Which do you want - comfort or contentment? That can be difficult because both are desirable options, especially when times are challenging.
Around Christmas, you hear the wonderful carol God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. While some say it was first published in 1833 by Williams Sandy, researchers have traced it back to the fifteenth century. The earliest known printed version is from 1760, which others say is the first time it was published. Interestingly, the author is unknown.
Something to Consider
The first verse and stanza are:
God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy
The message is evident throughout the verses that remembering the birth of Jesus Christ is joyful and comforting because belief in Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3-5) has set us free (Galatians 5:1).
As good as that melody is, there is something more beneficial for you than comfort. That does not mean something needs to be improved in the carol because it presents an excellent message that what Jesus did for us is comforting and fantastic.
The problem is what our mind pictures when we use or hear the word “comfort.”
The word comfort most often relates to something external, creating a sense of rest and relaxation. It is like the comfort of a warm fire, a pleasant comment from a friend, or watching the sunset.
In other words, something external creates an internal sensation or emotion. Consider “Comfort Food” as another example. That is food associated with good memories, consolation, or a feeling of well-being.
And when we want to “comfort” someone, we hope to help them move to better feelings.
If that is how you use the word comfort, you depend on what is external to yourself. That does not mean seeking comfort is wrong. It does mean that comfort does not go far enough.
Contentment Is A Better Option
Definitions are critical for understanding any word or context. Consider this Chinese proverb.
The men of old…first set up good government in their own states; wanting good government in their states, they first established order in their own families; wanting order in the home, they first disciplined themselves; desiring self-discipline, they rectified their own hearts; and wanting to rectify their hearts, they sought precise verbal definitions of their inarticulate thoughts.
Our definition of contentment is adapted from The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, written by Jeremiah Burroughs in 1648.
A sweet, inward, quiet, gracious, active frame of spirit that freely submits to and delights in God’s wisdom and perfection in all circumstances.
Most important for each of us, contentment is something you learn. It does not appear to be a gift from the Lord. It requires dedication and self-governance to make it part of our life. Of course, walking with the Lord and utilizing the power of the Holy Spirit is part of the learning process.
To support the fact that you learn contentment comes directly from what the Apostle Paul says:
Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content – Philippians 4:11 (NKJV)
Below is more information about each word in the definition.
Dissecting the Definition
Contentment is not about what shows on or comes from the outside, even though it will show externally. Instead, contentment is part of the essence of who you are. And it is not fake like the Dennis the Menace cartoon where he is in his timeout chair in the corner of the room. The caption beneath the picture says, “I may be sitting down in the corner, but I am standing up in my heart!”
That is far from what contentment is. It is a crucial section of your mental foundation about life and circumstances. For example, King David gives us his foundation, which may be about contentment.
“Truly, my soul silently waits for God. From Him comes my salvation.” – Psalm 62:1 (NKJV)
“My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him.” – Psalm 62:5 (NKJV)
Contentment supports reality and truth. Accepting reality and facing the truth is not acting like you are not in a difficult time, in suffering. It does not ignore facts. Instead, it faces reality and recognizes that this difficulty is part of growing and becoming the vessel God desires.
It is reasonable to communicate to God and appropriate friends that you see this situation as painful and difficult. But you sin when complaining about your circumstance instead of simply saying how it is
Contentment does not limit you from pursuing support. Again, be careful; your sin nature turns your communication into a pitiful and needy attitude. Worse yet, praying for a situation to be removed may be like praying you do not want to look like Jesus!
And remember this, contentment opposes murmuring, complaining, and worry. Unfortunately, doing those things demonstrate that you doubt God's plan and desire for you in this circumstance. That is not contentment. Consider this great statement from Oswald Chambers:
Worry is not only unnecessary but also disrespectful and disobedient to God.
Worry is an indication of
- Inner commotion and turmoil: When that is part of your life, expect confusion. You separate your mind from the simplicity of truth and what God says is true.
