We have all heard genie stories about a man finding the magic
lamp and getting three wishes.
Here is my version:
An old man finds a lamp on a beach. While rubbing the lamp, a
magic genie pops out and grants him three wishes. The old man wishes for health,
wealth and a beautiful wife. Immediately the wishes are granted. The man has the
body of a twenty-year-old body-builder. His fortune puts him in the class of the
weathiest people in the world. He has a gorgeous, young wife.
For many months, the man is elated at his new-found wealth. He
enjoys his lovely bride and his new body. He buys things he never dreamed of
owning and sees places he never dreamed of seeing. Everywhere he goes he is
envied and admired. Men covet his life.
And now, as Paul Harvey says, you get "the rest of the story."
As times wears on, little by little he starts to question his wishes. Should he
have asked for extremely high intelligence rather than wealth? He could then
have used his intelligence to make a lot of money, but he would still have the
high intelligence. Should he have asked for things that were not so
self-centered? If he had asked for a cure for cancer, he could have become
wealthy and also made a tremendous contribution to mankind. He would not only be
envied, but beloved. Should he have asked for a soulmate rather than the outward
beauty of a wife? He loved his beautiful wife, but sometimes she wasn't very
easy to talk with about what he was thinking and feeling. If he had thought
about it a little more before answering, he would have asked for it differently.
Thoughts such as this plagued the man for the rest of his life. He was very glad
that he had met the genie and was thankful for what he had been given, but
always, in the back of his mind, he thought he could have done better in making
The point of the story is this: most of us are in some way,
shape or form that old man. We have been given blessing upon blessing in our
lives that we appreciate, but yet we are not content. We are always thinking
that we could have done better. We are always looking for the next genie to come
along so that we can make things right. We second-guess where we are in life. Do
we have the right job, friends, spouse, neighborhood, faith and so on? Open and
honest self-examination is healthy. Yet, if we cannot balance the need for
self-examination and self-improvement with the idea of being content, perhaps we
have something more to learn on the subject.
It may appear that to be content is the same thing as being
complacent. Complacency is never a good thing. One can be both complacent and
content, but one does not have to be complacent in order to be content. One can
be content and still have a burning desire to improve. I would suggest that you
can be diligent in self-examination and self-improvement while at the same time
being content. We can learn Paul's secret when he said "I have learned, in
whatsoever state I
am, therewith to be content" (Phi 4:11).
We will focus on Paul's comment to see if we can learn the
most published, but least understood "secret" to having a contented
There is a scene in the book "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's
Stone", by J.K. Rowling, where Harry finds a mirror. In this mirror, he sees his
dead parents and himself together. He spends hours looking into this mirror.
Only later does he find out that the secret to the mirror is that it shows you
whatever it is you desire. People waste their entire lives looking at this
mirror because in it they see their deepest unfulfilled desires.
The modern media bombardment -- TV, movies, advertising, etc
-- is a lot like that mirror. We blame Hollywood for all kinds of ills from
materialism to teenage pregnancy. I am not defending the entertainment and
advertising industry at all, but if you understand that the media is just like
that mirror, you have an insight that many people do not possess.
I am pretty sure that the media moguls don't have an annual
meeting and say, "How can we destroy the fabric of morality in the world this
year?" These guys have companies. Like most companies, they are motivated by
profits. If they could make a lot of money on wholesome, family-oriented
programming, they would. I believe they don't care much at all about what is on
the TV as long as you and I will watch it and buy the products or services of
the advertisers. Day in and day out, the average American spends 6 hours a day
staring into this mirror.
Contentment doesn't move much product. If you are happy and
content, you are less likely to buy the next big thing. If they can make you
feel a little less content and provide you with the magic solution, you are just
the chump -- I mean consumer -- they are looking for. The real shame is that the
majority buys into it. If we just buy the next big thing, we can be younger,
healthier, more attractive, happier, more admired by our family and friends,
wealthier and all-around better off. Why wouldn't you plunk down $39.95 for that
set of knives with all of those accrued benefits? You would be crazy not
This plays right into human nature. Starving people want food.
People who have food want it to taste good. People who have good-tasting food
want it presented pleasantly and someone else to cook it. This same principle of
discontent applies to clothing, housing, recreation and so on. We are always
looking for something better unless we are content.
The Bible says in 1Ti 6:6-12 that "Godliness with contentment
is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can
carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But
they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish
and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of
money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred
from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O
man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith,
love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal
life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession
before many witnesses."
