One day every year, the fast food restaurant Chick Fil-A offers a free meal to anyone who comes to the restaurant dressed as a cow. Franchises fill with customers wearing white t-shirts painted with black spots, triangular ears sewn to headbands, and tails pinned to the seat of their pants.
Waiting in the long line, I always notice that some people appear unabashedly delighted to be bovine for a day while others obviously feel a little silly. Not everyone finds it easy to appear in public wearing head-to-toe Holstein, and yet thousands of people dress up anyway, motivated by the promise of free chicken nuggets and waffle fries. When there’s something to be gained, we are usually willing to make ourselves uncomfortable.
In 1 Timothy, God assures us that the often-difficult discipline of contentment will bring us gain: “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (1 Tim. 6:6-8)
It is certainly not easy to be content—to trust that God is good even when we face rain clouds or radiation treatment. But when we have a right understanding of our own dependence on God and are satisfied with his provision for our needs, God promises we will gain a reward more valuable than anything else we might lack.
Truly, the one who pursues contentment will accumulate “treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt. 6:20).
And for this difficult pursuit, we have the best kind of help. At every moment, in every one of life’s circumstances, the Lord is ready with forgiveness (Neh. 9:7), encouragement (Rom. 15:5), strength (Phil. 4:13), and love (Rom. 8:38-39). The God who made us and sustains us is able to make grace abound to us for all things at all times (2 Cor. 9:8). In the fight for contentment, we are never alone.
In The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, the Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs made a list of contentment’s “excellencies.” As we consider a few of those God-given rewards, allow them to motivate you toward contented godliness:
1. Contentment makes us ready to worship God.
When we worship, in private or in public, we acknowledge that God alone is God and we are his humble creatures who owe him our very selves. If we are contented, we will be eager to sing and pray and listen to the God who does all things well.
We can look for our example to Job, whose immediate response to difficult circumstances was worship (Job 1:20-21). How is it that a man whose family and finances had been ripped away from him would be able to bless the name of the Lord? It’s because he was content. He trusted the good purposes of the God who gives and who takes away (v. 21), and so he was ready to worship God in all circumstances.
2. Contentment frees us to serve God and others.
If we are constantly preoccupied with our own situation—the things we lack or the things we wish were different—we won’t be looking for opportunities to serve. When we are only concerned with changing our own lives, we fail to love our neighbor well.
A contented person, on the other hand, is freed to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). With our eyes lifted off of ourselves and our circumstances, we can notice the concerns and needs of others. When we are resting in the loving purposes of our sovereign God, we can reach out to others in love. The most useful people in God’s kingdom are those who trust the Lord regardless of outward circumstances.
3. Contentment keeps us from various other temptations to sin.
Once it takes hold of our hearts, discontent quickly leads to other sins. Because we fundamentally distrust what God is doing in and for us, our hearts give way to worry. Every new circumstance feels surprising and potentially harmful. We do not believe that God is caring for us, and we have little confidence that these events will be for our good, so our minds and hearts spin with anxiety.
Dissatisfied with our own situation, we look around at the lives of others and add the sin of envy. We covet the lives of our friends and neighbors and even strangers—people who seem to have everything we want and more. We lust after their accomplishments or relationships or finances, increasing the discontent with our own.
Frustrated and disappointed, we also fall into the snare of complaining. Seemingly every situation releases a sigh from our hearts. The weather is too cold. The gray hairs too plentiful. The kids are too energetic. The pay is paltry, the hours over-long, the commute a total waste. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, we give voice to our discontent with grumbling—accusing God of mishandling our lives and demanding that he give us what we want.
But if, instead, we are satisfied with what God has given, we will not give Satan an opportunity in our hearts.
We have one clear aim. No matter what situation we find ourselves in, we want to be able to say: “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” (Phil. 4:11-13).
It may not be easy. But it will be eternally worth it.
Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from Megan Hill’s new book Contentment: Seeing God’s Goodness (P&R, 2018), a 31-day devotional for Christians seeking to cultivate contentment.