The Key to Contentment

“I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” (Philippians 4:11).

We tend to chase that golden pot at the end of the rainbow, that something in the future that will bring us contentment. Hopefully, some new experience, some new success, some new degree of cooperation or obedience from the people around us, or meeting someone new will make us happy.

I’ve listened to many people describe their hopes with excitement in their voices; their eyes sparkle, and happy smiles light up their faces. Generally, such optimism consumes us when there are prospects for something new in the future.

I’ve listened to the same people who have been in pursuit of something new for a while–perhaps years. Their hopes have turned to ashes. As they recount what happened, their eyes are slits, the corners of their mouths are turned down. Their voices tremble.

We all know people–perhaps our own children, parents, or close friends–who have spent many years in pursuit of education, wealth, power, social life or religious life. Their goal was a fulfilled, contented, productive life. But they ended up depressed, sour, bitter, frustrated and empty, with broken friendships and marriages. They didn’t learn “to be content in whatever circumstances” they were.

Jim and Betty illustrate the futility of seeking contentment through financial success and accomplishments.

Jim is a big, strong, brilliant, talented man. His wife is an energetic, personable, competent lady.

Jim moved from extreme poverty as a child to reach a boyhood dream of owning his own business and becoming financially independent. He was a dreamer, an innovator, a pioneer. For fourteen years Jim poured his entire life into the challenge of developing a motor-driven recreational vehicle. A company agreed to produce it, and quickly this motor-home company was out producing and outselling all the competitors in the U.S.

Jim’s dream came true. He had developed an industry-changing concept––a success story. And…at the center of the dream was financial success.

But Jim and Betty were not people with only a dollar in mind. One employee needed an operation and they paid the bill. They helped several employees with down payments on their homes. Another employee was confined to a wheelchair, but Jim hired him to wait on customers. Jim even arranged to have a special room built onto this man’s house, designed to make life as comfortable as possible for him.

So, Jim was a nice guy, wasn’t he? He was pleased because his idea made a contribution to making life more pleasant for American families. He ultimately walked away from the effort with several million dollars. He’d done it. Now he could take it easy the rest of his life. It was just a matter of picking the place to retire.

Jim and Betty’s search ended when they chose a plush condominium on one of Florida’s choicest oceanfront sites. “All my life I figured contentment would come when I reached this level in life,” he said. “Now I could almost taste it.”

Jim and his family arrived in Florida–ready to enjoy life fully. They accumulated the obligatory BMW, a fishing boat, a twin-engine plane.

So, Jim started into the good life. He’d made it. And big. Or had he?

“No. I hadn’t. I had expected contentment to come with a better job…more money…the ultimate life. But after a few months of nonstop golf, tennis, and walking the beach, I found it wasn’t true. I was completely empty.”

Even though Jim was an American success story and Mr. Nice Guy when it came to consideration for his fellow man…still, he was empty.

Betty was by his side all the way. She, too, had the rug pulled out from under her. Many of her hopes for her family turned to ashes. There were strained relations between her and Jim.

What, or where, is the key to contentment? For Betty and Jim, hard work, success, and wealth had led to an empty pot at the end of the rainbow.

There is a happy ending. They came to realize that, in reality, the qualities of hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, and dissension described in Galatians 5:20 were robbing them of the good life they had worked so hard to find.

Confession, repentance, receiving forgiveness and cleansing, and allowing God to strengthen them day by day was the solution to their emptiness.

The change in their lives has been incredible. The husband-wife tension has slipped away. Family problems continue but no longer tear up their world. They don’t have to travel around the world to find contentment. They have discovered the basic truth that contentment isn’t dependent on people or circumstances. It comes from a person’s relationship with God.

If they continue to turn Godward for the qualities that only God can give–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)–they will become two indestructibles.