Being content as a Christian is not based on external circumstances but it is a state of satisfaction that is well-rooted in the sufficiency of God’s grace revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.
The car seat remained strutted on my left arm as my wife, and I walked into the church. People gathered around us to catch a glimpse of God’s blessing to my family. Channiel Akatendeka was a chubby little man. As I carried him around, every muscle in my body felt the weight.
But I had to keep on smiling and wait as members of our church played around with him. Nzou hairemerew nenyanga dzayo-an elephant is never burdened by its own tusks.
“He looks content,” someone whispered. That word. Content. I kept hearing it every time I walked around with Channiel. Everyone agreed, Channiel Akatendeka was content, but I had no idea what that meant.
Schooled in the Zimbabwean English, an incarnation of 19th century British English that you will never hear in the streets of London or even the Buckingham Palace, the only logical definition of being content I knew was finding satisfaction despite current negative circumstances.
I guess you can agree with me, the compliment was kind of offensive since I did not clearly understand American English.
So, then let’s talk about being content. What did Paul mean when he wrote that godliness with contentment is great gain? Is it possible for one to be godly and yet discontent? Why is being content important when following Jesus Christ in the 21St Century?
1. What Does Being Content Mean in World Religions?
Being content is that kind of happiness that is not based solely on the current circumstances. You’re content when you have a solid understanding of the real meaning, source, and purpose of satisfaction. It should not surprise you then that every religion attempts to define what being content means.
Some people view being content as an honorable goal that cannot be achieved even though it is essential for godliness.
Others define it as a righteous hatred for all forms of materialistic pleasure. The concept of contentment is foundational in Hinduism where it is termed santosha, loosely defined as a pursuit of an absence of desires or cravings. You can see that most religions reduce being content to a fatalistic notion rooted in one’s personal view of possessions, positions and productivity.
In Islam, Muhammed said, “Remember death repeatedly. This will save you from longing for the worldly pleasures. Show gratitude frequently and this will increase the graces upon you. Pray to Allah so recurrently, because you do not know in which time Allah will respond for your prayer. Beware of tyranny, for Allah has ordained that HE will support those whom are oppressed.”
Buddha described being content like this, “He is satisfied with a robe to cover his body and alms food to satisfy his stomach and having accepted no more than is sufficient he goes his way, just as a bird flies here and there taking with it no more than its wings.”
There is an interrelationship between contentment, peace and happiness. All religions of the world suggest that when a person is a content they are at peace with their lot in life and thus freely bask in rays of happiness. The key differences between world religions with Christianity is:
1.What does the Bible say about being content?
2.What is the spiritual basis of contentment?
3. How can one be content?
4.What are the benefits of being content?
2. What does the Bible say about being content?
The modern views that are considered as a biblical foundation for being content are borrowed heavily from non-Christian worldviews. For example, growing up my mother always warned my siblings and me about cravings. “Do not crave for everything you see,” she would advise. Mom understood that the primary cause of discontentment according to her worldview was desires or cravings-the basis of santosha in Hinduism.
Lao Tzu taught, “Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” Contentment in Hinduism is an unattainable hidden absolute-a craving/desire to have no cravings/desire.
In Taoism, Laotse identified the centrality of happiness in contentment saying, “When the ancients spoke of success, they did not mean the symbols of rank and honor; they meant by success the state wherein one’s happiness was complete.” Most religions agree that real success is not based on things or, titles a person have, but in the presence of true happiness.
The Wisdom of Laotse continues, “The modern man means by success the badges of rank and honor. But the badges of rank and honor on a man’s body have nothing to do with his original self. They are things that are accidentally loaned to him for a period.” Taoism recognizes the temporal nature of possessions and positions and encourages its followers to detach from such.
The basis of contentment in Taoism is that people cannot control when and where they will get or lose wealth, health or titles, “Therefore, one should not forget oneself over such insignia of authority, nor should one do what the world is doing because of failure and poverty.” In Taoism contentment is a state of happiness independent of external circumstances that stems from an understanding of one’s lack of control of temporal things.
At first glance, these beliefs about being content appear noble and biblical, but in reality, they are not. One’s attitude to the external environment is the basis of all non-Christian concepts of happiness. In santosha, external circumstances should not affect your happiness, but in Taoism, you should not be concerned about things because you do not have control over them.
