When Jeremiah Burroughs described Christian contentment as a rare jewel he was not saying that Christian contentment is rare as if it is a gift which God gives sparingly, rather he was reflecting the truth that it is found only by some believers because it is something to be learned, “for i have learned in whatever situation I am to be content”(Phil 4:11). Paul expresses his gratefulness for how he has been supported in work that God has called him to do, but this doesn’t remove the need for him to be content in every circumstance. Learning contentment can be understood in two ways, the first is that we can learn that we are to be content in every situation, the second, is learning to be content within every situation. The first is a knowledge of what we need to be, the second is us learning how to be it.
Definition and application
Jeremiah Burroughs defines Christian contentment as the following “Christian contentment is the sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and Fatherly disposal in every condition.” As we consider the importance of Christian contentment it would be worth beginning with what it means to apply the Word of God to our lives. When we apply the Word of God we are trying to keep our thinking and behaviour in line with Scripture. The application of God’s Word is not a formula that we can use to make our lives change quickly in the way that we want them to. However, like Paul we are to learn and therefore learning contentment is not as simple as applying a verse of Scripture to every situation. It is however how we arrive at conclusions regarding how to think about a circumstance and how to live whilst in it.
The application of Christian contentment will keep in mind “that we look at things in pieces” said Burroughs “we do not consider the relation that one thing has to another, but God looks at all things at once, and sees the relation of one thing to another”. Christian contentment is the assurance that the Father is in control and will look after those who are His. In good Puritan fashion, I will address the words of Paul and what it means to learn contentment under several following points.
Dealing with our heart
In Psalm 37 we read that those who belong to God must be patient and this means that when God’s people are specifically taught not to do something they mustn’t go ahead and do it anyway. This isn’t because we haven’t understood what the future entails (It might) but rather our hearts have got the better of us, trying to convince us that something must be done and it is within our hands to do something about it. This is very different from how we are instructed in Psalm 62:8 for example “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” Christian contentment is not just learning how to deal with life’s circumstances but also the desires, motivations and fears within our hearts.
Our hearts so often want to react to the little pieces of information we see and experience, without considering that the parts that we experience are part of the whole within the will of God. Therefore, if we are going to learn what it means to be content as a follower of Christ, then we must also remember that God uses our lives for the furtherance of his own will. When our hearts come to terms with God and his influence over our lives we will begin to learn what Christian contentment is and that we also live under the protection of God.
When you want a different life
A change in circumstances can certainly make us desire a different life and this is why coming under the Word of God on a daily basis, without selectively choosing what you will hear, but rather to be addressed by all of God’s Word without skipping any parts is all-important. This is why we briefly addressed the importance of application since our lives can change in a moment, we get married, have a child, start a new job, lose a job, or worse lose a wife or husband, our lives are always changing because our lives consist of more than just who we are independent from anyone or anything else. We can then seek a different life than the one that we have because of the changes which have occurred and there is nothing wrong with that. The issue here is learning to be content whatever the situation, not content in the sense where it will cause you to sit back and say “whatever will be will be”, but rather content like Paul addresses in Philippians chapter 4.
When Paul describes how he learnt to be content, he explains that he knows what it is to be brought low, what it is to abound, in any and every circumstance. He learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need and that He can do all things through Christ who strengthens him (Phil 4:12-13). Christian contentment is connected to serving the purposes of Christ and if this is the case (which it is) then we cannot arrive at contentment if we are pursuing our own. We can also conclude from this that Christian contentment is also arrived at through fixing our minds on things above, where we can come to understand the purposes of God and though we cannot see how all the parts fit together we can be assured they do and the one who controls all things is also the one who looks after us.
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me
When Paul spoke these words and used the phrase “all things” we know that he cannot mean “all things” without exception since there are many things which Christians are not to do. Therefore, those things which Christ will strengthen him in must be all those things which pertain to the purposes of God. In other words, God will not bless whatever a person does but will strengthen such a person in his commitment to serve God. Nevertheless the “all things” must include how God’s care is known and experienced by us. God can and will strengthen his people throughout the various stages of life that they will go through but these are never outside of what God is doing all together.
God strengthens our minds through his Word and this is necessary if we are going to learn the need to be content in every situation and being content in every situation. Having considered what it means to learn contentment, we can perhaps understand all the more why Jeremiah Burroughs called it a rare jewel. We can also understand like Paul that Christian contentment promotes in us the desire to serve God whatever the circumstance. Christian contentment, when considered throughout Scripture, means that a believer can be at rest in an unrestful world, remain steady in a time of turbulence, at peace when all else around us is failing.
The first and final application
The first and final application is for us to see how close our heart and mind is to the things of God. Do we understand those basic and all-important truths by which contentment can be found, that God is the creator of everything we see around us and who controls every event which happens to us. This we understand by faith, in other words, we can see this when we hear and read the Word of God and its when we perceive the world through the eyes of faith and the understanding of God’s Word that contentment comes to us from Him.