Learning how to be content

how to be contentI have always had a feeling that contentment was a critical component of having joy in life. As I have been learning this lesson on a deeper level, I have written about it (here and here). But lately I have been seeing a new angle on a few verses in Philippians 4.

11Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.

12I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.

Philippians 4:11-12 (NASB)

I added a little emphasis to the parts of verses above that I have been pondering. What exactly was Paul talking about when he said he knew how to get along with humble means and prosperity?

I am sure that for him it was a bit of a challenging process to be content living in humble means. He was basically on the fast-track to become a super-Pharisee -  from what I understand they were a very materialistic bunch. Then Jesus steps in and his life is forever changed. And a few years later we see him in prison writing that we should “rejoice in the Lord always” and be content in every circumstance.

Breaking the attachment to things

The first way I look at the “know how” that Paul was referring to is more of an internal lesson that needs to be learned. It’s that things are just things. They come, they go. They don’t determine your value or worth and you can’t take them with you when you die. Paul had some of the most tremendous ups and downs. One minute he was shackled hand and foot in prison and the next he was staying in the King’s palace. He seemed to live the full spectrum of having a lot and having a little.

But, his outlook proves that he had broken his attachment to things. He didn’t consider his life a failure and quit when he frequently found himself in prison. And on the other hand, he didn’t allow more prosperous times to be his pinnacle achievement that he would hang his hat on. He had a goal to fulfill what God had called him to and the things were just peripheral, so as they came and went he learned not to care too much. He was successfully living Matthew 6:33.

Practically living with a little or a lot

In addition to the internal lesson, I am starting to suspect that there is a practical element to what he is saying as well. Could it be that Paul is also referring to the resourcefulness required when times are tight? On a practical level managing money is a lot different when you have a lot of it, than when you have a little. If Warren Buffett spent 2 hours of his work-day cutting grocery coupons to save $10 at the grocery store, it would be a pretty foolish use of his time. Those same 2 hours could probably be used to do what he does so well and make many thousands of dollars. On the other hand, if you are only making $100 a week, it might be worth spending 2 hours cutting coupons to save $10.

My wife and I both had the painful experience of living well (and spending more money than we had) and then having to be honest with ourselves by cutting our standard of living to what it really should be. It is not fun at all, but trying to live like you are “in prosperity” when you are in a season of “humble means” is a path for destruction.

What I have been getting out of Phil 4:12 is that if I continue to try to live like I am rich, when I am not, then I am only deceiving myself. For me, moving from having an abundance back down to humble means was a test from God. I think he wanted to see if I would still love Him if I didn’t have a lot of stuff. So I had to make many cuts to my lifestyle. I had to go without things I had previously taken for granted. And I had to start praying and trusting God for things that were previously commonplace.

Like I said, it was a painful process. But all along I knew that it was just a season and that God had more for me. And as a result of those lessons we have gone from debt-ridden over spenders to a couple who consistently spends less than they earn, has no consumer debt, and who was able to save a down payment for their new house.

One last thing

Just to clarify, I don’t believe that contentment means settling for mediocrity. But rather it is being satisfied at whatever place in life God has us at, while trusting that He does have our interest at heart and that he does want to bless us and see us succeed. So, I am trying to learn these lessons that Paul did and be content in my present circumstances, while trusting that God is taking me from Glory to Glory.





















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23 Comments
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  1. Great article, Bob. I think another key part of that is looking at verse 13 in Philippians 4. Paul was able to find contentment in any circumstance because of the power of Christ.

    Faith in Jesus brings us true contentment. Christ gives us eternal life. Eternal life with God is greater than anything we can imagine for ourselves on Earth. So we put our hope in Christ and the eternal life He gives – not the things of this world. Then Christ can give us true contentment that overpowers any circumstance, but we must continue to focus on our hope in Him and weigh everything against the value of that eternal life we’ll have with God.

    Understanding how Christ brings us true contentment is the key to being transformed by the renewing of our minds. It’s the path to stop loving the things of this world and start loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. We can only start to truly serve God when we find contentment in Him.

  2. Agreed – apart from Him, there is no real contentment…

  3. Looks like we have similar topics today! (contentment)

    I think contentment (in Christ) is a huge issue because without it we are always searching for something more – trying to fill a hole and trying to find happiness in things.

    With Christ we find contentment in any and all situations because material things aren’t the goal, but instead spending an eternity with Christ!

  4. Liking the contentment theme from you guys today! Great post Bob. I like the practical “know how” angle you’re coming from. And I totally agree that apart from Christ himself there is no true AND lasting contentment.

    It is something that can be learned especially when we submit our desires to Him and trust that He will meet our needs and we’ll find true joy in Him.

