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The highlights of the daily and weekly radio program, "From This Day Forward," are a joint production of EMERGE Ministries, Akron, Ohio, and the Media Ministries of the Assemblies of God, Springfield, Mo.

Learning To Be Content

By Dr. Richard Dobbins
Guest Columnist -- Contentment is not a gift to be received but rather a lesson to be learned. Paul makes this clear in Philippians 4:11 where he says, "In whatsoever state I am in I have learned to be content." Notice, he did not say, "In whatsoever state I am in, God gives me contentment."

Contentment is a spiritual discipline to be learned. It is a product of resolving the struggles between what we want to have and what we know God wants for us.


In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly tells us that our lives do not consist of the abundance of things we possess (see Matthew 6:25-34). He is telling us that temporal things are transient and temporary. Paul reminds Timothy, for example, that we brought nothing into the world and we will take nothing out of the world (see 1 Timothy 6:6-8).

Whatever we have accumulated between our birth and our death stays here. We leave our riches here; but we take our relationships with us. Our relationships are eternal.

The accumulation of material things can consume valuable time and energy and leave one with no eternal residual of life on earth. However, when you invest in your relationships-with God, with your spouse (if married), your children, your parents, and with the family of God--these relationships become eternal treasures that follow us into eternity.

The difficulty comes in focusing on the eternal more than on the temporal. As humans we are sensual beings, and the enemy knows how to make this world exciting and appealing to the senses.

The enemy can make it convenient for us to acquire the things that excite the senses. This is why John warns us that we must beware of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life (see 1 John 2:15-17). These are the things that will distract us from our relationship with God, keep us from investing in our family relationships, and inevitably make fools of us.

Distinguishing between the temporal and the eternal is the first lesson one who desires contentment must learn.


Satan knows how to appeal to our ambitions. He knows how to fire our drives, and he feeds our desires to compete while he plays on insecurities. We begin to think that if we had more of something we like or were in a different position, then we would be more secure. We would have more respect if we got what we wanted, we tell ourselves.

Whether or not ambition is godly will depend on motivation.

Certainly it is godly to want to be your best for the Lord and His kingdom. However, if competition is driving your ambition, it is likely to be prideful. If you go back to the Bible's account of the prideful ambition that motivated Lucifer to try to displace God (see Isaiah 14:12-14), you will understand how that kind of prideful ambition is not good.

Paul talks about being caught in the competitive trap of measuring ourselves by what others have and do, and tells us that this is unwise (see 2 Corinthians 10:12).

Be aware of what is driving your ambition. Prideful ambition can cost you your contentment.


For some people, enough is never enough. When John D. Rockefeller, Sr., one of the wealthiest men of his day, was asked how much money it would take to satisfy a rich man, he said, "Just a little bit more."

Today, people want more and want it now. For example, young people want to begin life with a standard of living that took their parents sometimes as much as 30 years of working and saving to acquire.

The Bible says we should be content with the necessities of life. Of course, some people may argue what that level of necessity is. For some people, necessity means two cars with a three-car garage and an acre lot, and so on. Others may see it in various other materialistic ways.

These days keeping up with a high standard of living is extremely difficult, yet very few people seem to be willing to lower standards of living in order to raise the level of contentment.

Therefore, delayed gratification is a discipline that is rapidly disappearing from our society. In its wake, a wave of discontentment is washing over America. If you do not learn the discipline of delayed gratification, then you can kiss contentment good-bye.


When you find a contented person, you are going to find someone who is grateful and thankful. Today, so many people feel cheated. Many people are ungrateful for what they have and envy what others have. Some see life as being unfair, and discontentment is the price to pay for this attitude. They do not see things the way a content person does.

When you find a contented person, you are going to find someone who thinks of life in terms of what they have and who they are.

Contentment is one of the benefits that come to a person who is thankful. When you are discontented, you are ungrateful for what you have and you are not content being who you are. You are a very unhappy person, and are constantly looking for someone who can make you content.

If you want to avoid the kind of agitation in your spirit that creates discontent, then develop a thankful attitude for life.

The thankful person appreciates the things that come to him or her in life. The grateful person sees whatever comes to him or her as not because it is deserved, but rather because of the goodness of God.

Truly thankful people appreciate all that they receive. Paul says, "In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." (1 Thessalonians 5:18).


This statement has helped many people put frustration aside and become more content: Much of our frustration in life comes from attempting to control what we cannot control and neglecting to control what we can.

What this means is that you are not going to be content if you feel powerless or helpless. And you are going to feel powerless, helpless, and out of control if you are not content to recognize the limits of your power.

Much of our frustration in life comes from believing that we have the power to control things we actually cannot control. Many times, life's circumstances overwhelm and defy our efforts to control them.

Here are five steps you and I need to take if we are going to learn how to be content:

1. We must learn to distinguish the temporal from the eternal.
2. We must discipline our ambitions.
3. We must learn to defer our appetites.
4. We must develop a grateful and thankful attitude toward life.
5. We must discern the limits of our power.

If frustration, agitation, and irritation have stolen your contentment, the God of peace wants to come to you today through His Son, Jesus Christ. If He could calm the storms on the Sea of Galilee, then He can bring peace to your troubled heart. Commit to Him the parts of your life that are beyond your control.

Cast your care upon the Lord because He cares for you. Confess your sins to Him and seek His forgiveness. Bring Him into the troubled waters of your life and He in turn will bring you into a place of true contentment.

Dr. Richard D. Dobbins is the leader of EMERGE Ministries of Akron, Ohio. He serves on the faculty of Ashland Theological Seminary and initiated the coordination of their master’s program in Pastoral Counseling. An acclaimed author, Dr. Dobbins has created numerous film/video presentations on topics of interest to believers and has written many books, booklets, articles and audiotapes on Christian mental health care.

Copyright 2002 Media Ministries of the Assemblies of God. The highlights of the daily and weekly radio program, "From This Day Forward," are a joint production of EMERGE Ministries, Akron, Ohio, and the Media Ministries of the Assemblies of God, Springfield, Mo.

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