Paul shares the secret of Christian contentment--the mark of a fully mature believer.

The Secret to Contentment in a Discontented World

Secrets have a way of grabbing our attention, particularly if the secret comes with a promise of something good. If I claimed to know the secret location of a buried treasure or to possess the secret for permanent and effortless weight loss, the world would beat a path to my door.

Paul claimed to know a secret of even greater value:

“In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content . . .”
(Philippians 4:12 CSB)

In 1643, Jeremiah Burroughs unearthed Paul’s secret in great detail in The Rare Jewel Of Christian Contentment. Pastor and author Andrew M. Davis revisits the classic work, providing updated illustrations and a fresh look at Burrough’s wise counsel:

“To be well schooled in the mystery of Christian contentment is the duty, glory and excellence of a Christian.” (40)

The Power of Christian Contentment begins by documenting Paul’s credentials for his claim, reminding readers that, while Paul tested the limits of extreme discipleship, contentment was not something he was born with or that came to him on the Damascus Road.

A Secret to Be Learned

Christian contentment is a secret to be learned. When Paul wrote about contentment, he used a Greek word whose simplest translation is “self-sufficient.” He wanted to communicate his freedom from dependence on any created thing, and this is crucial because, while believers are not invited to share God’s incommunicable attribute of self-existence, there is a sense in which, at least spiritually, our contentment in Christ is a dim shadow of God’s self-existence (or “aseity”).

As usual, C.S. Lewis says it succinctly and distinctly:

“He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God alone.” (33)

Contentment Defined

If contentment is a secret to be learned, it is important to define what Paul meant. Davis unpacks Burroughs’s very thorough description:

“Christian contentment is the sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” (40)

It is imperative to note that contentment does NOT excuse complacency, nor does it mean putting up with injustice or passively accepting circumstances that should be changed and set to rights. Paul set the example by speaking out against injustice and held the magistrate’s officers’ feet to the fire when he and Silas were mistreated in Philippi.

What is the Secret?

Fortunately, Paul was not stingy with his secret, for he was quick to reveal his Source of contentment:

“I know both how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:12-13)

Contentment comes from valuing Christ above all other possessions and relationships, above all other sources of strength and encouragement. It is a supernatural weapon in the trusting believer’s arsenal. Since God has commanded us to be content, he has also provided the means.

The Miracle of Subtraction

When I read Burroughs’s work several years ago, this wisdom stuck like a burr:

“Contentment comes, not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction.”

Rather than adding to our possessions in hope that the pile will one day satisfy, biblical contentment carves down our desires until they “equal what our loving heavenly Father chooses to provide.” (70) This, to me, seems to be the most difficult and yet most indispensable understanding of what it means to delight in the Lord without making an idol of his gifts.

Finding contentment in prosperity can be as challenging as finding contentment in suffering, and there is never a season of life in which we’re not tempted to complain–and then to make excuses for it. Davis offers boots-on-the-ground advice for combating a spirit of entitlement which includes:

  • studying the lives of biblical and historical figures who persevered with a spirit of contentment;
  • learning about the persecuted church;
  • becoming sacrificially involved in missions;
  • fasting periodically from comforts that have become idols;
  • getting involved in volunteer activities that are hidden and thankless;
  • giving freely and extravagantly from your wealth;
  • praying fervently for  growth in contentment and setting the example for your family;
  • reading deeply and widely from resources about seeking pleasure in God alone;
  • practicing vigilance in your entertainment and social media exposure.

Discontentment is an insidious evil, easy to overlook and hard to uproot. A mindset that views every single circumstance as a gift from God’s good hand is a frame of mind and heart that requires supernatural help and continual vigilance.  By grace, growth in Christian contentment will lead to a deeper fulfillment in the following life and a richer experience of gospel truth.

Many thanks to Baker Books for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Because “godliness with contentment is great gain,”

 


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60 thoughts on “The Secret to Contentment in a Discontented World”

  1. Too many people think that contentment means sitting on a cushion, eyes closed, chanting a mantra. Your wonderful review of this book dispels this myth for Christians by adding the responsibility to foster contentment by taking specific actions. But that doesn’t mean a Christian does not maintain a fiery passion. As usual, Michele, you’ve given me another book to add to my to-read list!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yup. We practice contentment on the fly with our sleeves rolled up and our kitchen sink full of unwashed dishes. We’re called to a life of open-handed acceptance of God’s gift of the present moment–which is a calling away from the glittery scenes we often compare our lives to and find ourselves tripping over discontentment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Contentment is one of the hardest places to reach, in my humble opinion. There are no one-way tickets; no ferry boats; no direct flights – it comes on a road filled with potholes, side streets, and U-turns. I know because I’ve been there, then left, and then back again. I’m 99% settled in Contentment at this season of my life but I know there is an enemy of my soul that can throw a wrench at any time. I am armed and ready if that happens. -Susie

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Contentment is different from happiness, I believe. Happiness is more ephemeral, contentment more lasting. We have more control over contentment and you have given us some wonderful suggestions on how to maintain ours as Christians.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Amen!! It’s something sadly many ppl never learn. And they live in DIScontent all their lives never satisfied!!

    Like

  5. Michele, what a great post and a book that I will add to my reading list. Before I retired, I was an interior decorator and I saw so many of my clients that thought “stuff” would bring contentment. It never did!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. There is so much rich content in this post. It’s one I’ll read more than once.

