Let me tell you a story. A few weeks ago, while sitting in church and listening to our barefoot pastor's sermon about following God's calling and the intersection of faith and works, everything was good. I was about to welcome my first grandbaby into the world, a grandbaby who would carry a strong Biblical name, by the way. I had been traveling for work and everything at work was good. We had received good medical reports, my car was running right, my best friend was a few pews behind me and the Patriots were struggling. In that moment, it was as if an angel touched my shoulder. I couldn't help but to wear a huge smile, which probably worried my pastor a bit, but all was well in the world of Klages.
After the service I felt this inescapable need to tell my best friend and my pastor just how content I had become. My friend wasn't so fortunate and admitted he had a few things to work on, and my pastor was happy—possibly because now he knew the reason for the huge grin. I told my pastor I wasn't sure why it was so important to fill him in on my state of contentment, but I felt it was. Then I laughed and said something to the pastor akin to, "This usually happens right before a major change as God's way of saying, 'Remember how this feels right now, because this is how my sheep are supposed to feel all the time.'" And I walked out into life.
"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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength." (Phil 4:11-13, NIV)
Most Christians will recognize at least that last verse as Philippians 4:13. It has to be one of the most quoted verses in the Bible, often without any real context. But let us consider the meaning of the passage and perhaps understand why contentment is so important.
Merriam-Webster defines "contentment" as "the quality or state of being contented" and "feeling or showing satisfaction with one's possessions, status, or situation."
Now, being content is easy for most people when the refrigerator is full, the bills are paid, the boss is happy, and the kids and spouse are healthy. Honestly, it takes a special kind of person to be discontented when everything is going well. Sure, we all know that one person who cannot enjoy the fullness of today because he is worrying about the problems tomorrow hasn't even given yet (Matthew 6:34). Still, most normal people, Christians and atheists alike, find relative comfort when all is well.
But what about when all is not well? What about when everything seems to be falling apart? How does a just and loving God expect us to be content when we have lost our job or our job is tenuous, or when someone levies accusations against us that we cannot defend, or when the doctor's report is ominous? Most of us, Christians and atheists alike, find happiness difficult in any of those circumstances.
Reader, there is a difference between being happy in your circumstances and being content in them. Psychology Today published an article in 2014 showing research into happiness overemphasizes "feelings of joy and elation," quite possibly because most of us define happiness as our current state of emotion when everything is going well. As a state of mind, happiness is fleeting. It is only as powerful as the next negative impact on your life. I will go even further and say that happiness is based on extrinsic forces, many of which are out of your or my control.
Contentment, however, is a state of being. Contentment is a choice. Contentment is based on intrinsic choices to accept the circumstances we have been given and reject the negative influences or responses that come with them. Contentment does not rely on feelings, emotions, flowers or performance reports. Contentment relies on our relationship with God. And while it is entirely acceptable to be unhappy with our circumstances, it is always proper to be content, knowing that our one true loving, just, gracious and merciful God is in control and has our circumstances well in hand.
"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" (Jer 29:11, NIV)
So, friend, whether you are sitting on the stand in front of angry senators and millions of television critics, sitting in the doctor's office after receiving life-changing news, or sitting at your desk wondering how long your paid vacation or severance would last, remember—if God was with you when everything was good, He is still with you when everything is not. As I sit here this morning, I am reminded by the mainstream media, by friends whose job statuses are in turmoil, and by an analysis of my own vacation balance on my computer screen, that contentment is a choice that transcends both the good and the bad. If we truly trust God in all things, contentment is an easy choice.
"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matt 28:20, NIV)
–Mark Klages is an influential contributor, a former US Marine and a lifelong teacher who focuses on applying a Christian worldview to everyday events. Mark blogs at https://maklagesl3.wixsite.com/website under the title "God Provides where Hate Divides," with a heart to heal social, political, relational, and intellectual wounds through God's divine love and grace. Mark can also be found on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mark-klages-04b42511/.