Contentment in God
Enjoying God and experiencing satisfaction in Christ are exciting elements of the Christian life. In addition to enjoyment and satisfaction though, St Paul makes this assertion in 1 Timothy 6:6:
“But godliness with contentment is great gain” and in Philippians 4:11-12 he states:
“…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.”
We are all aware that we live in a world that is not as we would like it to be. Frequently we find ourselves in circumstances we never asked for or enjoy living with, whether it be our same-sex temptations, having cancer or even being stuck in a cycle of sinful behaviour (and I’ve been in all three). In his letters to Timothy, Paul seems to be talking about not envying the riches that false teachers are enjoying and in Philippians the context is his material needs. As it was then, it is now; the world is a mess in so many ways. It is easy to panic (as in Mr Mainwaring from Dad’s Army), and find ourselves without any peace of mind. Therefore how can we possibly be content?
I am reminded of the famous Serenity prayer:
"O God and Heavenly Father, Grant to us the serenity of mind to accept that which cannot be changed; courage to change that which can be changed, and wisdom to know the one from the other, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen."
I have found the sentiment expressed in this prayer to be invaluable in my own personal struggles. I have also seen the distress caused in many of the people I’ve spoken with over the years who are deeply frustrated that the changes they are desperately seeking through prayer are not materialising. In coming to that place of contentment, it seems to me that a first step is to acknowledge that the circumstances are what they are. Sexual temptations or cancer may be part of our life, and that is something that we have no power to change and just have to accept. Even being stuck in a cycle of sin is not really that different. We must accept where we are as a starting point and that we are powerless to change in ourselves. Only Jesus has the power to break us free if we are courageous enough to truly repent.
Accepting where we are at is an acceptance of truth and brings with it that serenity about things we cannot change. We worship God in Spirit and truth, and we cannot pretend with God. We are broken people in a damaged world, so acknowledging that mainly to ourselves is always the beginning of our turning to God to see how He reveals Himself in our situation and finding peace.
In 1 Corinthians 13:13 Paul says: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Firstly, the love of God for us is eternal and never fails. We can be secure in that love no matter what.
Secondly, we have hope. This is not synonymous with wishing things could be better. It is an absolute certainty, both in the love of God and that our ultimate and permanent destiny is not in this broken world, but in a new heaven and earth where there will be no more crying, tears, pain, sin or temptation.
Thirdly, our faith is an expression of trust in God that is not limited to a faith that God will change our circumstances, but that our hope and His love cannot fail even in the midst of the circumstances. When I was in hospital in January, I recall reciting 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” some nights as I went to sleep. Interestingly, it was not because I was fearful, although I could have been – stem-cell transplants can kill you. It was because in some miraculous way, I was experiencing the reality of having no fear, even in the midst of this challenging situation.
Paul shows us one more thing, not so much in what he writes, but in how he behaves in the book of Acts. We see him praising God in a Philippian gaol, encouraging sailors enduring a stormy shipwreck and speaking boldly when experiencing persecution. Having a grateful heart for all that God has done for us and praising Him in every situation is a way of expressing comfort and a key to finding that comfort. Paul’s attitude is summed up in 2 Corinthians 4:17: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”
This article was first published in the Winter 2016/17 edition of "Ascend", the TFT newsletter