The Secret of Contentment
By John David Hicks
“But godliness with contentment is great gain.”—1 Timothy 6:6 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”—John 10:10
Few people experience the joy of real life—where dreams become reality, songs are sung, relationships are fulfilled, and lives are filled with abundant joy. These few discover who they are in God. As they tap their latent potential, God imparts His wisdom and power (Eph. 3:20-21). They step out by faith, risking failure. They do what they can where they are, and their dormant potential comes alive.
When ability is given responsibility, potential power is released. Everything God made has the potential to fulfill itself because God created everything with latent potential and the power to accomplish its purpose (Phil. 4:13).
Many miss opportunities as they watch life go by. They are busy trying to make a living. They grieve over what their life has become or what it could have been. They don’t get involved so they are burdened with disappointment, inadequacy and discontent.
Most people live passively, with no idea of what is happening in their life. They are so caught up in trying to make it through life that they do not see the importance of being in life. Their dull, boring lives have no purpose, and they simply put up with the ordeal of living. Their failure is not the absence of success, but indifference to taking a risk. This is a tragedy!
In Psalm 4:7 the psalmist wrote, “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abounds.” The world’s joy depends on their measure of grain and wine. When this declines, their joy is diminished. During the Great Depression, many Americans who lost their fortunes committed suicide or became alcoholics. Their joy depended on their “grain and new wine.”
Contrast this with the joy found in the Lord. Nothing can destroy that. Psalm 4:3 says “Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord with hear when I call to him.” In the next verses the psalmist’s enemies slandered and ridiculed him, but he belonged to God and enjoyed the light of His countenance. In verses 6-7, this gives his heart joy and peace.
Jesus said the same thing: He came “that we might have life, and have it to the full.” Without the reality of God in your life, you will never have life to the full. You were made for fellowship with God. Out of this relationship comes godliness with contentment and joy. In 1 Timothy 6:6 Paul declares, “godliness with contentment is great gain.” Without this fellowship with God, you will live with discontent.
Do you know many people who enjoy life and are content? If you answer like most people, there are few. Then why are there so few? I believe there are three reasons: (1) Many work at being miserable. (2) Some have never given themselves permission to enjoy life. (3) The others have never learned how to be content.
Paul had to learn how to be content. It took diligence, practice, and faith. Let me suggest some way you can learn to enjoy life.
Enjoy today! Today is the most important time in your life. If you can’t enjoy today, you will struggle with tomorrow. Some people either live in the future or in the past—and they’re miserable. God wants you to see that the journey is the goal. The goal is not heaven; that is a byproduct of you walk with God. It’s the journey—today! The journey lays the foundation for tomorrow and heaven.
When you look to the future for happiness you are filled with anticipation and your joy for today disappears. When you live in the past you wish things could be like they were, but circumstances change, and your joy is gone because of what cannot be. Only those who enjoy the present enjoy as much as is possible.
As a Christian, God’s life is within you and He is also involved all that is happening here and now. He is the God of the process, the journey. In Hebrews 12:2 we read, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the aouthor and perfecter of our faith.” And John 16:33 says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” The Lord is in you (1 John 4:4). So relax and enjoy today! God is training you this minute on the journey. Obedience is the end in view. God does not give strength for tomorrow, but for today—this minute!
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty (Rev. 1:8).” God is not only the God of history. He is not only the God of the future, but of the present. He is the God of the process, the journey. He directs the circumstances that come into our lives. Therefore, you complaints are directed toward God. God tells you not to worry about tomorrow. He will take care of you today. When you are tempted to wish away today and avoid the present, you mess up your future happiness. Invest in today. Drink deeply from the present beauty that surrounds you. Give you attention to your work at hand or the person you are talking to or dealing with. Live for today.
Matthew 6:33 says “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
“Faith has lost its joy,” says Jurgen Moltmann, “when freedom of play has been lost, your world turns into a desert… the old Pharisees and legalism try to scare us away from freedom, from joy and spontaneity. But it’s unlikely that anything good or just will come about unless it flows from an aabundance of joy and the passion of love.” Enjoy the journey!
“I wasted an hour one morning beside a mountain stream, I seized a cloud from the sky above and fashioned myself a dream, In the hush of the early twilight, far from the haunts of men.
I wasted a summer evening, and fashioned my dream again. Wasted? Perhaps. Folks say so who never have walked with God, When lanes are purple with lilacs or yellow with goldenrod.