Contentment is great gain. We think of riches as great gain
and are convinced by the media that buying whatever they are selling is great
gain, but think of how many miserable people there are who have all of the
trappings of wealth.
We have to learn that even with all of this against us, we
have an opportunity to be content. God has provided us the answer to this
The first principle of contentment is: "Seek first the Kingdom
Imbedded in this advice from Matthew is belief in the King. If
we seek for the Kingdom of God and along with it the King who rules that
Kingdom, we have the essential element of contentment. If we honestly and
sincerely believe in the King -- not an academic concept or abstraction -- but
truly believe in a living Jesus Christ, we will not be easily swayed by the
garbage that the world would have us believe brings contentment. The more we
believe in him, the more we will seek him. The more we seek him, the less we
will seek what the world wants us to seek. Fame, fortune and all of the cares of
the world shrink in proportion the more we know the son of the living
Imagine yourself with a bloodied back from a severe beating
with a whip. But that is not all, you are locked in a dark, stinking dungeon
with your feet locked in between two blocks of wood. Now I want you to imagine,
if it is possible to do so, that in these terrible circumstances, you are
content enough to break forth into song praising God and to offer prayers of
thanksgiving. This might seem too unusual even to imagine, but that is exactly
what happened to Paul and Silas (see Acts 16). What could possibly possess two
people to have such a profoundly unusual disposition in the most horrible of
conditions? They knew the King. They knew the Kingdom. Nothing could take that
contentment away from them. The King and the Kingdom were not abstractions or
academic exercises to Paul and Silas but a strong relationship with a living
By God's grace, few of us will have to undergo such horrible
treatment. Most of us have not had to develop characters that would allow us to
be content under torture. We only have to develop characters that allow us to be
content under the most benign circumstances. We need to learn to be content in
our jobs, in our families, in with our homes, with our clothing and so forth.
While Paul was content while in jail, we need to be content when that person
cuts us off in traffic or our friends do not treat us well.
I would suggest that part of our problem is that we treat
seeking the Kingdom of God like it was finished business rather than a
relationship with a living being. For example, if we see our marriages as
completed when we say "I do", we are really missing the point, aren't we? A
marriage is an ever-changing and evolving relationship. We must constantly work
at that relationship and build upon it day by day. While we can view the Kingdom
of God as an event yet future or even a place we secured when we believed (both
of which are true), we miss the point that behind these facts is a living
relationship with the King. To seek the Kingdom is to seek the King in
day-to-day living. It is an act of transformation from the things of this world
to the things from above. If our focus is intent upon that relationship and
seeking to enhance that relationship, all of the things that the world seeks
after do not enhance our ability to improve that relationship -- rather, they
detract from it. Hence, if we sincerely seek for the Kingdom of God, we become
content by virtue of things that cannot be bought at a store. We find that the
greater the relationship with the King, the greater our contentment regardless
of other circumstances.
The ultimate irony is we fret so much about those who we
perceive as in control of our contentment. The government takes too much of our
precious money. Our boss didn't give us that well-deserved promotion. Our
children don't appreciate us enough. We fret and fume because if "they" would
just do the right thing, we could be content. It is ironic because the only
person that stands in the way of our contentment is the one that we view when we
look into the mirror. The only "they" that stands in our way is, in fact,
There are a few more "secrets" concerning contentment other
than seeking first the Kingdom of God.
The next principle of contentment is simple to say, but hard
to do: "Trust God."
One of my favorite sayings is: "A fanatic is defined as
someone who does what God would do if He had all of the facts." Another one of
my favorite sayings is: "Worry is the illusion of control." Both worry and
fanaticism stem from the same problem -- not trusting God.
It is impossible to be content if you are constantly concerned
about things that are out of your control or fighting battles that are not yours
to fight in the first place. Contentment comes from having a good idea of what
your job is and what God's job is. The fact of the matter is that one of those
two parties -- you and God -- has a high probability of royally messing up his
job. (Hint: It's not God!) So if this is true, we should focus on things that
are our job. God will do just fine of His responsibilities without our
Yet another of my favorite sayings is: "Do your best and leave
the rest to God." God knows what we are made of and understands that we will
fail. At the same time God knows we will fail, God expects us to make the effort
to succeed. The key is for us to know -- despite all the malarkey of the
self-help, motivational gurus -- that success is completely out of our control.
