Without a strong hand at the helm, a ship drifts, and washes about in the sea, whether the sea is calm or rough. When there is this strong hand, the wind, though it be blowing almost directly against the ship, helps to push that ship forward.
Essentially, contentment is to be independent. It is an internal independence of external circumstances. Of course, it is not an independence in our relationship to God, for we must learn in all of our life that we are DEPENDENT upon God.
It is an independence from the circumstances of life. It is an independence in all the relationships of life: family, job, and the material things of this world. It is an independence from what we possess and from the things that happen to us. To learn contentment, we must learn to separate ourselves from the external circumstances of life.
It is not a physical independence. That is an impossibility, for it would mean forsaking one’s family and calling. Rather, it is an internal independence. My mental state and the condition of my soul must be independent of the circumstances about me and not determined by those circumstances. It means that the circumstances of life do not create my feelings and mental stability or lack thereof. On the one hand it is obvious that I cannot control most of the things that happen to me. Most of them are beyond the scope of my control. On the other hand, circumstances can control me; but that I may not let happen. They affect me, but the effect should not be such that it throws me off balance.
Simply put: I, from the viewpoint of my mind, must be above the circumstances of life and not let them be above me. I am not able to escape their effect, but I am able to escape their control. I cannot control them, but I never may let them control me. In this sense I must be independent. That is the independence of contentment.
Then when the strong winds blow, the firm hand at the helm of my soul, directs my life and outlook on life forward.
In Philippians 4:11 the Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul speaks of contentment. “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Paul has learned to have enough, independently, without desiring aid from others. This is not the objective, but the subjective, state of need, i.e., the inward peace which arises from the fact that he knows he can be satisfied and happy, that he could rejoice always in the Lord, that he could be careful for nothing. Paul is personally conscious of a living power flowing through him and making him fit for anything. The fortress that has a deep well in the yard and plenty of provisions within, is the only one that can hold out.
There are three elements to contentment. First, it means that I know all is well. All is well nd matter what the circumstances of my life may be. This is where the independency is necessary. Secondly, it means that with the will of my soul I do not want the circumstances of my life to be any different from what they are. And thirdly, it means that because of the first two elements, I have peace in my heart: total serenity and happiness.
Let us go over those three elements again.
First we must recognize God’s hand in all things. It is only when we see that all things come from His hand that we can know that all is well. This is based on the fact that the sovereign God, Who is Lord over all, is for Jesus sake my Father. When anything comes to a child from his heavenly Father, it can only come as a blessing.
The second element, very simply put, is submission. We thank God for ALL things. This refers not only to what we like, but also to the unpleasant. Paul put it best. “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (Phil. 4:12).
The third element is to be glad and rejoice in all things. This is not just an attitude of bowing to circumstances, but an inner joy of heart. “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). Always rejoicing, at all times and in whatsoever state I am.
To be able to fulfill all three of these elements is humanly impossible. We always find ourselves wanting to say, “All these things are against me.” Could we be content with what the ravens brought Elijah every morning and evening during his stay at the brook Cherith? Would we be content with preparing each meal three times a day by scraping out the last of our flour and pouring out the last drops of our oil as the widow of Zarephath had to do for over a year?
Contentment must be a gift of grace. Therefore it is possible only for God’s children. We alone can say with Paul, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13). If God be for us, nothing can be against us. He paid for all our sins. He merited life and grace and glory for us. Therefore we can be content. Neither prosperity nor sorrow is ever too overwhelming that we cannot be content, for we know it comes from God, we submit to Him and rejoice in Him. All things work together for our good.
Whatever happens to us comes to us out of a fountain of love—the cross of Christ. His love for us never wavers. It may be that sometimes we cannot see that it is a demonstration of His love, but even the hurt is a manifestation of His love. “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:11, 12). “Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations” (James 1:2). Our light affliction worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (II Cor. 4:17).
While both prosperity and sorrow can control and upset us, both also can minister to our growth. Sorrow will drive us and joy will draw us nearer to God. If we are not tempted by abundance to plunge our desires into it, nor tempted by sorrow to think ourselves hopelessly harmed by it, both will knit us more closely to our time and changeless good: Jehovah.
We attain and acquire this contentment in the school of life. We stay in that school and never stop learning as long as we are upon this earth. The lesson is God’s. The textbook is the Bible. The teacher is Christ. Sometimes the rod of discipline must be used by our loving Father.
Paul bore the scars of Christ all over his body. The devil kept pounding on that thorn in his flesh so that he asked of God that it be removed three times. When he pens his epistle to the Philippians, he is waiting in prison to die. Yet he writes about learning in God’s school. Being persuaded that his and our affairs are governed by God’s providence and good pleasure, Paul, and we with him, learn not to measure sufficiency by abundance, but by the will of God.
We are not always content. We are risen with Christ, but we yet have the old man and therefore it is still hard for us to be content. We have our ups and downs as far as our learning is concerned. And sometimes we wonder if we will ever learn.
But we have learned, principally. We do acknowledge God’s fatherly hand. By His grace we submit to His will, and can rejoice. Then we have happiness in sorrows.
Also we know that one day all this sorrow and pain will be past. We know that one day we will not be tempted by earthly prosperity and material possessions. That day will be when God’s tabernacle will be with men.