Last month, I came across an article titled, “Content in His Providence” by R.C. Sproul. I was greatly ministered by this article as I pondered on my current situations. Hence, I wish you too will be ministered. Before I share my personal reflections, allow me to briefly summarize the article. The writer begins by pointing out how frustrated people could feel when they realized that they are unable to obtain a life which they discovered is far better than the one that they are currently living. He then asserts that contentment is the remedy for this frustration. Paul was one person who has learned contentment regardless of his circumstances (Phil 4:12). Sproul compares Paul’s contentment with the two Greek philosophies of seeking contentment, namely Stoicism and Epicureanism. Stoics believe that they have no control over what happens but they can control how they feel about it, so they aim not to be affected by what happens to them. This is a fatalist, simply resigning to fate. Epicureans on the other hand, seeks to increase pleasure but often times it did not turn out to be what they expected and hence that leads to frustration and pessimism. However, Paul’s contentment was based on his belief that whatever circumstances God has placed him in, it was to fulfil the purpose of God whether he was in plenty or in lack. Hence, he was confident that he could find strength in God in any and every circumstances (Phil 4:13). It was his submission to God’s sovereign rule that leads to his contentment. Sproul concludes that it will lead to misery for one to think that God should give him/her a better life than the current one. To arrive at true contentment is to trust in God’s grace to enable us regardless of the circumstances.
Living in a pragmatic and a consumerist culture, we as Christian are not spared from thinking and adopting the notion of achievements, success and comfort as a necessity for survival. How do we know then whether we are truly contented? Some people deal with their discontentment by sweeping under the carpet and attempting to be contented with what they already have so as not to be affected by what they do not have or failed to obtain. However, this is upholding a stoic philosophy. For others, they may wish for a better life, work or studies environment and condition as compared to their current ones. However, this reflects an inner discontentment and dissatisfaction. Still others may pursue a life of better quality and comfort in the name of improving oneself. This is the Epicurean philosophy which aims at minimizing pain and maximizing pleasure. So, this too does not permit one to arrive at true contentment. Paul learned contentment as his knowledge and understanding of God increased. His contentment is not circumstantial as he said in Phil 4:12, “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”. So what was Paul’s secret to contentment? He continued on in verse 13, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength”. He strongly believed that God is the one who orchestrated his life for His purpose and so whether in plenty or in need which God has placed him in, God will also sustain and strengthen him. According to Sproul, it was this union with Christ and his theology of God that led to his contentment in Christ, for he said in 2 Cor 12:9, “’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
True contentment then is not to dismiss discontentment as this is in denial of our heart condition. It is also not assuming in the absence of complaints and neither is it in the pursuit of plenty in the name of self-improvement. True contentment is in union with Christ that results in trusting and submitting to his order of our life even if it meant having to experience discomfort, pain and uncertainty. All of us are in different stages of our life: as a student, as married couple, as single, as an employee or as an employer. You might be in a situation where you are struggling with uncertainty, unhappiness, discomfort or difficulties or even having doubt whether where you are currently in is the best. There were times I too wished I could do and be where I would prefer. However, I came to realize that though it is just a wish, which was actually a reflection of discontentment in my heart in what I am doing and where I am currently in. Sproul concludes in his article, “As we continue to wrestle with the desires of the flesh, we can be tempted to believe God owes us a better condition than we presently enjoy. To believe such a thing is sin, and it leads to great misery, which is overcome only by trusting in the Lord’s sustaining and providential grace. We will find true contentment only as we receive and walk in that grace”. Hence, discontentment assumes that we know better than God how our life should be like. That is placing oneself on the throne of life and rejecting God to take that throne. I would like to encourage all of us that regardless of our circumstances, may we emulate Paul’s example in learning true contentment as we trust God and submit to His sovereign rule.