Because contentment works from the inside out, it is shielded from the ever-changing circumstances outside us. Remember, Paul himself said that his contentment was seen “in any and every circumstance” (Phil. 4:12). Do you find yourself content when things are going well but struggling when the winds are contrary?
What are the characteristics of a contented heart? Contentment is often tough to pin down. In this post, I want to take an excerpt from my book Chasing Contentment to try to answer this common question by interacting with a trusted guide from the past.
Through the gospel, God lovingly accomplishes and applies redemption for people who have sought happiness in something other than him. Humanity has all turned aside and served the creation rather than the Creator. Instead of leaving us hungry and hurting in our rebellion, God acts. He pursues us. He comes after us. And to what end? It is so that through this gracious rescue we might find ourselves agreeing with him about his all-surpassing supremacy and sufficiency. Through the gospel, God makes himself our treasure. In other words, God makes us content in him.
We know that this contentment is not simply idealistic but rather characteristic of the Christian life. As believers, we continue to learn contentment by learning to trust and treasure God in every situation. God has provided us with the Bible and the church to be the means by which we work this out in our lives.
In his book The Art of Divine Contentment, Thomas Watson described five characteristics of a contented heart. With our course marked out for learning contentment, let’s think about how we might evaluate where we are in our own personal progress.
A Contented Spirit Is a Silent Spirit
The one who is content is not complaining against God; he does not grumble and murmur. Watson observes:
When Samuel tells Eli that heavy message from God, that he would “judge his house, and that the iniquity of his family should not be purged away with sacrifice forever,” (1 Sam. 3:13-14) doth Eli murmur or dispute? No, he hath not one word to say against God: “it is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good.” On the other hand, Pharaoh, one who did not know God and therefore was discontent said, “who is the Lord? why should I suffer all this? why should I be brought into this low condition? who is the Lord?”
Remember well the distinction between complaining to God and complaining about God. When we complain to God, we are bringing our problems and vices and crying out to God for wisdom, grace, and help. When we are complaining about God, we are attacking his character. This is ungodliness at its core. When Aaron’s sons were judged and killed, he “held his peace” (Lev.10:3). He was silent. However, when Jonah was grumbling before God, God asked him, “Do you do well to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4). The difference is clear. Silence is a reflection of peaceful trust– even amid circumstances that are difficult to understand. Anger, grumbling, and complaining represent inner turmoil and a lack of trust in God.
How would others describe you? Are you apt to speak out and give vent to your frustrations with others and God? Or are you inclined to hold your peace and see the Lord in the situation?
A Contented Spirit Is a Cheerful Spirit
Contentment is more than patience (though it is not less). It involves a cheerfulness of the soul. Watson says, “A contented Christian is more than passive; he doth not only bear the cross, but take up the cross.” This is why Paul can be sorrowful yet always rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10). He can be content in his sufferings even when they are so difficult (2 Cor. 12:10). He doesn’t just say, “The will of the Lord be done”; he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4).