My 2nd son was the most peaceful baby I had ever met. He seemed completely unaware of any disruption around him. Sometimes, I’d put him down in his bassinet to do something, and he’d spontaneously fall asleep.
He didn’t have to learn to be content. He didn’t have to study to become that way. He just was.
Unfortunately, as we go through life, we seem to unlearn contentment. Our trust fades. We become jaded. The cares of the world seem overwhelming and burdensome. We take them on ourselves as a burden we think we should be able to carry.
I have this excerpt of Philippians 4 by my desk on my office wall.
Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
If you would like to see the passage with clickable links to the Greek words, here it is.
After staring at this passage for quite some time one day, I noticed something: Paul said, “I have learned to be content.” It wasn’t something that just came naturally to him.
The Greek word that is translated “content” in verse 11, Autarkes, is not used anywhere else in the Bible. Here are some of its meanings:
sufficient for one’s self, strong enough or processing enough to need no aid or support
independent of external circumstances
contented with one’s lot, with one’s means, though the slenderest
Paul goes on to say that he has “learned the secret” of being hungry or full, having abundance or want. The Greek word used there, Mueo, translated as “learned the secret” is also not used anywhere else in the Bible. It means:
to initiate into the mysteries
to teach fully, instruct
to accustom one to a thing
to give one an intimate acquaintance with a thing
To become instructed in. To become intimately acquainted with. To learn, independent of external circumstances, the mystery of contentment.
How are some ways we can learn to be content, no matter the circumstances?
1. Rest. Stop striving. Stop trying to fix everything. Hand it over to God. And then hand it over again. Let Him give you strength, as the passage recommends.
A month or two ago, God spoke to me and said, “If the burden is too heavy, then it’s not yours to carry.” Stop “should-ing” on yourself, and start resting in God, allowing Him to speak into your life and teach you to be content.
2. Pray. Something I’ve realized is that being content in all circumstances does not mean we don’t pray for our circumstances to change. In fact, earlier in chapter 4 of Philippians, Paul commands, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” It simply means we’re content even if they don’t.
As the Greek implies, contentment is based on the internal, not the external. This is a lesson I’m still learning. It’s Christ in me, strengthening me, working in me, changing me, that is the source of my contentment. And yet we’re commanded to ask & keep on asking, like the persistent widow in Luke 18. I need to find that balance between acceptance and prayerful request.
3. Trust. Learning contentment means we choose to trust God, even if our circumstances don’t change. It means we actively choose to trust that He is good, He is faithful, and He will show up. As Paul says later in chapter 4 to the church in Philippi, “my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”
In what areas of your life could you use some contentment today? How is God wanting to teach you contentment, and in what areas is God waiting for you to ask for His help?