- An unsettled spirit: When you doubt God’s perfection, it results in rash actions (Acts 19:36)
- Rebellion: A great word that demonstrates satanic actions. Rebellion describes Satan and his fall from heaven. It is his primary goal for each person and believer, starting with doubting God and ending in self-dependence.
Contentment is a grace that renews your thoughts about God and permeates the essence of whom God desires that you become – the image of Christ. This contentment is a grace that demonstrates your authentic and genuine character to the world, which is lovely to see.
When you are content, you will have people ask “you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15) because you are different from their expectations of you.
It is easy to miss the beauty of contentment and assume that it means you are dull, stoic, and unemotional. It is the opposite because your thinking is not dragging you into depressing, discouraging, irritating, or anxious feelings.
Your thinking is actively honoring God by accepting His perfection in the face of all your circumstances and pain. And do not assume this is about your strength and perseverance! It is only from dependence on God's strength and your intimate relationship with Him that chooses to honor Him no matter the circumstance or suffering. You consistently trust in the power of the Lord, who walks through this circumstance with you and makes you more like Jesus. Therefore, contentment is highly active!
Frame of spirit
Frame implies a structure your thinking follows as a path of least resistance. That frame of spirit is first from your thinking which becomes your values and beliefs, then shows up in your feelings and actions.
Notice that this is entirely internal but does show up externally through the feelings and actions you display. This inner frame of spirit is similar to the “intent of your heart,” which God knows and is who you are. While you can wear a mask to hide your frame of spirit, contentment requires it. That means you can act content but not have the fruit of contentment in your life.
For clarity, "freely" is somewhat redundant when in front of submission. Why? Our definition of submission includes the essence of freedom: “an internal, voluntary act of the will to yield to another."
The world’s view of submission is not the biblical view of submission, nor is it ours. Contentment follows our definition of submission, a voluntary act of the will to yield.
Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, And He shall bring it to pass. He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, And your justice as the noonday – Psalm 37:4-6 (NKJV)
Those verses are misused to think that anything a person desires, they will get. That is not what the verses say because the primary clause is “Delight yourself also in the LORD,” which means everything that follows depends on that phrase.
What does that mean? If I delight in the Lord’s thinking as shown in His Word, my thoughts and desires align with His, and He graciously and freely gives out of His abundance. He is unlike earthly rulers who follow Satan’s model of getting more for themselves. God owns everything and shares everything with His children, who also want to share with others.
Contentment is only possible when built on delighting yourself in God’s desires and ways. It is best because His desires and ways are perfect.
God’s wisdom and perfection
Volumes are available to read about these two elements. When you read God’s wisdom literature like Proverbs, He states what is wise for you. It does not display the vastness of the wisdom of God Himself, although, He provides glimpses through the ways He instructs you to live daily.
It is difficult to accept the PERFECTION of God when you look through human eyes. Your human view of life limits your vision of your current painful situation. No human understanding is available to interpret this situation as best for you. Contentment that you learn as you walk with God helps you see this situation through His eyes and trust His absolute perfection. CONTENTMENT is IMPOSSIBLE without trusting your PERFECT FATHER GOD!
Contentment is possible in ALL circumstances. Nothing is left out, big and small, important and unimportant, and painful and pleasurable. But that requires belief in a PERFECT Father God Who pursues your best in ALL circumstances. Unfortunately, trusting what we see ignores faith. But faith is the thing that pleases God (Hebrews 11:6). It takes faith to believe ALL circumstances are for your best.
Now that you have details about how we see the word contentment. Please let me know what you think about the definition.
5 Key Learnings
Finally, here are five essential thoughts from The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. There are many more, but these are exceptional.
- Contentment is learned – it does not just happen
- Contentment is internal and not external – it is deep within, unrelated to the external
- Contentment is subtraction, not addition – subtract everything except God
- Contentment seeks to please God – because He is the source of contentment and rest
- Contentment accepts what God is doing to us – not what we are doing for God
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