Paul said, “I have learned the secret of being content, with plenty or with lack.”¹ He goes on to say that he can do all things through God who strengthens him. Knowing God will strengthen us is part of the secret to contentment, but there are some other key truths for us to be content in every circumstance. I believe the reasons Paul doesn’t explain the secret in greater detail, is because it’s written all over the scriptures. We know wealth or getting everything we want isn’t the secret to contentment, because Solomon had wealth, women and everything else he wanted, but he said it was all meaningless.²
Ultimately God is in charge of how content we are.⁰ Our desires can only get as strong as God allows, although focusing on our desires can make them stronger, or focusing on God and praying, can make them less. God created us to have desires for peace, love, food, sex, fellowship, joy… so that he can satisfy them, and cause praise for him to come from our hearts.³ Our desires themselves are not sinful, although we can use good desires to crave sinful things. We cannot avoid strong unfulfilled desires, the loss of a loved one, loneliness or the lack of peace, love and joy, will come into our lives. The Bible is filled with godly men and women, who desperately craved something, but God kept it from them, or took it away. Abraham and Hanna longed for a child, Leah wanted her husband’s love; Job, David and Joseph wanted relief from their difficult circumstances. God tests us, to see if we are willing to trust in his goodness, compassion, love and mercy, or give up on God and try to fulfill our desires ourselves. God promised to fulfill our hearts desire, if we would delight in him (seek to please him and do his will), but if we try and fulfill our desires apart from God, he promised the fulfillment we get will end in misery.⁴ When God gives us our hearts desire, it may not be in the timing or way we expect, but like Joseph, who said, God has made me to forget the years of my affliction, we can trust that the God who created us to feel intense desires, knows how to fulfill them. We will reap what we sow. God says he will repay us here on earth apart from his heavenly rewards.⁵ Like the Israelites who doubted God and grumbled against him ten times in the wilderness, and as a result, weren’t allowed to entered the promised land.⁶ Our decisions determine our rewards on earth. God makes it clear, that unfulfilled desires are not necessarily a result of sin any more than a tragic death is a result of sin.⁷ An unfulfilled desire is an opportunity to trust God and have our desires fulfilled. God didn’t withhold his Son from us, nor will he withhold any good thing from us.⁸ These truths are actually the secret to contentment. I don’t need to have my desires met, if I can trust that God has my best interests at hand, and that he will fulfill my desire in a greater proportion than the pain I endured.⁹
Here is an example of the contentment God’s promises bring: If my house is a mess and I don’t have enough time to clean everyone else’s mess, because they keep adding to it. And if I have already told them, it bothers me, and prayed to God about the situation, but the house is still a disaster. I have a choice to make. I can either realize that God is in control of how the people around me think and act, and trust that these miserable circumstances are from him, and believe God will make the frustration worth it. Or I can believe that God is not controlling my specific circumstance, and he will not make the pain worth it. This will cause me to become discontent with my circumstance and try to change them by demanding my way or spending extensive time cleaning, when God has other things for me to do. If I am content to trust God, and ask his help, during miserable circumstances, he promised to use the pain for my good, and fulfill my heart’s desire. But, if I fight God by trying to scratch and claw my way out of my circumstance, outside of prayer and other God honoring methods, I can expect God’s discipline. When the Israelites craved meat, they didn’t trust God to fulfill their desires, so they grumbled. They said God’s plan wasn’t good, and he wasn’t going to fulfill their desires. They said things were better back in Egypt. God let them get the meat they wanted, but because they didn’t trust him with their desires or ask him for help, God punished them with a deadly disease, before they could finish eating the meat.¹⁰Even if God allows us to get our hearts desires the wrong way, he said we will regret it in the end.¹¹
The contentment Paul talks about doesn’t make our unfulfilled desires any less painful. But God promised to use all our pain for our good, and he promised to give us the desires of our heart, if we trust him.¹² Because of God’s promises we can be content even when we are discontentment with our circumstances. God will help us through the pain, and he will make the pain worth it to us, so that like Joseph we will forget the land of our affliction, because of the blessing God brings about through our suffering.
⓪ Psalm 37:16 / Ecclesiastes 5:19 ① Philippians 4:11-12 ② Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 / Ecclesiastes 6:1-2 ③ Deuteronomy 8:7-10 ④ Matthew 16:25 / Galatians 6:7-9 / Matthew 6:33 ⑤ Proverbs 11:31 / Psalms 27:13 / 2 Corinthians 5:10 ⑥ Numbers 14:22-24 / Numbers 14:34 ⑦ Luke 13:4-5 ⑧ Romans 8:32 ⑨ Job 42:10-17 / Psalm 90:15-17 / Genesis 41:51-52 ⑩ Numbers 11:33 ⑪ Proverbs 6:30-32 / Proverbs 9:13-18 ⑫ Romans 8:28 / Psalms 37:4 / Numbers 11:23
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