To our western, American mindset, contentment is not a trait that is often pursued. Contentment is usually referred to as the unwanted, but helpful byproduct of disappointment. I can’t count the number of times I have heard, and probably even said myself, “You know it is disappointing but I’m really content.” It’s as if contentment was the final stop on a downward slope where we’ve given up and have now settled with just being content. It other words, we tend to think of people who are either ambitious go getters, or people who are resigned to the ho-hum status quo and have settled to just be content. It’s at this point that a definition is in order and I can think of few who have defined contentment as well as Jeremiah Burroughs. “Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”
During the Q&A portion of my seminar I was asked whether it’s possible for a person to be too content in the Christian life. That’s an interesting question that I hadn’t thought about in quite that fashion. My answer to the questioner, which is largely unchanged, is that if we properly think of contentment as Burroughs defines it (which I would argue is biblical) then the answer is no. If contentment, by definition, is a heart filled with trust and peace in every condition of life because it comes from God’s wise and fatherly disposal, then how can we ever have too much of that attitude? However, I believe what’s underlying the question is a misunderstanding of contentment. I think the questioner, and many others, often think of contentment as being a Christianized form of laziness or resignation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even a cursory glance at the book of Acts and the Pauline epistles show us that the apostle Paul was anything but lazy or resigned to status quo. Paul was often on the move, planting churches, endeavoring to enter new mission fields, and boldly declaring the Gospel at any opportunity. Two well known verses that poured from his pen urge believers to do all things to the glory of God working whole heartily (1 Cor 10:31, Col 3:23). Those commands hardly pave the road for laziness or resignation.
In fact, it’s in light of the fallen world in which we live, in light of the challenges that we face, that contentment comes into play at all. Here Burroughs is helpful again. He writes, there is “some mystery and art, as that a man should be content with his affliction, and yet thoroughly sensible of an affliction, and to endeavor to remove it by all lawful means, and yet to be content: there is a mystery in that.” Burroughs is not afraid to call an affliction or hardship what it is – it’s hard and brutal. Further, contentment doesn’t mean that we give up in defeat – we endeavor to remove it by all lawful means. Yet in the middle of that battle, we live with contentment because we trust that all things come from God’s wise and fatherly disposal. That is a mystery indeed! It’s in that place that we find contentment’s truest expression, a heart at rest, a spirit of peace, even while working wholeheartedly to God’s glory.