What is contentment? I’m not sure. I recently read a sermon by Jeremy McKeen on contentment and have been reflecting on its meaning the past few days. Is being content a good thing? My answer is yes, but it really depends upon our understanding of what contentment is.

One popular suggested definition of contentment is being satisfied. Is being content the same as being satisfied? It seems that would be true in terms of eating, but what about situations other than eating? Can someone be content and yet not satisfied at the same time?

In his sermon Pastor McKeen tells about a younger gentleman who came to him with a dilemma and told him, “I want to find another job and strive to serve Christ more and seek to improve my situation, but I also want to be content in life. And so I’m torn between self-improvement and self-contentment.” I don’t know the details, but I think I would have told the young man he could do both.

Here’s a personal illustration that I hope will make sense. I played golf today and didn’t play as well as I would have liked; but that doesn’t mean I am discontented. I enjoyed being on the course playing golf and competing with friends. I already look forward to the next time we play and I know I will enjoy it because my contentment does not depend upon my score. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to improve and win next time!

An indication that we may be discontented is if we preface our desire for something with the words if only. Putting a condition on someone or something to satisfy us may shine some light on our deficit of contentment.

One thing that greatly contributes to our discontentment is comparison. We see that someone has more than we do or has it better than we do and we dwell on what we don’t have. It’s not easy to be satisfied if we are focusing on what someone else has that we don’t have.

Something I think that greatly contributes to contentment is the cultivation and expression of gratitude. Instead of looking at what others have and focusing on what we don’t have, it may make a difference if we focus on what we do have and be thankful for that.

A final thought in this consideration comes from the Apostle Paul and his testimony in one of his letters. In Philippians 4:11b-13 he writes, “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.” Apparently contentment is something that can be learned; maybe we should make the effort to do so.

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Many think the 10th commandment is the most difficult to obey. And for those who don’t immediately remember, it says: “You shall not covet.” The antidote to covetousness is contentment.

Don’t misunderstand this word contentment. It is not laziness, the absence of ambition, or the failure to have challenging aspirations and goals. The Apostle Paul gives us some insight into what contentment is when he writes in Philippians 4:11b and 12a: “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.” Contentment is to be appropriately satisfied in your situation and with what you have.

Here are five suggestions to cultivate contentment:

Don’t compare yourself with others. Comparing seems to be at root of the 10 commandment. The complete commandment reads “You shall not covet your neighbors’ house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” I think we would be far less likely to covet if we didn’t compare. But we do compare, don’t we?

Enjoy what you have. A vital step for contentment is to enjoy what we have. One observer wisely noted: “There is an obvious problem when our focus is more on what we do not have than on what we have.” And that focus gets in the way of enjoying what we do have. I Timothy 6:17 reminds us that what God has provided us is for our enjoyment.

Treasure what is truly valuable. Some things are more valuable than others and we need to recognize the limitation of money and stuff. What William Barclay wrote years ago is still true today: “If the possession of things brought happiness and contentment, then this would be the happiest and most contented age in history.” But it isn’t, is it? Stuff is important, but what is truly valuable are our relationships. I spent the last few days with my 5 year old and 2 year old grandsons in Texas. They have plenty of nice toys, but what I treasure, and what I think they treasured, was our time together.

Practice generosity. Being generous is both a path to contentment as well as evidence of it. Generous people seem to be content and contentment is enhanced by generosity. And while it does include money, I’m using generosity with a far greater sense than just money. Being generous with our time, our energy, our knowledge, our skills, and our resources will strengthen our state of satisfaction with what we have.

Finally, be grateful and express it. There is something attractive and compelling about gratitude. Being grateful and expressing it is an antidote not only to covetousness, but also to pride and many other attitude shortcomings. First we should be grateful and express gratitude to God. And doing that is a vital part of our worship. But we should also be grateful to others as well—family, friends, and those we do not know personally who enrich our lives by the things they say and do.

What would you add to this list? Comment below; and if you liked this post share it on social media.

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