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Are you a contented soul? If we are honest, most of us would have to admit that we are not. Few find the contentment for which we all long. The reasons for this are legion. First, we tend to wed contentment with the externals of life. You know the kind of thing: all the stars align, you are on vacation up in the mountains (or at the beach), a cool breeze blows through the screened-in porch, the children are playing happily outside, no bugs are biting, no deadlines threaten, every bill is paid, and the investment accounts are all on the up. You sit back in your chair and think, “This is the life!” There is no battle for this kind of contentment. It just happens when la dolce vita happens.

This brings us to our second reason why we do not find ourselves contented: in a fallen world, la dolce vita rarely happens. It might happen for others, but not for us. Some fly always seems to be buzzing around our ointment. Some cloud always seems to shadow our sun. Some child always seems to be crying in our family. Some disaster always seems to loom on our horizon. We live in the gap between the way things are and the way things “ought” to be—and this is a hard spot to rest content.

Third, it is not just our environment that is fallen; we are too. Pride, self-pity, and self-righteousness leave us grumbling malcontents. We honestly believe that we deserve bigger, better, and brighter than anything God has yet to give us. Even Christians who know better still find themselves wanting better. The covetous heart is insatiable. Even if we could have everything, we would still cry, “Just a little bit more!” And when we can’t have more, we want different. Isn’t it funny how even the greenest grass in all the world—even when it’s your grass—doesn’t look quite as green as the grass next door?

The popular idols of our age provide life-size pictures of this principle. They have all the world’s ingredients of happiness: wealth, popularity, fame, pleasure, etc., and they still feel empty. Worse, their wealth doesn’t make them more content; it actually thrusts in the opposite direction. It seems things are only worth what they cost you. So, in a kind of devil’s bargain, wealth makes everything cheap, and by the same logic it also renders everything worthless. Then there are the things money can’t buy. You can pay off your debtors but not your nagging fears, haunting insecurity, and bad habits. You can buy a house but not a home, a femme fatale but not a wife, a retinue of sycophants but not friends.

It’s not hard to see why so many of the rich and famous need, as Ray Stevens said: “Eighty-six proof anesthetic crutches to prop them to the top. Where the smiles are all synthetic and the ulcers never stop.”

For those with ears to hear, Paul offers a different vision of contentment: “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). Let’s consider these words together for a moment.

The covetous heart is insatiable. Even if we could have everything, we would still cry, “Just a little bit more!”

First, this contentment will not be found naturally. Even the great Apostle had to learn his way toward it (v. 11). Second, this contentment will not be found externally. I know, Paul says, how to be content living in the opulent marble of Lydia’s house, but I can also content myself on a soaking wet night, sleeping under the drip, drip, dripping branches of a tree beside the road to Nextville (v. 12). The contentment Paul enjoys is completely independent of circumstances. Third, this contentment can be found only spiritually—“I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me.” While this verse is the life verse of every Christian athlete and probably has some tangential reference to how far a young lad can throw a pigskin downfield on a given day, its real reference point describes a much more Herculean task: the ability to master yourself so completely that you can find contentment on the best of days and on the worst of days. And to find this strength not from some internal stoicism—some learned indifference to pain and difficulty—but from Christ, the Rock of our salvation, who remains the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8).

What is it about Christ that makes Him such a reliable source of contentment?

His Love Will Not Let You Go

Christian, Jesus loves you with all the love He has to give, and the Father shares His passion (John 17:26). As with so many of His prayers, Jesus prayed those words, not because His Father needed the encouragement, but because you and I do (John 11:41–42). This God never “began” to love you, and He will never stop loving you. There has never been a moment in God’s eternal existence when He thought of you coldly, unlovingly, or outside of Christ. He has always viewed you through Christ-colored spectacles (Eph. 1:3)—and He always will. Come to the heart of Christ, and you arrive at an inexhaustible expanse of goodness—an ocean “without bottom or shore.” Picture a child building a sandcastle on the beach. With her little pink bucket, she makes her way to and from the shore to gather water for her moat. Does she ever worry, even for a moment, that her bucket could drain the ocean dry? But such a feat would be possible, wouldn’t it—if you had enough buckets and a big enough receptacle in which to empty them? For all its largesse, the ocean is a finite body of water. But when you are dealing with the heart of Christ, you are dealing with the heart of God, and it goes on forever and ever. Journey into God’s heart. Go in, and in, and in, and in, and into God’s heart. Spend eternity going into God’s heart, and you will never get beyond the skin of the surface. There will always be fresh riches to explore and discover.

His Grace Will Never Throw You Out

We often think of grace as God’s love for the undeserving, but it is really much better than that. Grace is actually God’s love for the hell-deserving. He loved you when you were only sin and dead in transgressions (Eph. 2:1). He loved you when you loved the darkness and hated the Light (John 3:19–20). He loved you when you were alienated from Him, hostile in mind, and engaged in evil deeds (Col. 1:21). He loved you when you deserved only His wrath and all of His wrath (Eph. 2:3). How different God’s love is from ours. Our love only knows how to flow toward goodness, beauty, and truth. God’s love flows from His goodness, beauty, and truth. Do you see that nothing you do can corrupt God’s reason for loving you? It lies outside of you and is entirely independent of who you are and what you have done. It flows simply, only, and always from His kindness to you in Christ (Eph. 2:7). You didn’t deserve your way into God’s love, and you can’t undeserve your way out of it. You may fail Him, but His grace will never fail you.

His Power Will Not Leave You the Same

I am the cause of my own greatest disappointments. The greatest challenge to my contentment in life usually comes not from my circumstances, my relationships, my financial security, or my health, but from me. I am tired of my wandering heart, my restless, covetous spirit, my lustful, roving eye, my soul that— as Calvin so aptly described—is “one vast, full spring pouring forth false gods.” But, despite all that, in Christ I have a friend who is not ashamed to call me “brother.” And He has the power to make all things new. Therefore, I struggle on, confident and content in the knowledge that He who began a good work in me will bring it to completion at the day of Christ (Phil. 1:6).

His Plan Will Not Let You Down

“In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Ps. 139:16). From the very beginning you are a man or a woman foreknown and foreloved by God. Every step and every stumble, every success and every failure, every blessing and every burden, every strength and every weakness have all been planned by God. A.W. Pink wrote, “One who is too wise to err, and too loving to cause one of His little ones a needless tear.”

For an Edenic soul trapped east of paradise, here is the only solid ground on which to build lasting contentment: I may be an imperfect soul enduring an imperfect life, but I have been loved by a perfect Savior. Surely He is with me, not against me. Surely His goodness and mercy shall dog my steps all the days of my life. Surely all things must work together for my good. “Surely the work that His goodness began, the arm of His strength will complete.” Surely His promises are all yes and amen. Surely in this I can rest content.

What Is Conversion?

Confessions in Practice