Secrets of Being Content in Whatever State You Are

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By “being content in whatever state you are” I don’t mean “don’t grumble because you can’t spend the winter in Florida instead of Illinois.” (Though that may be part of it.) I mean emulating the attitude of the Apostle Paul when he wrote, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11, King James Bible).

Contentment is an almost-identical twin to the attitude extolled in another famous Pauline quote: “Always be joyful” (1 Thessalonians 5:16, New Living Translation). Both joy and contentment involve being happy just for the privilege of being alive and loved by God. But where joy energizes us for action, contentment relaxes us for rest. It’s probably no coincidence that Paul wrote “Always be joyful” from (it’s generally believed) Corinth when his missionary work was thriving, and “I have learned to be content” from Rome when he was living under house arrest.

And it’s probably not by accident that he said he had learned to be content. Another thing joy and contentment have in common is that they come naturally enough in “perfect” circumstances, but it takes some practice to keep them going when the good times cease to roll. If you can only be content when everything goes your way, you’ll have many more bad days than good ones. Worse, you’ll develop the habit of seeing even good days as bad if there’s the slightest room for improvement.

If you’d rather join Paul’s “content whatever the circumstances” club, the secrets of obtaining membership are:

Know God’s Promises

Many people become bitter at God because they were counting on Him to bring them the perfect spouse, get them a certain job, heal their sick friend–and He didn’t. The truth is, God never promised to keep our lives free of inconvenience or pain or even inexplicable tragedy. He promises to stay close to us, give us everything we need, and work everything out for ultimate good, but He doesn’t promise to do any of this according to our ideas of the best support, the real need, or the most effective good. When disappointed in what you thought God had promised, review His actual promises as written in Scripture, and ask Him what they should mean to you in your current situation. (Seeking advice from a discerning Christian friend may help.)

Accept God’s Sovereignty

By the time Paul was in Rome writing Philippians, his past several years had been one long interruption of plans. Originally, he had intended to make a short stop in Jerusalem and then go straight to Rome for another short stay. Then, a little problem of getting arrested in Jerusalem threw a long detour into those plans. When he wrote his letter, he still didn’t know when or if he would ever be free to continue his international mission trips. Nonetheless, he didn’t grumble that he had been counting on God to help his original plans run smoothly. He accepted everything that had happened as God’s will: more than that, he saw it as the fulfillment of God’s promise to stand by him and make his work effective. Do you believe wholeheartedly that God knows best and is in control of your situation?

Celebrate God’s Blessings

Paul could have found plenty of excuses to be bored or sullen or to complain that everything always went wrong for him. Instead, he thanked God for all he still had: wonderful friends, the privilege of seeing the gospel spread, the promise of Heaven. Whatever the challenges of his outward circumstances, he could face them with both contentment and joy because he had eternal treasures no one could take away.

Are you keeping your eyes on God and resting content in Him?

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Joy vs. Happiness

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Last week I talked about working and worshiping “with gladness“–learning to experience godly joy amid the grind of everyday living. However, if you’re in the middle of a tragic or disastrous situation, or if you suffer from medical depression, you may understandably wonder how the Biblical command to “rejoice” all the time could possibly apply to you. There are times when being blissfully and unreservedly happy is illogical, impossible, even unfeeling.

Spirit-inspired Christian joy is, however, a bit different from unmitigated pleasure. To rejoice in the Lord at all times means:

Your Joy Is Above Any and Every Circumstance

This is important to understand, because if joy is dependent on anything besides the assurance that God cares for you and has promised you eternal life, there will always be a chance something will happen to ruin your joy. If you trust God to keep your interests at heart and ultimately bring everything to the best possible resolution, even your deepest disappointments and grief will be mixed with hope. And where there is godly hope, there is joy.

Your Joy Is a Fruit of the Spirit

In other words, you don’t have to personally shoulder full responsibility for summoning up a positive attitude throughout everything life can throw at you. God the Holy Spirit will grow lasting joy in your soul; your part is simply to cooperate.

If your soul seems to be growing bitterness rather than joy, then it’s time to take a look at your own attitude. Are you insisting that any earthly circumstance must go according to your wishes? Do you hold grudges against God or anyone else when you’re disappointed? Do you ignore the good things in your life and dwell on the unwanted things? If so, you’re resisting the Spirit and smothering the growth of godly joy. The only cure is to surrender your circumstances and attitude to God, admitting that He, not you, has the right to decide how everything should go.

Your Joy Leaves Some Legitimate Room for Sadness

Not for bitterness and grumbling. Not for chronic anxiety. Not for guilt that won’t forgive yourself after God has forgiven you. But for sadness, yes. It’s all right to mourn a lost opportunity or cry over the death of a loved one (Jesus Himself did that, even in knowledge that the separation would be very brief). It’s all right to hurt when you’ve been the victim of unfairness. It’s all right to grieve the evil things that happen in this world. Because until God’s Kingdom comes, this imperfect, sinful world will always be a mixture of joy and pain.

Your Joy Goes Beyond Feelings

You don’t have to be upset with yourself for not living up to your ideal of the joyful Christian. And you certainly don’t have to be freed from all unhappiness-generating circumstances before you can become a joyful Christian. Your Christian joy is growing in the right direction if:

  • You remember that God is in full control of every detail.
  • You make a point of thanking God for the good things in your life.
  • You also make a point of thanking God for trusting you with the challenging opportunities in your life.
  • You share and empathize with others, especially fellow Christians.

In other words, joy is a decision and an act of faith as much as it is a feeling. Rather than letting your feelings drive your decisions, make a decision to rejoice in the Lord regardless of your circumstances or feelings. Then the Lord will take care of your circumstances and your feelings!

  • Sick of hearing complaints and negativity everywhere you turn? My free list of "100 Ways to Live as an Optimist in a Pessimistic World" provides 10 x 10 life hacks to counter such attitudes. Get your free copy by signing up here, and you'll also be registered to receive twice-weekly emails of Christian mental-health and encouragement topics.

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    I am the go-to writer for people with tough stress issues and special emotional needs—and for those who love them, organizations that serve them, and “ordinary” people who want to better understand mental/emotional problems or just pick up some stress-management tips for themselves. Visit my main website at www.HoustonFreelanceWriter.com.

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    Bible quotes used in this blog are from the New Living Translation or the New International Version (1984). See http://www.biblegateway.com/ for copyright details.
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