My dad loves putting jigsaw puzzles together. I don’t. And I especially dislike doing them when you get to the end and find that a piece is missing. A missing jigsaw puzzle pictures the elusive something that leaders sometimes feel that we believe if we had ‘it’ we could truly be content. For a pastor it might be a larger church. For an entrepreneur it might be that winning business idea. For the CEO or president of a company it might be reaching that next sale’s milestone. It’s different for us all. Unfortunately, we often think if we attain ‘it,’ all will be well. That’s simply not true. One of the world’s greatest leaders, the Apostle Paul, gives us us keen insight on this perplexing issue of contentment.
While awaiting trial in a prison in Rome, Paul wrote a letter to the church in the city of Phillipi. Although life was not going well, he wrote these amazing words.
10 I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 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. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Phil 4.10-13, NIV)
From this short passage, three insights about contentment stand out.
Insight 1. This side of heaven, perfect contentment will always elude us.
The apostle Paul had given up a cushy life as a rising Jewish leader after his dramatic conversion. After his conversion, life didn’t go well much of the time. Likewise, when we trust Christ, He does not promise us an eternal spring. Paul even points to a nagging sense of “something-just-isn’t-quite-right” in 2 Corinthians 5.1-3
1 For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down—when we die and leave these bodies—we will have a home in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. 2 We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long for the day when we will put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. 3 For we will not be spirits without bodies, but we will put on new heavenly bodies. 4 Our dying bodies make us groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and have no bodies at all. We want to slip into our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by everlasting life. (NLT)
Because earth this is not a believer’s real home, we will groan and sigh and long for a better place. Because heaven is our home, we will never find perfect contentment here. This world cannot meet our deepest needs and longings. More money will not meet our deepest needs. Bigger and better stuff will not take all our heart longings and aches away. A a bigger church or a banner sales year won’t cut it either. This side of heaven, we will always deal with a linger sense of discontentment.
As Martin Luther said,
“Next to faith, this is the highest art: to be content in the calling in which God has placed you. I have not learned it yet.” (“Martin Luther–The Early Years,” Christian History, no. 34.
Contentment often means we must deal with the tension of feeling content in our circumstances yet not feeling content because we long for something better. God designed us that way.
Insight 2. In the meantime, don’t waste your discontentment
In verse 11 Paul writes that he had to learn to be content. His learning suggests three implications.
1. The measure of contentment we can experience is a choice we make.
2. Contentment doesn’t come instinctively. We don’t mysteriously drift into it.
3. Developing contentment is not a passive experience. To learn implies we must engage and direct our minds toward something.
I believe we learn to be content when circumstances bring our discontentment to the surface and then as we yield that discontentment to God, He brings us to a new state of contentment, until the next new challenge surfaces discontentment. Then we repeat the process of learning once again.
We don’t learn contentment from a book or a blog. We learn it through life’s experiences.
Even when Paul was in prison, he was learning contentment. In the short book of Philippeans he even used the word ‘joy’ 16 times.
Insight 3. Tend to your soul.
He mentions learn again in verse 12 but it’s a different word. The Greeks used this word to describe being instructed or initiated into a secret society. Through his learning he had been initiated into this secret of contentment. In this case the initiation rites were the lessons taught by both trial and prosperity. Through that process, he discovered by experience the secret of being content. He then writes in verse 12, I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Verse 12 doesn’t mean, for example, that I as a pastor of a church of 700 will see my church grow to 7,000 next year because “I can do everything.” Rather, He promises us that true contentment in any circumstance only comes through Himself. And as we tend to matters of our heart, our relationship with Him, He can bring a measure of contentment to us in the middle of difficult or disappointing circumstances.
Jesus doesn’t promise never ending ministry success, every year a banner year, or freedom from difficulty. Neither does he promise cheery emotions every day. Rather He will give us what we need to face any circumstance that could keep us discontented.
So, as leaders lead, we must live in a world of discontentment and at the same time ever growing contentment.
What has helped you learn to be more contented as a leader?