Deciding to Trust God
I recently read about a man who was flying an airliner over Tennessee. He told his copilot, “You see that lake down there? When I was a boy, I used to sit in a rowboat on that lake and watch the airplanes soar across the sky and wish I were up there. Now I’m a pilot, and I look down at the lake from up here and wish I were in that rowboat fishing.”
Sometimes we’re simply not content with where we are in life. In the United States, we probably have more material benefits than any culture before us. Yet our contentment is overshadowed by our society’s high level of consumer debt, divorce, and other negative factors. Many Americans spend more than they make, and contentment eludes them.
Statistics reveal the average American household that carries a credit card balance owes more than $16,000 on those cards. Although some valid reasons exist for using credit cards, most people use them because they live beyond their means. They want things they can’t afford but buy them anyway.
Our country’s high divorce rate reveals people are discontent with their spouses—the ones to whom they have committed themselves in marriage.
Yet for Christians, contentment should be a hallmark of a godly life. The apostle Paul wrote,
But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:10–13).
Paul wrote this letter around AD 61 while under house arrest in Rome. He had survived the ordeal of a shipwreck (Acts 27:27–44) and was now confined because of false charges and corrupt government officials who wanted bribes. Felix, the Roman governor of Judea, left Paul incarcerated, hoping Paul and his friends would bribe him to let Paul go (24:26). When they didn’t, Paul appealed to Caesar (25:11).
Paul’s circumstances were dreadful. Yet he was content. His attitude did not depend on his status or his material possessions. He was content because he focused on God and His promises.
WHAT IS CONTENTMENT?
Contentment is an inner sense of rest and peace that comes from trusting God’s wise and gracious provision for us. It is the opposite of covetousness, desiring what belongs to someone else.
If I were to ask, “Do you think God possesses all wisdom and that His grace is sufficient?” most of us would say yes. But we tend to lose that perspective when troubles come. We let circumstances, difficult job situations, insufficient wages, or material or health needs impede us from trusting the Lord.
Paul wrote, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” (Phil. 4:11). Contentment is learned. We cannot acquire it in a prayer meeting by saying, “Lord, give me contentment.” We can ask the Lord to help us be content, but contentment is something we learn.
The word translated “learned” in Philippians 4:11 is the Greek word manthanō, which means “to be instructed.” From it we get the Greek word mathētēs, or “disciple.” Jesus used manthanō in the Gospel of Matthew when He told the religious leaders, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’” (Mt. 9:13). Contentment must be learned.
HOW DO WE LEARN CONTENTMENT?
We learn contentment by studying, memorizing, and meditating on God’s promises in Scripture. A favorite passage of many is Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” That is a promise God made to us.
Does that promise relate to your job situation? Does it relate to being passed over for a position you thought you deserved? Does it relate to your marital status? God works all things together for good.
Jesus promised, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Mt. 6:33). He did not say, “I’ll add a few things to you.” He said, “All these things shall be added to you.”
The phrase all these things pertains to food, clothing, and shelter—the basic necessities of life. God promises to take care of all our needs.
He also promises not to allow us to be tempted beyond what we can handle:
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it (1 Cor. 10:13).
God will never let us be subjected to trials beyond what we’re capable of enduring. Yet we say, “Oh, Lord, I can’t handle this.” “I can’t handle my situation.” “I can’t handle my boss.” We need to trust His promises.
He also will never leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). If we are God’s children, we can never be separated from Jesus, who has redeemed us. Never. It doesn’t matter where we are or what we’re going through. God’s promise is sure.
In Isaiah 54:17, God told His people, “No weapon formed against you shall prosper.” No one who wants to hurt us will flourish. From God’s perspective, He is using hurtful situations, including persecution, for our good (Rom. 8:28). God knows what we need. We are certain to face difficulties in life, but they are designed to teach us contentment and reliance on Him.
A writer said, “The secret of contentment and inner peace is found in letting go of the need to be in control and resting in the confidence that God is in control.” We need to rest in the knowledge that God is in control of our lives. He is in control of our circumstances. In fact, He is in control of everything; and trusting in Him produces the contentment of which Paul spoke.
Grace Fox, a woman who ministers to women around the world, once described the contentment she witnessed among Nepalese believers after a devastating earthquake hit in 2015:
On my recent trip to Nepal, I met a group of church leaders who live in a region where the earthquake’s epicenter happened 17 months ago. These folks had precious little to begin with, and they lost it all when the earthquake struck. And yet they danced for joy when we worshiped God together with music. I watched them celebrate Jesus, and I knew immediately that they had much to teach me. One of the lessons is contentment. Warren Wiersbe, a famous Christian writer, says, “Real contentment must come from within. You and I cannot change or control the world around us, but we can change and control the world within us.” My Nepalese friends model Wiersbe’s words despite their world literally falling out from beneath them. They’ve chosen to control the world within them. They’ve chosen to give thanks and praise God in the midst of the circumstances that North Americans seriously cannot fathom, and the result is contentment.1
Learning to be content takes place on the inside—in our hearts. The Nepalese Christians had learned contentment by deciding to trust God through their circumstances.
Many of us quote Psalm 23:1: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” That is a statement of purpose. It is a declaration. We need to decide to trust that God is in control and will take care of us. He leads us beside the quiet waters (v. 2). He provides for us, so we will not want. He leads us in the paths of righteousness (v. 3). He directs our lives.
Let us purpose in our hearts to study and meditate on God’s promises, so we might learn contentment as we follow our Shepherd.
- Grace Fox, “Living Examples of Contentment,” gracefox.com, October 3, 2016 <goo.gl/gheor3>.