We may do all the right things, push all the right buttons, know all the right
people and make all the right moves only to find that God has made the decision
that we will not succeed. Failure may come in one of a million packages -- a
brain tumor, corporate downsizing, an unfaithful spouse, a lost letter, a fall
down the steps. These examples are reasons for failure that are beyond our
control. We could certainly add to it a longer list of reasons for failure that
are directly of our doing. Whatever the package of failure, the contented know
that their job is to do their best despite the pitfalls of life, and remain
content knowing that God is in control. We can surely minimize the pitfalls of
life by doing the right thing. Eating right, getting a good education, staying
away from illicit sex and drugs, flossing regularly, working hard and being
honest can all minimize our risk of trouble, but, in the end, we are all left
helplessly dependent upon the mercy and wisdom of God. What better place is
there to be left dependent on mercy and wisdom that with our loving
Father in heaven?
Here is where we need to define the difference between
contentment and apathy. Both words carry the connotation that we are satisfied
with things as they are. However, apathy implies that we have no motivation or
desire to change. Contentment, on the other hands, has no implication on our
desire to change; it just means that we are happy regardless.
Let's take an example of a person who is seriously overweight.
The apathetic person doesn't care. They have no desire to change and are not
taking any steps to change. The contented person may also be apathetic, but not
necessarily. The contented person may see a real need to change. He may change
his diet or exercise in an effort to reduce his weight. However, in the process,
the spiritually contented
person is happy regardless of the state of her progress or the
way the new diet and exercise regime makes her feel. Neither is the contented
person in a constant state of worry until she achieves her goal. She simply do
her best and trusts God.
Once again, it bears mentioning that trusting God is not easy.
We are people who want results. When we have pain whether physical or emotional,
we want it taken away. When we see something that needs to change, we want it
done sooner rather than later. The point is that being discontented by worrying,
fretting, or fuming doesn't help achieve the goal any sooner, it just makes us
miserable in the process.
So we see that trusting God is not just a sound theological
principle, but a key to leading a contented, God-centered life.
The state of being content is defined by what you desire. If
all you desire is to please God and help your fellowman (think about the two
greatest commandments -- love God and love your neighbor), contentment is
readily obtainable. If we understand this, verses like 1Ti 6:8 make sense: "And
having food and raiment let us be therewith content." If we read this verse in
context of what the world would have us believe, 1Ti 6:8 seems ludicrous. The
world wants us to read it this way: "And having food and raiment (by the right
designer) and a new car and a large home and the perfect body and the perfect
spouse and a great job and a fat retirement account and a good golf swing and
smart, athletic children, let us be therewith content (until our neighbor gets
something as good or better and then we need to outdo them)." Following the
world's prescription will never bring contentment. Never. No matter how
successful you are in this world's terms, there is always something more to
attain, and the contentment is fleeting at best.
There is a soon-to-be-released WCF video about a Bible school
in Russia. In this video, there is a clip of a sister in Christ who has nothing
that this world has to offer. She is homeless. She is old. She has no living
relatives. She lives on $30 a month. She lives day to day and hand to mouth.
When the interviewer, Steve Johnson, asked her what the brethren could do to
help her, this was her response:
"I'm happy that I'm living a new life with Jesus, that I've
started my sad life over and that I have Jesus with me. I realize now that I
can't complain about what God hasn't given me because He's given us sunshine,
He's given us the earth, He's given us the stars above. I actually have no house
at all, I have nowhere to live. In the winter months, because I literally have
nowhere to live, an old people's home that is run by the government allows me to
live there. It's a hostel for homeless people but the conditions there are
absolutely terrible. In the summer months when I'm not allowed to live there I
go around to people and I offer to do housework for people. I offer to work in
their gardens. I offer to work on their farms if they let me sleep on their
farm. So that's how I survive in the summer months. But in the winter I have to
stay in this hotel for homeless people. But also I consider myself so happy
because I have found spiritual fellowship with you. I'm an optimist."
"It's totally awkward for me. I can't even entertain such
thought. All my life until this happened, until we got chased away, I've all my
life worked and I've helped other people, not the other way around. When my
brother-in-law died I spent a lot of time and effort helping my sister raise her
three children. I've never been in such a position where I've had to ask other
people for help. It's such a terrible thing for me. The concrete help you
already gave me. You gave me the Bible. You gave me the Truth. That's the
material help. You already gave it."
"Let your life be without covetousness; and be content with
such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake
thee" (Heb 13:5).