    Paul makes contentment look easy but it’s important to understand that Paul points to God who is his strength. I love the boots to the ground practical ideas you share. The ideas of reading about biblical characters who lived lives of perseverance as well as monitoring where we spend our time both speak to me. Thanks for another great review.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. YES! YES! YES! Paul does make it look so easy, and I do wonder if some of that is our inability to really read between the lines about his suffering. We have a tendency to flatten out the biblical characters until they are nearly cardboard–as if Paul and Silas’s ankles did not feel the chafing of shackles! My guess is that Paul and others disciplined their hearts and minds pretty strictly around those very principles that Burroughs/Davis distilled down for us from the Bible.

      Like

  7. Michele, I LOVE your review of this marvelous book, and this outstanding definition of contentment: “Christian contentment is the sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by John Piper, “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him.” As I repeat this during my prayer time, I always follow it with a scripture prayer based on Psalm 90:14: “Heavenly Father, Satisfy me in the morning with your unfailing love, that I may sing for joy and be happy all day long.” Many blessing to you friend!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is great! We could all use a bit more contentment in our lives. Thanks for sharing with us at Encouraging Hearts and Home. Pinned.

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  9. This sounds like a wonderful book to add to my list of those I want to read. I often think of what my teacher has told me about Jewish culture in Israel…that they thank God for the good and the bad because all things are either from him or allowed by him to teach us or test us into growth. I try very hard to find something to be grateful for in all circumstances because in my experience, gratitude is key to contentment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I agree with you, Stacy, and it’s a challenge to get outside ourselves enough to see the goodness of God in events that have not turned out as we had hoped, and yet this is an opportunity to allow our theology to impact on our feelings.

      Like

  10. Loved this quote from Burroughs that you shared: “Contentment comes, not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction.” That’s one to remember. Thank you for this fresh look at contentment.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Love that Jeremiah Burroughs quote about contentment through subtraction. After more than a few decades of life-experience, I can attest to the truth of his words. Also appreciate that practicial list of ways to infuse our lives with more contentment. Thank you, Michele! I learn so much through YOUR reading (and the summaries you write)!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it’s certainly not the way we are being trained by our culture to see contentment. However, I do see how the “minimalist” movement is trying to work its way in that direction.
      And I so appreciate your input here, Nancy. It’s so good to know you are reading along with me.

      Like

  12. I love the idea of subtraction! More and more, I find that spiritual disciplines of abstinence lead to deeper places of contentment. It seems to be such a paradox, but sometimes the kingdom of God is very surprising! Thanks for sharing these words, Michele! I pray you’re having a blessed Memorial Day!

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    1. Thanks, Stacey, and yes, its’ counter-intuitive, particularly in our acquisitive culture, to think that we can become more content by the principle of subtraction, and yet Scripture points to a life of being poured out for the sake of the gospel and for others.

      Like

  13. I read your review on Good Reads and immediately added this one to my “Want To Read” list. Your post is jam-packed with powerful quotes about contentment – one of my favorite topics. “It is imperative to note that contentment does NOT excuse complacency…” This is a particularly important piece of thought-provoking insight.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, so great to connect with a friend on Goodreads! And I loved the chapter you referenced that contrasts contentment and complacency. We are called to a life of striving to “run the race,” while also being called to a life of radical contentment. And how challenging it is to confront the paradoxical truth of Scripture!

      Like

  14. I am someone who finds contentment in my everyday life, despite living with Chronic Pain and Chronic Fatigue. I believe God has equipped me to find the good in all situations and I am truly blessed. Thanks for the reminder that contentment comes from Christ and is easy to find, if you know where to look.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for speaking out of your challenging situation and reminding us that God’s grace is made absolutely evident in our weakness! I think we all need a lesson from time to time in “where to look!”

      Like

  15. […] The Power of Christian Contentment by Andrew M. Davis–In 1643, Jeremiah Burroughs unearthed Paul’s secret in great detail in The Rare Jewel Of Christian Contentment. Pastor and author Andrew M. Davis revisits the classic work, providing updated illustrations and a fresh look at Burrough’s wise counsel: […]

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have wondered the same, and have come to the conclusion that it’s possible, depending on the motivation. If our motive for minimalism is to appreciate what we have, to make room for being more efficient and effective, then I think yes. If our motive for minimalism is simply to be a minimalist because it’s in vogue or makes for good Instagram status material or because we think that somehow we are going to rescue planet Earth from ultimate destruction by having only 4 salad bowls in our cupboard, then I think not.
      Thanks for making this observation.

      Like

  16. Love this Michele. “Contentment comes, not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction.” And your Lewis quote drew me in. Blessings to you, dear friend.

    Like

  17. So great! I struggle with contentment it always seems just out of reach, I know that’s the point. I am doing better, thanks to the grace of God. Identifying and praying about it has been a huge help. Great post, shared and tweeted. Many Thanks 8)

    Like

  18. Michele, this is such a beautiful post. To be honest, I completely overlooked that it was a book review as it spoke to my heart the reminder I needed this morning. Thank you for sharing this quote: “Christian contentment is the sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” In every condition – even the most difficult. We can be content and submit because He is always with us and is ever at our sides.

    Like

  19. This is a great reminder. I love the through definition you gave for contentment. I agree that by taking things away, you learn to value what you have more. This sounds like a book worth reading.

    Like

  20. Congratulations! Your post was my feature pick at #OverTheMoon this week. Each Hostess displays their own features so be sure to visit me on Sunday evening and to see your feature! I invite you to leave more links to be shared and commented upon. Please don’t forget to add your link numbers or post title so we can be sure to visit!

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