Stronger than Circumstances: Contentment and joy

Just a little heads-up to our readers that this post is dealing with the topic of Christian contentment and is therefore explicitly religious. :-)


Today I’m delving into something totally different. This post won’t have many photos, and it won’t be about what we’ve been up to. It’s rather about something that has been on my heart to write about for quite some time now — to some extent, something that I struggle with daily — discontentment and lack of joy.

Discontent, while affecting both men and women, is a sin that women are particularly prone to. I’ve seen it in 3 year old girls and I’ve seen it in 85 year old women and every age in between. In men I have seldom seen it. Perhaps it is because as women we tend to dwell on things, turning things over and over in our minds, adding in some what-ifs and ending up with an all-together bitter taste in our mouths. Or perhaps it’s our Eve-tendencies wanting to do things my way.

I certainly do not have a handle on this whole contentment business. Yet. :-) It is a continuing struggle for me, yet because I have seen so many women struggling with it as well I wanted to write something about it to encourage you women. I’d also encourage the men to keep reading because I’m sure you know a woman you could encourage to be more joyful and content!

Firstly, contentment is not fatalism or resignation. “Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” -Jeremiah Burroughs.

Discontent, it would seem, usually crops up when we place too much importance on our circumstances. But Franci, you say, you don’t know what it’s like to live with my husband! You don’t know how hard it is to live on our income! You don’t know what it’s like not to have children, or what it’s like not to be married! The list goes on. But that’s not the point. God knows our circumstances, and what’s more — He gave them to us. Not only that, but he did it for our good (Romans 8).

Discontent is like an infectious disease. If I am continually dwelling on and voicing my discontent, then those around me get dragged down too. It is unkind, unloving and selfish. I’ve also realised that discontent is, at its heart, being proud. Believing that I deserve better than this. That God has given me the short end of the stick and given me a bad deal, and not remembering that God owes us nothing but that He is gracious to give us much more than nothing! Discontent is ugly.

When we are discontent, we can cause ourselves so much trouble — we are pierced with grief when we are not content with what we have. Discontent HURTS! And it hurts not only ourselves, but also those around us.

6But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Tim 6:6-10)

I don’t think we give enough attention to dealing with the sin of discontent. It is a vicious, weaselling sin that tries to convince us that we know better than God. Discontent can lead to anger towards others and God. The sin that still hurts the most when I remember it was words said in anger toward God during a time in my life I was wallowing in my discontent. I know I am forgiven now, but the memory still hurts. Discontent can put us at enmity with God and break down our faith, crush our spirits and send us into pits of spiritual depression.

But we don’t have to stay there!

The first step out of it is sincere repentance.

Contentment and joy goes against the grain of our human nature. It doesn’t come naturally, it is learned. And it is a hard lesson to learn — so hard we can only learn it with divine strength, like Paul. Philipians 4:11-13:

11… for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I 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. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Lots of prayer and thankfulness is like oil to the water of discontent — they just don’t mix. If we are always looking for something to be thankful for, we’ll find it harder to be discontent. And no matter how bad our circumstances, there will always be something to be thankful for. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

16Be joyful always; 17pray continually; 18give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

If we do that, suddenly what Habakkuk says in Habakkuk 3:17-19 will make sense, and it doesn’t seem so absurd to be joyful in the Lord despite terrible circumstances.

17 Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,

18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

19 The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights.

For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.

And see that bit about music? If you’re having a particularly trying day, try singing, whistling or humming. Even better, sing, whistle or hum a psalm or a song like that reminding you of God’s promises.

There are few things that help you look away from your own circumstances and to the happiness of others so quickly as being generous. “But I have nothing to be generous with!” you might say. Look no further than the Corinthian church:

2Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 2 Cor 8:2

We can be generous with your money, but also our time, our knowledge, our food, love and our smiles.

Yes, it is difficult. Yes, we will probably fight this beast for the rest of our lives. But know and believe that the God who made the universe is our helper who will never forsake us.

5Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” 6So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Heb 13:5-6

Rest in who God is. Read Job 38 – 42. Remember that He is concerned with the details of our lives even to the point of sending us adversity — not because He is a bully, or because He delights in our trouble — but in order to complete us.

2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Have thine own way, Lord, have Thine own way. Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.

Clay isn’t a very glamorous thing, and neither is a potter’s wheel. If we’re a lump of clay in the Potter’s hands, what business of ours is it whether he intends for us to be chamber pots or beautiful hand-painted jugs? Our business is to be joyful that the Potter made us for His good purpose — a purpose we might never fully understand. But what we can understand is that we are to glorify Him in all we do and enjoy Him forever.

A quiet, gentle spirit is one that enjoys God, and enjoys life.

——————————————————————————————-

Other than Scripture, a resource that has helped me tremendously in my understanding and learning and applying contentment has been Nancy Wilson’s writing — her books, but especially her blog. You can view her blog posts on contentment here.

Interestingly, Kristen at The Frugal Girl has also had a couple of good posts on contentment recently. You can read the most recent one here.

8 thoughts on “Stronger than Circumstances: Contentment and joy

  1. Thanks for posting, Franci! I’m great at flip-flopping between discontent and resignation/fatalism and need the reminder to find ways to be grateful and content.

  2. Great post, Franci. You have gone to the heart of the matter – discontent IS ugly. We (especially as women) need to ground ourselves in God’s Word and “preach to ourselves” from that Word (e.g. the Scriptures you have quoted above). Our own thoughts apart from God will lead to discontent, but God’s Word brings blessing and contentment. I hope many are helped and blessed by your post.

  3. Franci,

    I really needed to read this post today! You are so right and so wise and I appreciate all the verses of scripture, quotes and hymn lyrics you included! “Have Thine Own Way” is a song I have not sung or heard in a long time but a perfect song to sing when feeling tempted to fall into discontent!

    Good for you! You should write more pieces like this!:)

  4. Hey Franci,
    I love this post! You are such a sweetie-pie. Thank you for broaching this subject. While I try my best to live a life of gratitude, contentment, and joy, I sometimes lose sight of where I’m going. I appreciated this post because it was a gentle reminder to not let any circumstances bog me down. Thank you, sister!

  5. Pingback: About servants and serving | Aliens in the Apple

  6. Franci,
    I want you to know how much this “Contentment” post has encouraged and challenged me recently. There are lots of books or chapters of books on “Contentment” – but you have said just what I need to think about, in just the right way. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Liana. I needed to go back and reread it myself the other day — contentment is something that never seems to stay in the ‘attained’ box. :-)

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