How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. (NLT)
Most of us figure that contentment is a good thing. But contentment is not the same as complacency. I can both be content with where and who I am and yet legitimately seek improvement or change. Luther was not content with church corruption, nor was Wilberforce content with the slave trade.
Paul was in prison when he wrote these words. No doubt he would have welcomed release. But he made the most of his present unalterable circumstances. Ambition to improve oneself or recognition of a need to change is compatible with contentment. But it must not prevent us from a proper sense of gratitude for the life opportunities we might have now.
Discontent is marked by restlessness and greed. And a lack of thankfulness. We can be so busy envying the greener grass in others’ lives that we fail to see what is happening on our side of the fence. True contentment allows us to embrace what are our present circumstances, adverse though they may be, and yet hope and work and pray for change.
We both appreciate what God is doing for us and with us now, and recognize he may have other plans in the future. We can both lament our present situation and yet recognize God’s presence in that situation and so have a degree of contentment, if not comfortable ease.
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So life is a mixture of stability and change. Contentment means boldly seeking the treasures of Jesus, but also aware that those treasures may be right beneath your feet.