  5. That’s exactly it. People are not content, not happy with what they have. If they were happy with what they had, they’d be happier and actually have money because they wouldn’t be spending so much.

  6. My sister told me something one day while I was shopping and really wanted some clothes, but couldn’t afford them. She said, “Linda, you’re just the same with out them. Next time you come shopping, there will just be something else.”

    It really helped me put things in perspective. Things come and go and they never really change who I am as a person. The things that change me are my relationship with God, reading the Bible, family, friends, etc. I realized that I could have no things at all and still be content because those are the important things to have in life.

  7. Anne Marie

    Wow thank you for this article and thank you Linda for a comment that resonated with me so well today.

  8. A powerful article with a lot of brain food in it. We were given our very being to use in a manner befitting the Lord our God. Let us remember it. These comments are also filled with many things to think of. Blessings upon you all.

  9. Also, paying our tithes does insure that God will bless us financially. Malachi
    Spiritual contentment is much deeper, being close to God is the only way to fulfill, as he said “you shall have no other gods before me”

  10. Lou Ellen

    Very good article. It seems the younger generation wants things now instead of when generations before them worked, saved and then bought what they wanted or needed. We would do well to live within our means and be content with what we have.. When we spend more than we have, we put ourselves and our livelyhood in jeopardy. We are a “slave” to the one we owe. We can no longer tithe what little God asks for because there is nothing left. All that we have or will ever have comes from God through his blessings.

  11. Jeannie D'Amico

    Thanks so much for blessing me with your financial advice…I took the last course and now this one…Thank God I am on my way to being debt free..it is going to take awhile, but I have my eyes on the goal and am going for the prize! God bless you! Jeannie

  12. Rhonda

    Thank you so much for that message. My husband and I were living on the Gulf Coast for 18 years and then he was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia. I had to quit my job sell 1 of our 2 automobiles and the bank forclosed on our house. We ended up moving back up north where we were from and where our family lives. I now stay home and take care of him and we live on just his imcome. At first I just couldn’t believe this was happening to us then I thought God has a plan, slow down and be thankful for a roof over your head (we rent an appartment from my sister) and enjoy the time that you have together. My husband has good days and bad but so far he still knows me which is a blessing.

  13. Andrea

    Love the article Bob God is truly teaching his people what true contentment is. I have always shared and let others know that God does not mind us having “things”, but when the things have us and we start to put the needs of the things before and above him, then there’s a problem and he has to step in.

  14. Joanne

    Thank you for this thought provoking lesson on contentment. Sometimes we can get caught up in carnal thinking & focusing on possessions, but the greatest gift of all is salvation. As disciples we are to grow in spiritual maturity and demonstrate it in all areas of our lives as we disciple others.

  15. Great article

  16. Contentment and it’s true meaning, as explained in your last paragraph, needs to be taught in churches because there does seem to be a big misconception about it.

  17. I needed to hear this today. It reminded me that I took for granted most of what I had before and am learning to appreciate what I have now. I am currently saving for a car and it feels so good to know that I will be able to get what I want when the time is right. Thanks!

  18. I think we (or maybe just I?) need a bit more clarity on this. We’re talking strictly about contentment with things money can buy, right? To be free from material lust? You’re not necessarily saying that contentment in general to be desired, is it?

    For example, I’ve developed contentment with “things”, and am blessed that it now comes rather naturally. However, contentment with my utility for God to work through me is not present, nor do I think it ever will be. I welcome perspective on this.

    I pray every day for God’s will to be done in, around and through my life, to a far greater extent than it currently is.

  19. We have to thank God for the gift of life and life without God is meaningless.
    All things here on earth were all created by God even us and we don’t own anything, be humble enough, must behave properly and thankful for what He has given us and use them accordingly.

  20. I have found that for me personally, I am content with the amount of material possessions I have, as well as all the other physical comforts my husband and I are able to afford. However, I still desire to make a larger income, and I think that simply has to do a lot with the way I grew up and the situation most of my family is still in financially. I feel torn between helping my family and being an enabler to their continuing irresponsible behavior. I feel torn between being smart and logical about my decisions on how I give, what I give, and who I give to, and giving to those in need when they ask of me, like the Bible tells us to…

  21. Stephanie

    Great article!! This is right on time for me. I just celebrated another birthday and had plans to go CELEBRATE…..until I looked at my bank account and was bummed that I could not do whatever I wanted to do! God has been teaching me (which was a prayer request of mine) to love not the world, neither the things in the world. I realized the lesson was harder than I thought it would be but well worth it. CONTENTMENT in Christ and WITH Christ is the key. So many comments resonate with me and helps me on my journey. Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for him….Psalm 37:7

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