t ever let me get so busy that I can’t help another with his load

And I just keep on drinking from my saucer cause my cup has surely overflowed

I’m drinking from my saucer cause my cup has overflowed

Thanks Lord

Are you living contented? Near the end of 1963 advice columnist Dear Abby published the following letter and asked her readers to respond.

“Dear Abby: Happiness is knowing that your parents won’t kill you if you come home late. Happiness is having your own bedroom. Happiness is getting the telephone call you’ve been praying for. Happiness is getting good grades and making your parents proud of you. Happiness is being a member of the popular circle. Happiness is having parents who don’t fight. Happiness is knowing that you are well-dressed, as well-dressed as anybody. Happiness is something I don’t have. Signed Fifteen and Unhappy.”

Dear Abby received hundreds of responses. Some were from other fifteen year olds, some were from parents, some were from servicemen fighting in Vietnam, but possibly the most profound letter was one Dear Abby published in February of 1964.

“Dear Abby: Happiness is being able to walk. Happiness is being able to talk. Happiness is being able to hear, Happiness is being able to see. Unhappiness is reading a letter from a fifteen year old girl who can do all of these things and who still says she is unhappy. I can talk, I can see, I can hear, but I can’t walk. Signed, Thirteen and Happy.”

 Which one of these teen girls learned contentment?

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