But I have found strength for my labors in that one short evening hour. I have found joy and contentment; I have found peace and power. My dreaming has left me a treasure, a hope that is strong and true. From wasted hours I have built my life and found my faith anew.” –Author unknown
Most people want life to the fullest, without have to change their lifestyle. Ha e you ever been camping and nearly froze in your sleeping bag, looked at a star-filled sky, enjoyed a walk in the rain, or tried to catch a fish with your hands? Have you ever made something special for someone you loved or stayed up to 3 a.m. sharing laughter with your friends? When you gave up your comfort, your circumstances became unforgettable times because emotions were touched and memory and relationships were formed. Can you remember the last time you felt fully alive? Was it when you reached higher toward your potential?
In your emotions you feel life with its joys and sorrows. Without emotions life would be blah and empty. Emotions let you experience the touch of life. To have fullness of joy, you must be willing to face the depths of sorrow. Without emotions, there is no excitement, joy or enthusiasm for life. First Samuel 10:26 says, “Saul went to his home… accompanied by valiant men whose hearts God had touched.” O Lord, by whatever means, touch my heart and emotions so I will experience life in its fullness. Help me see that my attitude of daring to risk in faith is the starting place that affects my enjoyment of life.
Throughout history, people who have made a difference have been risk takers, unafraid to go to the heart of life. There is more to life than going to movies or eating at a nice restaurant. To be fully alive you must be willing to try something totally different. Be will to make a mistake and fail. It’s called risk! The danger is that you simply endure life rather than celebrate it. What prevents you from giving yourself permission to enjoy this day?
Stop and Look! If you do, you will be surprised by joy. Life gives you one minute at a time. What you chose to do with your minutes will determine your fulfillment. Many ignore their minutes—waiting for a bus, at the doctor’s office, or in a cashier’s line. Instead see these as opportunities to enjoy life and relax. Develop your senses by stopping and looking, paying attention to what’s happening around you. Stop, look, and listen. What do you smell or feel or hear right now?
An American Indian once visited New York City with a friend. Walking down the street, he suddenly exclaimed, “I hear a cricket.” “You’re crazy,” he friend responded. “It’s noon, with noises, people, and cars everywhere. I’m sure you can’t hear it.”
“But I do,” insisted the man. He walked to the corner, crossed the street, found a shrub, looked under a leaf, and there was a cricket. He friend was astounded. The Indian said, “My ears are no different from yours. It just depends on what you are listening to. Let me show you.” He pulled from his pocket some quarters, dimes and nickels, and dropped them on the concrete. Every head within a block turned. The Indian said, “See, it all depends on what you are listening for.”
God wants you to live life to the fullest. This requires discipline and effort to get involved and participate in what is happening around you. Examination requires time. Jose Ortega Gassed said, “To be surprised, to wonder, is to begin to understand.”
When is the last time you thanked God for the sunshine or rain… told someone, I love you… hugged someone, whistled, clapped, jumped, laughed, smiled, and told God you were thankful for life? When is the last time you thanked someone at home or on the job for contributing to your life or bought followers for someone dear to you? Did you take timed to exercise today, to get oxygen and blood going through your body? When is the last time you played a game with your family or played with the kids rather than watch TV?
Before they begin eating dinner, one family I heard about has to share one new thing they learned that day. If they can’t think of anything, they have to get dictionary and find a new word. For the joy of faith to take hold in life you must take the risk of venture and uncertainty. This is where many fail. But the practice will soon become a habit and joy will follow.
If you thrive on spectator sports, TV, dramas, magazines, and even books, you miss the full life God has for you. These are secondhand experiences that result in dissatisfaction. When you get involved directly in life you will deepen your joy. One great Christian said, “One of the greatest insults you can pay god is to say you are bored.”
Be yourself! When you have nothing to prove you will be free to be yourself. God made each of us different and gave each of us the freedom to be different. The potential to be the real you is there. But discipline is required to bring it out. In life, to enjoy any art or any sport there must be discipline. Discipline requires effort and energy. Yet in Christ your discipline is to be relaxed, with noting to prove, because you are accepted with him. This is discipline out of rest. “Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it (Heb. 4:1).” God’s rest is knowing you are not only forgiven, but accepted, with nothing to prove. Therefore, you are changing and growing, and learning to fly (Matt. 11:29).
Think of three reasons you are glad to be you and three reasons you are glad to be you and three things you like about yourself. You are now on your way to enjoying who you are. Joy is something you are. Who you are is more important to God than what you do. Joan England says, “A bird doesn’t sing because he has an answer; He sings because he has a song.” Christ has set you free by accepting you and loving you!
Understanding God’s grace frees you to enjoy life and play. Each day is a gift from God. So is His creation. When He finished making the world, God said, “That is good.” To enjoy it you must wonder at it and play with it. Isn’t that what children do with everything, including their food?
