1O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
2But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me. ~Psalm 131:1-2
From Thomas Watson’s The Art of Divine Contentment:
“To live contented upon God in the deficiency of outward comforts, is an art which ‘flesh and blood has not learned;’ nay, many of God’s own children, who excel in some duties of religion, when they come to this art of contentment, how do they bungle! They have scarcely commenced the learning of this art.”
“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.” Philippians 4:11-13
“But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.” 1 Timothy 6:6
Contentment is as much a command as it is a virtue. And we know ourselves that most Christians are not content. Their words tell us this: they complain and display general discontentment in their lives, and this should not be. We are God’s people and we can find so much joy and peace if we learn, as Paul, the secret of being content in all circumstances.
Paul is writing Philippians while in prison. Prison in Paul’s time was nothing like our prison today: it was dank and cold in the winter and wet and very hot in the summer. There were no air conditioners, heaters, or fans. That is why Paul asks at one point for his cloak. He cannot move; he is chained to a Roman solider. This is a man writing about his contentment in a place and circumstance most of us could not imagine nor think of enduring. But he was content in all of that.
We often are discontent in most things in our lives, and we spread that discontent to our children and husbands. When we are discontent, we really are making ourselves and our families unduly miserable.
What are some of our common mundane and “acceptable” ways we accept being discontent? Well, the baby did not go down for a nap like you wanted, or the child would not eat his food, or you didn’t get to sleep as many hours as you feel you needed, or a family member was snarky to you, so you became agitated. In your discontentment your day is not how you had envisioned it, and you make it no secret that you are discontent in your circumstances. You do not really see it because you have not recognized these behaviors as discontentment. And in our pride, we do not see discontentment in ourselves. We see it as normal for us. Discontentment has a way of growing, and it has been the monster that has ruined many a marriage.
In a culture that esteems personal comfort and instant gratification, we have a really hard time even accepting when our phone is dead, and our getting angry is discontent. But you say, “That is silly; it’s just being irritated because I can’t use my phone.” No, it really is more than that; it is about you getting angry or irritated that something that you felt you deserved was not at your ready. That is discontentment. When we feel we deserve something different or better than our current circumstances, whether it is the way we are treated by others or our physical comfort, we are not being content.
It seems silly to compare the suffering of the Apostle Paul with our everyday discontentment. But we often cannot recognize it in ourselves because we do not see a need to learn to be content. When we are asked if we are content and we answer in the positive, isn’t that enough? In our own minds we do see ourselves as content, but when we pull back the layers and we are honest with ourselves, we see a very discontented woman with a lot to learn about contentment.
Let us learn together, shall we?
Thomas Watson, The Art of Divine Contentment:
“Showing the NATURE of contentment.
“It is a sweet temper of spirit, whereby a Christian carries himself in an equal poise in every condition. The nature of this will appear clearer in these three aphorisms.
- “Contentment is a DIVINE thing. It becomes ours, not by acquisition—but as a gift from God. It is a slip taken off from the tree of life and planted by the Spirit of God in the soul. It is a fruit that grows not in the garden of human learning—but is of a heavenly birth. It is therefore very observable that contentment is joined with godliness, ‘godliness with contentment is great gain.’ (1 Tim. 6:6) Contentment being an outgrowth of godliness, I call it divine, to distinguish it to that contentment, which a moral man may arrive at.
- “Contentment is an INTERNAL thing. It lies within a man; not in the bark—but the root. Contentment has both its fountain and stream in the soul. The beams of comfort which a contented man has, do not arise from foreign comforts—but from within. As sorrow is seated in the spirit; ‘the heart knows its own bitterness;’ (Proverbs 14:10) so contentment lies within the soul, and does not depend upon externals.”
- “Contentment is a HABITUAL thing. It shines with a fixed light in the soul. Contentment does not appear only now and then, as some stars which are seen but seldom; it is a settled temper of the heart. One action does not denominate a person to be a contented person. One is not said to be a liberal man, who gives alms once in his life; a covetous man may do so. But he is said to be liberal, who is ‘given to hospitality,’ that is, who upon all occasions is willing to relieve the necessities of the poor. Just so, he is said to be a contented man, who is given to contentment. It is not casual but constant.” (End quote)
Contentment is gifted by God deep into our soul and it is a constant ever present settling in our spirits. Quoting Watson, “It is a settled temper of the heart.” I love the way Thomas Watson, per Scripture, extracts the heart of the matter of contentment.
Is the temper (mood) of your heart settled on being content? Do you desire to be truly content in all circumstances? I do very much want to learn this secret, as Paul states, of contentment. As women of God, we should all yearn for a contentment that is settled in our hearts. A peace in God that gives us, in every circumstance everything we need, that we lack nothing.
Even in the very hard trials in life of possible death, sickness, or tragedy, we can cry out to our Lord in mourning and grief. Our soul is settled in the provision of our Lord, even in the darkest of hours.
As I mentioned earlier, contentment is a command, not a suggestion. Hebrews 13:5 states, “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.’”
He has said “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” What a comfort those words are! Our Lord will never forsake us or leave us. We are told “to be content with what we have”; that means in all things, in all situations, be content. And through all of it He will be with us. No comfort is greater than that.
I counsel young women and one of the many constants I hear is something to the effect that if their situation changes, they can then be happy and content. And that is simply not true. Did Paul write that if only he could be out of chains, or if only he could be out of prison, he would be content? Did Paul say that if only people would stop persecuting him in the name of Christ?
No, not at all. He said in ‘every circumstance’ he was content. So why do we as Christian women want to believe a lie, that is actually from the world, and not Scripture? Because the lie omits any suffering. Suffering and being content is seen as archaic and should not be considered, even by Christians. But as Christians we are called to be different from the world. Many Christian women want to claim contentment all the while desiring and living in blatant discontentment.
Does not God know your circumstance? Do you trust Him with your circumstances? Do you go to Him in prayer and supplication of your circumstances? Are you settled in your heart?
Things to ponder
- Discontent is sin. When we are discontent our hearts are not trusting the God of our circumstances
- Use this month as we go through this subject of contentment and pray the Lord teaches your heart to be content, to be settled in Him.
- As you go through your day, try to pay close attention to our “moments” of discontent. These moments are important. They magnify what is going on in our heart.
- Can we learn, seek and know true contentment? Yes, we can. Our Lord loves us and seeks to teach and instill contentment in us.
Let us learn together.
I invite you to join me as I glean from this wonderful book as we learn together.
This is the link for the PDF version of Thomas Watson’s The Art of Divine Contentment: