A Prayer for Contentment
This past week I read the Biblical account of Jacob returning to Canaan with all the drama that ensured. Jacob is not my favorite patriarch. He’s a pretty lame husband and father. But he does bring some redeeming qualities to the table. Not only does he pray appropriately to God before he crosses back over to meet his brother, but his response to Esau after Esau tried to give back his gifts is spot on. He can teach us a thing or two about contentment in the middle of messy circumstances.
Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor in the sight of my lord.” But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” Jacob said, “No, please, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand. For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me. Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Thus he urged him, and he took it. Genesis 33:8-11
Jacob is deceived about Leah, swindled out of years more of free labor, and cheated by Laban in his compensation time and time again by his father-in-law. I wonder how many years it took him feeling cheated, swindled, and overworked to land in a place where he believed whatever God gave him was enough.
Likely a few.
I ponder the same thing about Paul, who feels so strongly about the importance of personal contentment, he spends several verses urging Timothy to embrace it rather than chase after what will never satisfy.
But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 1 Timothy 6:6-12
Paul combines contentment with godliness, marrying the two concepts. Godliness refers to “the genuine fear and love of God, and obedience to his will,” (Benson Commentary), while contentment “refers to a state of mind; a calm and satisfied feeling; or a freedom from murmuring and complaining,” (Barnes Notes).
This marriage seems to communicate the benefit of the intimate relationship found through Jesus. When you and I pursue Him, praying, reading the Bible, and walking in obedience, we are in the right frame of mind for gaining contentment.
Is that enough?
No. That is not enough. Paul spends several verses pointing out the folly and destruction that comes from chasing after what will not matter in a thousand years, and the lure it can have on a person to do just that. Then he impresses on this young minister the need to escape.
Run away, urges Paul, a man of learned experience and considerable wisdom.
Paul points out the human condition to want more, pursue more, and if that doesn’t work, acquire more unethically until the grave. Nothing has changed for over two-thousand years. We remain a people who relentlessly chase after more.
Have you ever finished scrolling on social media with the satisfying sense that you are enough? Ever rest in thoughts that you have enough? Is your reflection conducted without murmuring? What about your closet? Do you have all you need without want? And your car? Your house? Even today, the world in which you and I live beckons us to long for more, to seek it, just like in the days of Paul.
But like Paul, you and I can experience the kind of marriage of godliness with contentment he shares with Timothy. This one, Paul has lived. In the middle of a prison sentence, he professes:
…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. Philippians 4:11 NIV
How does a person become content with what God has given, regardless of circumstance?
The roadmap to true contentment lies in these instructions to Timothy.
- Recognize your own human frailty in the desire for and pursuit of more (vs. 9-10).
- Run away from it (vs. 11).
- Run toward righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness (vs. 11).
- Fight for your faith (vs 12).
This list deserves more time, but for now, allow me to encourage you to keep this list handy on your phone for life. But the best place to begin our quest for contentment – believing God is able to give us all that we need (regardless of our circumstances), and place our absolute security in Him, (without murmuring or complaining) is to ask for it.
A Prayer for Contentment
You know our desires. You are familiar with even our unspoken longings. Only You hear our silent responses to all we see around us that drives us to discontentment. May You give the grace needed to live today and always satisfied with what you give.
Give my friend the insights needed for recognizing where she is weak. Unreservedly, offer her Your strength to run from it, to turn off the phone, to drive past or scroll past the stores, and reject the temptation to deliberate thoughts about what she does not have. Oh God, will you show her Your goodness to her, and open a clear path forward in what to seek? Give her nothing less than that blessed mix of godliness and contentment of which Paul writes.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.
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