Friday, May 22, 2009


Many years ago, just after I graduated from college, my parents gave me one of those inspirational pictures for Christmas that I hung on one of my office walls. I still have it today. The peaceful image is of a golden sunset, silhouetted by a man in a kayak, rowing across a calm glassy lake. The picture is titled “Contentment”, and the caption reads, “When you can look at the past with pride and the future with hope, you can live comfortably with today”. Yeah, right! Easier said than done!

What is contentment? More importantly, why is contentment so hard for us to grasp in our culture today? Here’s what the apostle Paul said about it. In Philippians 4:11-13, he says, “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 everything through him who gives me strength.” As I read through this verse, I see that Paul understood that we have no real control over the past or the future. The only period of time that we can physically live within, exist within, is the present. And our present situations of life can only be filled with peace through a complete surrender to God.

Basically, for Paul, it came down to a very simple concept: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” He reaffirms this in his first letter to Timothy. In 1 Timothy 6:6-8, Paul again links the secret of contentment to God. “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” He then goes on to show us that our physical possessions have nothing to do with contentment. “For we brought nothing into the world, and we take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” Now, how many of us are content with those basic necessities of life?

Dale Carnagie once said that we should live life in “Day Tight Compartments”. He compares the past and present to the “air tight” doors of a ship that keep water from spreading in case of a sudden breach in the hull. He urges us to live each day in such a way that both the doors to the past and future remain shut and “day tight”. I believe that this is the essence of what the Paul was trying to get across in these verses. Paul had once lived life only for himself and knew of the dangers of being controlled by possessions. He had experienced life with much, and experienced life with nothing, and I believe that he is urging us to find a healthy medium between the two. Even if we are blessed with much, we can always want more, or convince ourselves that we need more. True contentment comes when we learn to accept the blessings that God has given us from one day to the next.

Paul says in Philippians 3:13-14 that he is, “forgetting what lies behind”. This is hard for me to grasp because I am a rather nostalgic person by nature. One of the last things I tend to do is “forget what lies behind.” I love reveling in a memory to the point that I’m transformed back in time. I can hear the sounds and voices. See the faces. So, what is Paul he getting at?

Can't our past bring forth good memories and enhance our contentment for today? Or can positive memories from our past cause us problems or conflict, because they create a false expectation of what things “should” be like? Do we put too much emphasis on what has been, and not allow God to have control of our here and now and transform us in the present? Do we not only put the bad behind us, but to some extent, the good as well?

Now this doesn’t mean that we don’t hold great memories of the past, pictures, video, etc… But as we live in the present and create the ever changing reality that soon becomes our past, we don’t try and recreate the past by what used to be, or who you used to be. God longs to transform is in the here and now. God cannot, and does not transform our yesterday. While He is in control of our tomorrow, the last thing He wants us to do is absorb ourselves in worry of tomorrow. True contentment comes when we learn to live within the reality of today and embrace the fact that this is the only reality over which we have control.


Jim Palmer said...

I think you nailed the key question here - what is the true source of contentment? can that source be threatened by life's circumstances...or anything for that matter? if not, contentment is available unconditionally in every moment. and so i guess the question becomes, what hinders us from choosing contentment when we are free to do so.

MS Quixote said...

Well said. Looking at the past with pride...that's a tough one. Perhaps the trick is to start now creating a past that we can be proud of, as you say, through complete surrender. Another tough one...