For those with ears to hear, Paul offers a different vision of contentment: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11–13). Let’s consider these words together for a moment.
Are you a contented soul? If we are honest, most of us would have to admit that we are not. Few find the contentment for which we all long. The reasons for this are legion. First, we tend to wed contentment with the externals of life. You know the kind of thing: all the stars align, you are on vacation up in the mountains (or at the beach), a cool breeze blows through the screened-in porch, the children are playing happily outside, no bugs are biting, no deadlines threaten, every bill is paid, and the investment accounts are all on the up. You sit back in your chair and think, “This is the life!” There is no battle for this kind of contentment. It just happens when la dolce vita happens.
This brings us to our second reason why we do not find ourselves contented: in a fallen world, la dolce vita rarely happens. It might happen for others, but not for us. Some fly always seems to be buzzing around our ointment. Some cloud always seems to shadow our sun. Some child always seems to be crying in our family. Some disaster always seems to loom on our horizon. We live in the gap between the way things are and the way things “ought” to be—and this is a hard spot to rest content.
Third, it is not just our environment that is fallen; we are too. Pride, self-pity, and self-righteousness leave us grumbling malcontents. We honestly believe that we deserve bigger, better, and brighter than anything God has yet to give us. Even Christians who know better still find themselves wanting better. The covetous heart is insatiable. Even if we could have everything, we would still cry, “Just a little bit more!” And when we can’t have more, we want different. Isn’t it funny how even the greenest grass in all the world—even when it’s your grass—doesn’t look quite as green as the grass next door?
The popular idols of our age provide life-size pictures of this principle. They have all the world’s ingredients of happiness: wealth, popularity, fame, pleasure, etc., and they still feel empty. Worse, their wealth doesn’t make them more content; it actually thrusts in the opposite direction. It seems things are only worth what they cost you.