Is it tough to imagine that people with abundance struggle with contentment? Shouldn't the wealthy and most successful people be the happiest? The opposite seems true as Americans are becoming less happy rather than more. If you're reading this blog post, you may even be one of them. I'm one of them. The shock value really sets in when you consider that, according to Global Rich List, a net income of $2,700 per month places us among the top 1% of the richest people in the world.
Why does it still feel like we don't have enough? Why doesn't prosperity automatically equal contentment? Why doesn't success render us the most joyful people in the world?
The Answer is a Secret
The answer lies in Philippians 4:12-13:
“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Tucked neatly in Paul's encouragement and thanksgiving for the Philippian church and their generosity is the mention that his circumstances have taught him a vital lesson—contentment. What seems so elusive to us here in the West was attained by Paul. We too can learn this "secret" which impacted him.
In what circumstances did Paul learn contentment? We often forget that Paul learned contentment both in times of frustration and in times of favor. When Paul was brought low, was hungry, and was in need, he learned to be content. In times of abounding, having plenty, and experiencing abundance, Paul also learned contentment. It was "in any and every circumstance" that Paul learned the "secret" of contentment. For a culture stricken with affluenza—extreme discontentment, malaise, and distress due to the pursuit of success and wealth—the gospel is the only cure.
The Symptoms of Affluent Discontentment
Before we get to the cure, it's necessary to point to some of the symptoms of discontentment that plague the successful or affluent:
- excessive spending
- continual dissatisfaction with work
- grumbling and complaining
- apathy and malaise regarding life in general
- envy of others' possessions
For those who require a more spiritual list, we see:
- being hyper-critical of your local church
- dressing up complaints with spiritual jargon
- irritability when things don't look as they should
- lack of joy
- inability to rest
If the Holy Spirit taught Paul contentment in any and every circumstance, He can do the same in us. When I'm tempted to despair of the discontentment in my heart, I remember that the source of Paul's contentment was Christ. He learned contentment by forsaking his strength and entrusting all things to Christ who gives him strength (Philippians 4:13). Rather than developing stoicism or willpower, Paul leaned on Jesus in his weakness. By grace, we can do this too!
The Cure for Affluent Discontentment
How do we cultivate Christ-centered contentment when things are going well?
Remember how you got here. When we are abounding, reliance on God can fade into the background. We get used to the daily bread, good grades, promotions, positive behavior of our children, or successful daily devotions. When comfort becomes the norm, we can subtly slip into thinking that it was by our intellect, athletic prowess, personal charm, or work ethic that we have found success. This is all futile. The God who created the world gave us this success, and He deserves the credit for even the smallest morsel.
Rely on Christ daily for strength. One of the greatest daily habits we can build is asking God for help with what we think we can do on our own. Jesus meant it when He said, "apart from me you can do nothing". We are in grave danger of dethroning God in our hearts and placing ourselves or others in His place—especially in seasons of affluence and success.
Rest in Christ's finished work. Too often our cravings for success stem from a heart that desires approval before God and men. Since hard work often leads to success and approval, and success and approval lead us to work harder, we endlessly work harder to achieve more success and approval. The cycle either continues or we burn out. Rather than living in this hamster wheel, we need to search our hearts and ask whether we truly believe Christ did enough. We need to ask ourselves the hard questions: Did Christ truly earn God's approval for us? Or do we need to add our work to His work?
Rehearse the gospel daily. In light of resting in Christ, we need to meditate daily on the gospel. We need to remind ourselves that apart from God's grace we are sinful enemies of God. It is only by His grace that we have been freed from sin and given the spiritual gifts we desire to steward well. When we succeed with those gifts, we need to be reminded that it's through God's grace we are able to do anything.
Reflect the glory of God in your words and actions. If the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, our success should always aim to give Him glory. When we are thriving, we have the opportunity to point to Christ. The accolades and rewards that were once mountains to conquer become platforms that we can use to reflect glory back to God.
No Direct Flights
When I travel, I love direct flights with no layovers. Sometimes this either isn't possible or simply isn't cost effective. When considering contentment, I can see that there is no direct flight between success and contentment. Honestly, the seasons that I find success are often the seasons that I am the most discontent. In those moments, I need God to say, "take care lest you forget the LORD your God" (Deuteronomy 8:11).
Through meditating on scripture and seeing the example of successful godly people, I've realized that most content people are those who know Christ—not themselves—as the source of every success.
A version of this article originally appeared at For The Church.