R.L. Shepard says Christianity is not doing the things no gentleman would do, but “doing things that are unlikely to occur to anyone who is not in touch with the spirit of Christ.” Why not do something unusual? Wear your hat backwards, climb a tree, fly a kite, walk barefoot. Don’t be timid. Take a chance. Give yourself permission to enjoy life. Get rid of the guilt that says you can’t enjoy life. The fruit of joy comes from the overflowing peace within. You can’t force fruit. You must let it happen from within. Let the joy and rest of God flow.
What stops you from enjoying life? For many it’s fear of others. God says “The fear of man brings a snare (Prov. 29:25).” It puts you into bondage and robs you freedom. Reestablish your relationship with God, with your spouse—based on who you are, not on what you do. Be yourself, with nothing to prove and be free and have rest.
Be thankful! For the thankful are blessed. “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thess. 5:18).” Two truths help me to understand this. (1) Oswald Chambers: “Whatever you can praise God for has lost its power to defeat you.” (2) If you are selfish, you won’t be thankful. If you are thankful, you won’t be selfish.
Few of us grew up in homes with lots of singing to the Lord or joyful praise and thanksgiving, where beauty, truth and the goodness of God were expressed with conviction and emotion. Without that, hearts become spiritually handicapped. But we can still limp forward in God’s therapy of grace.
This requires reprogramming the mind. Negative input harms spiritual health. The Holy Spirit will make you feel guilty about the negative, sinful things you watch, read, or do (1 John 3:20). We must reduce our intake of negative television news and entertainment. This is garbage! The old principle about computers is true: Garbage In—Garbage Out! This garbage brings fear, which causes people to be negative and to avoid adventure and risk. Chuck Kraft put it this way: “Garbage attracts the rats; if you remove the garbage, the rats will go away.” Stay away from negative people and negative media.
Craig Massey, in his article, “Pulling through depression,” says, “While it may be difficult to admit, depression is deliberate choice.” The exception may be moods triggered by physical conditions, but your choice makes a difference. Thanksgiving as a way of life. Praise and thanksgiving are positive forces that not only drive out doubts and depression, but cause evil forces to be defeated (2 Chron. 20:20-23; Ps. 149:5-9; acts 16:25-26).
In his book, Dark treads the Weaver Needs, Herbert Lockyer shares the experiences of praising, thankful Christian coal miner, Billy Bray. He was persecuted but never discouraged. When his persecutors wanted to shut him in a barrel, he said he would shout “Glory!” thorough the bunghole. He had the joy and comfort of the Lord in spite of what was happening to him. He named one of his feet Glory and the other Hallelujah so wherever he walked he would express words of praise. Lockyer said Billy named his feet, not the roads because some roads might lead to gardens and others to gloom, but his feet sounded their message of praising no matter where the road led. His daily prayer before going to work was, “Lord, if any of us must be killed today, let it be me. Let not one of these men die, for they are not as happy as I am. If I die today, I will go to heaven.” Billy’s assurance of heaven was his key to praise and thanksgiving.
Praise acknowledges God for who He is. His character qualities of love, mercy, grace, and holiness help you know Him better, for God inhabits the praises of His people (Ps. 22:3). Thanksgiving shows gratitude for what God has done for us or others—salvation, friends, blessings, and gifts. Things don’t satisfy for long, but out relationships with God and people can. This is why thanksgiving is the will of God (1 Thess. 5:18).
Discipline yourself to count you blessings, to think, ponder, and respond to life. Praise and meditation is the foundation of wisdom and knowing God. Reading is the foundation of knowledge. Worship is the pathway to blessing. Time with friends brings love and enjoyable experiences. When you can laugh and pray, your burdens are lighter.
Relationships are most important in life. Unless this is your attitude, you face the danger of life and people slipping away from you by the mere passage of time.
Here are some suggestions to get you out of a rut. At dinner everyone eats with the opposite hand. You will eat slower and learn something. When you say grace, thank God for each thing on the table—the forks, spoons, salt, coffee. By learning to thank God for the little things, you create a joyful heart. Have an appreciation session or share special blessings.
When was the last time you put on some good music and did nothing but listen or dance in praise to God for who He is? Joy must radiate from the inside out. Living with gratitude frees you to enjoy God and others.
Each morning, thank God for life and the day. With your heart in praise for God’s provision and grace, worry, fret, and anxiety will disappear.
The secret of contentment—enjoying life is now your! Remember to enjoy today. Stop and look. Be yourself. Be thankful. “This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength (Neh. 8:10). END