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What does being content really mean? Contentment is having the same faith as Paul when a thorn in the flesh troubled him (2 Corinthians 12:9a), “My grace is sufficient for you and my strength is made perfect in your weakness.” Paul understood that through his weakness, Christ will make available His divine power to him. Hence, he added (2 Corinthians 12:9b), “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
3. What is your spiritual basis of being content?
Our pleasure should not be based on external circumstances but faith in Christ. Remember, faith is fully convinced that God can do what he promises (Romans 4:21). We are not at peace with our present circumstances because we have learned that we cannot control them, but because we believe in God who is the author and finisher of our faith and the creator of heaven and earth.
For that reason, Paul confidently told the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 12:10), “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.” Paul understood that his sufficiency and satisfaction is not born from indifference towards his circumstances, but the constant supply of God’s grace, therefore, he concluded, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
As I prepared my dissertation, I continued to learn that I should be content with my research work and progress. Like most other professions, being content with one’s work is not an encouraged virtue. Academics, pride themselves for their drive for doing new things. Their only source of satisfaction is publishing more and more articles.
But based on the biblical teaching that our source of contentment is God’s grace how can we be content at our workplaces?
Let me share with you a fictional story on the importance of being content at the workplace.
A Short Parable About Being Content At Work
There was a ruthless farmer who owned a large piece of land. His employees were overworked, but underpaid. One day, all the workers left him, and he was left with one old man. Since jobs were scarce, he soon found replacements. Again the new employees were disgruntled, and they left. The old man did not leave. This kept going on until the farmer called the old man and asked him why he doesn’t leave with the others.
“I know you father worked for my father, and so did your grandfather. My family had always mistreated you. Why don’t you leave with the others?” The baffled farmer asked.
“I am content with my job,” the old man answered.
“You love carrying water for a mile to water the gardens,” retorted the farmer laughing loud amidst bouts of a cough and hissing, “You are the dumbest person I have ever seen. How can you be content with such a job and wages?”
“There is a well at my house where I get water for watering your garden. One day, after emptying the well, my grandfather found a beautiful mirror at the bottom. The mirror had the power of showing who you are. Not your looks, but your identity.” The farmer’s eyes lit, “Do you still have the mirror?”
“Yes, my grandfather discovered the well had to be kept empty everyday if he wanted to see the mirror. So, he came up with a plan, “Why not give the cruel farmer the water from the well every day in exchange for a meager wage?” You see, my grandfather and my father understood the mirror was more precious than the treatment your folks gave them.”
Being content at workplace comes from the understanding that Christ is at work in us both to do and to will and his grace is the source of our satisfaction, not promotions or wages.
4. How can you be content?
Contentment, in most religions, is an attitude of indifference towards environmental circumstances. This attitude is cultivated by changing the way you view things, for example, Taoism suggests remembering that positions and possessions are temporal while Hinduism reminds its followers if you have one river you will still crave for another river.
There lies their fundamental difference with Christianity where contentment is learned through encounters with God that build a full assurance of hope, faith and understanding (Hebrews 6:11, 10:20, Colossians 2:2).
So, then how can we learn to be content? There are several verses to answer that including Matthew 5-6. However, for the purpose of this discussion we will use Hebrews 13:5-6, which reads, “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.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
In addition to identifying the love of money as the primary cause of discontentment, the writer of Hebrews offers two reasons for biblical contentment. One, in whatever situation we are, God promised us he will never leave nor forsake us. This is the reason Paul could write he boasted in his weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul understood God was with him, and that was enough.
What else would one need if the glory of God surrounded you and empowered by the presence of Christ? God’s presence gave Paul peace when he endured shipwrecks, beatings, danger, betrayal, hunger, thirst and cold (2 Corinthians 11:25-29).
Why was Paul content in the face of suffering? Two, Paul understood that God was his helper. God grants us his grace through his presence and his hand in our lives. The writer of Hebrews advised against attaching oneself to money revealing that money cannot help us, only Christ can.
5. Why should you be content?
A lofty Christological view of Christ is central for the cultivation of a life of contentment. Biblical happiness is drawn from our knowledge of Christ and the power of his resurrection. We do not crave for not having any cravings like people who believe in Hinduism.
Rather, our cravings are crafted from Psalm 42:1-2, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?”
David craved for God’s presence because he understood that only before God can humanity find satisfaction, meaning, and purpose. When we stand at the Cross, we see what matters, and we understand that some of the things we fret about are of no eternal value. God is with us, and he is our present help in time of need.
So, why then should you be content? Paul wrote to in Philippians 4:11-13:
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. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.