Cultivating Contentment

No Quick Fixes
Usually, there aren’t quick fixes to complicated problems. And any promises of such things should be met with a fair amount of skepticism. At least, that seems to be among the conventional wisdom of the day.

And the Bible’s account of the world acknowledges this as well. There’s no easy solution for the plight of human beings in a hurting world. The ancient book of Ecclesiastes is one very wise King’s honest admission of our complex existence. For instance, the Teacher-King in Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:7 describes the gut-wrenching reality that no matter how hard we work or how prosperous we are, it will never be enough to make us truly happy. It’s devastating to think that even if we were to achieve all of our most beloved dreams, we may still be impossibly unhappy.

So what, then? Is there a way to know true happiness? In this cultural moment, when we’re confined to our houses and our normal rhythms are severely restricted or even fully vanishing before our eyes, is it possible to experience a durable joy?

Contentment: Our Secret Super-Power?
In these first few days of mandated social distancing and the upheaval of our lives, many of us are operating in something like survival mode. These days can be high-stress and volatile as things are changing moment by moment. One way that human beings suffer in survival mode is by operating in a state of perpetual discontentment. This state of being is a violent threat to our capacity for joy and human flourishing.

Philippians 4:10-14 was our primary text this past Sunday as we worshiped together online. In this passage, St. Paul unveils a secret formerly unknown to him: How to be content in all things. Notice his bold claim: “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.” (Phil. 4:12). In the end, St. Paul is telling us that a durable joy is found in being content no matter the circumstances. Here we run the risk of looking for an easy answer to a complex problem. Yet, St. Paul points us to contentment as an essential pathway to joy.

So, is it joy we long for as we grieve the loss of our freedoms and peace of mind? Then the Apostle Paul teaches us to learn the secrets of contentment. So, here are four ways to cultivate contentment in these days of extreme restriction:

4 Ways To Cultivate Contentment

  1. Embrace Abundance Over Scarcity
This is nearly impossible at times, as things like toilet paper are flying off of shelves at light speed right now. There is a literal scarcity of many of our normal resources. However, human beings do not do well when we operate from a scarcity mentality. If we believe there is not enough to go around, then we get selfish, territorial, and even violent. Certainly, anxieties rise and self-preservation kicks in. But when we operate from a place of abundance – that there is more than enough to go around – then we are freed up to be kind, generous, and loving to others, especially to those in real need.

St. Paul told us his secret to contentment. It’s found, not in a place, but in a person: “I can do all this through Christ who gives me strength”. Now, this very overused (and often misused) text of ancient Scripture is unbelievably profound, and anything but an easy answer to a complex problem. Paul is telling us that to have a posture of abundance, to know the eternal secrets of contentment and joy in all things, we have to learn how to be in the presence of Jesus. 

This tracks with the Old Testament story of how God led and related his people. It was the breath or the presence of God that hovered over the waters when God created all things. It was his presence in the fire by night and the cloud by day that led his people through the wilderness and to the promised land of abundance. It was in the presence of God that the Psalmist told us we could find an abundance of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). God’s presence (or God’s Spirit) leads us to a place of abundance. And learning the secret of contentment means learning how to stay close to the Spirit of God, regardless of our circumstances, as he leads us to a place of abundance even amidst the scarcity. 

That sounds great, but how do we get there?

  1. Trust The Generous Heart of God
Jesus taught to pray like this, “Father in Heaven…give us this day our daily bread.” This could be said, “Give us what we need to get through the day.” He taught us to pray expectantly not for our three-year plan, but our daily bread. So learning how to stay close to the Spirit of God requires us to actively trust the generous heart of God – that he is a generous host, not a stingy landlord. Do we believe this? Are we willing to come to God in faith, asking him to provide all we need, and then trust him to richly provide? His provision likely won’t look like our preference, and indeed we may incur very real and sustained loss, but do we trust him to know and generously care for our needs according to his great love and compassion for us?

The secret of joy and contentment requires us to actively trust the generous heart of God. How do we do that? How do we actively make that choice?

  1. Exercise Gratitude
Almost daily there are new restrictions, complications, and losses incurred as we seek to manage the threat of COVID-19 and its effects on our well being as a nation. There’s so much about which to complain. But complaining only doubles the effects of joylessness. It’s natural, and the Scriptures do not dissuade us from being honest with God about how we’re feeling. But embracing a spirit or posture of complaining is ruinous.

On the flip side, the Scriptures teach us that exercising gratitude helps us to enlarge our soul’s capacity for contentment and joy in the midst of grief and loss. Just read Psalm 103 to get a glimpse of this teaching in the Bible.

There is one other practice that we must embrace if it is a durable joy we seek in these complex days. It may not be an easy one, and it certainly is not intuitive when times are hard.

  1. Practice Generosity
If we believe that God is a generous host and in him there’s always enough, and if we stay close to his presence which leads us to a place of abundance, and if we’re committed to exercising gratitude, then we will be free to not merely survive or cope with the next few weeks, but rather we will be free to be generous in our hearts toward others. Generous people are content and joyful people. And joyfully content people are generous.

Of course, this is a difficult time to think about giving anything to anyone. We’re in survival mode. So, for those who are able, it will take practice. It will mean making choices to stay close to Jesus and in his word and in prayer, so that he leads us to a place of internal flourishing. As he transforms and renews our hearts, he will gently guide us to be radically generous people, giving of our hearts, our time, and our resources as we love, serve, and care for people in our homes, community, and world.

For some, our incomes are shriveling up and there may be little to no resources to even pay bills. That’s why in the coming days, we will hopefully communicate ways to both submit needs and meet needs, as well as strategic outreach opportunities (click here for our Care request form). For now, please sign up for our newsletter so that we can continue to stay connected as a GCC family (click to sign up for our newsletter). And for those who are able, help us stay in a posture of collective generosity by continuing to give online, or start giving online if you haven’t already (click here to do so). Our hope and prayer is to not only be generous individuals, but to be a radically generous church family, taking our cues from the founders of the early Christian movement.

Key Takeaways and Practices for this week:
  • Consider starting and ending each day in Scripture and prayer. Consider the daily readings listed below. Also, consider using the Dwell App, which is giving away 60 days free for members of our church. Follow this link to set up your account.
  • During your time of morning and evening prayer, consider writing down one thing you are grateful for. For parents, consider making that a daily practice at mealtime before or while you eat. Consider sharing what you’re grateful for online, tagging @gcclynchburg on Instagram or Gospel Community Church on Facebook with the #gccGratitude.
  • Prayerfully explore ways to be generous. Give online, reach out to neighbors, share resources with your small group, etc.

Daily Scripture Readings: Week of 3/23
Day 1: Psalm 40, Romans 12:1-8
Day 2: Micah 6:1-8, Luke 7:36-50 
Day 3: Habakkuk 3:1-19, Luke 19:1-10 
Day 4: 2 Chronicles 20:1-29, John 12:27-36 
Day 5: Jonah 1-4, Philippians 4:1-22 
Day 6: Psalm 111, Luke 14:25-35 
Day 7: Daniel 3:1-30, Mark 10:35-45

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