By Tim Macready
In Philippians 4:11b-13 we find one of the greatest pieces of financial wisdom. Paul writes, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Contentment helps us greatly as we seek to be faithful stewards. It protects us from poor financial decisions like overspending or unnecessary debt, and positions us to give, save, and live faithfully.
But the secret of contentment is also hard. By the time Paul writes Philippians, 25-30 years have passed since his conversion. For Paul, growth in contentment took time and perseverance. Same for us. It takes discipline to find contentment in our thoughts and actions.
Contentment in Our Thoughts
To learn the secret of contentment I suggest we refocus our thoughts in at least three areas.
1. To what we have instead of what we don’t have — The world teaches us to think about what we want. It bombards us with advertising specifically designed to make us want things we don’t have. But the contentment that Paul talks about is not dependent at all on external circumstances — it reflects trust in God’s provision — whether great or small. God’s Word teaches us to reflect with thankfulness on what we have been given, rather than fearing for the future or desiring what we don’t have. To the question “how much is enough” the rich man says “just a little bit more,” but the content person says, with Paul in 1 Timothy 6:8, “if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”
2. To the least rather than the greatest — Living in Australia, it is easy to compare ourselves to those around us, particularly those who have more than us. The world tells to look ahead and upwards — aspiring to the next salary increase, the next promotion, the next opportunity to climb the material ladder. But the Bible reminds us that we should focus on the least rather than the greatest. When we do, we realise that in a global sense, we are abundantly wealthy. There will always be those who have been blessed with more than us. But there are billions who have less. While we are free to make decisions about which of our wants we will satisfy, many are left unable to satisfy their most basic needs of water, food, safety, clothing, and shelter.
3. To eternity rather than the present — The world teaches us to focus on our present desires, and tells us to seek pleasure now rather than delaying it. But the Scriptures teach us to live for eternity. Paul tells us to set our minds on things above, where Christ is — and to reflect on the boundless riches of Christ (see Ephesians 3:8), and the glorious inheritance that is to come (see Ephesians 1:18). Jesus encourages us to store up earthly treasures in the place of eternal abundance and blessing (see Matthew 6:20).
Contentment in Our Actions
After we refocus our thoughts, we need to make sure our actions stay in step as well, in order to train our hearts toward the things of God rather than the world. Consider three things we can do.
1. Practise Fasting — When we fast from food, we remind ourselves that God is our Provider. When we fast from technology, we remind ourselves that we don’t need constant entertainment. We also see fewer ads! When we fast from other luxuries, we remind ourselves that we can be content with what we have, rather than needing more.
2. Practise Generosity — When we act generously (whether through giving hospitality, time, or money), we remind ourselves that we prioritise people over possessions and eternal riches over earthly wealth. We train our hearts to find joy in the things that gladden God’s heart, not the things of the world.
3. Practise Prayer — Finally, as we seek to develop in ourselves a character of contentment, prayer reminds us that we cannot change ourselves, but that we are dependent on God’s Spirit working in us to make us more like Jesus.
I pray these thoughts and actions are helpful for you. To close, consider this prayer from Adam Hamilton as you foster contentment in your life.
“Lord, help me to be grateful for what I have, to remember that I don’t need most of what I want, and that joy is found in simplicity and generosity.”
This article was first published by ChristianSuper.