We’ve come a long way. We started by asking about the secret of contentment; and we’ve discovered that it isn’t a technique: it’s a Person. Jesus is the one unfailing source of satisfaction, security and significance. He is the only one who can make us content.
That’s all very well, but it’s pretty theoretical. How does it help me when I struggle with the temptation to be discontent? What practical steps can I take? I’m not sneaking techniques in the back door when I ask these questions. I’m asking how to put into practice the call to find contentment in Jesus alone.
Hold up your hand. Five fingers, right? Here are five steps we can take next time we notice ourselves becoming discontent, one for each finger to help us remember them easily:
Stop. Think. Turn from. Turn to. Turn out.
1. Stop. As soon as we notice signs of discontent in our lives, it’s time to stop and take stock. Here are some signs of discontent I notice in my own life:
- I compare myself with those around me. I envy what they have.
- I whinge and complain.
- I get irritated when things don’t go the way I want them to.
- I think about how my life might have turned out differently
- I feel sorry for myself.
I’m sure you’re familiar with many of these. You might like to come up with your own list.
2. Think. When we notice these signs, it’s time to ask ourselves some hard questions. For example:
- What triggered my discontent? What was I reading, looking at, or listening to?
- Who am I comparing myself with? What do they have that I want?
- What would make me feel happier with my life?
- What do I think I need to make me safe?
- What, if I had it, would make me feel better about myself?
Questions like these can help us to figure out the idols we look to for contentment.
3. Turn from. Usually, when we’re discontent, we try to fix it by doing something that makes us feel better. Or we ignore it and get on with our day. But God calls us to grieve for and turn from our idolatry. Here are two ways to do that:
- Turn from sin. You might like to read James 3:1-10 or Jeremiah 2:11-13 and consider the seriousness of seeking contentment in other things besides God, then say “sorry” to God and commit yourself to seek contentment in him alone.
- Turn from temptation. What are the places, people and situations that trigger your discontent? Jesus encourages us to avoid the things that lead to sin (Matt 5:29-30; 18:8-9). For example, you may find it helpful to keep away from romantic novels, social media, fashion magazines, or lifestyle shows.
4. Turn to. There’s not much point in emptying if we don’t fill. So let’s not only the things we look to for contentment, but also God and seek contentment in and from him. Here are three ways to do that:
- Turn to God in prayer. We can’t work ourselves into a state of contentment. We need God to change our hearts. And so we turn to him in prayer, confess our struggles, and beg him to help us. Psalm 42 or 73 are a great model of how to do this.
- Turn to Jesus. God’s word tells us to fix our hearts and thoughts on Jesus and the life to come (Col 3:1-2; Heb 12:1-3 cf. 2 Cor 4:16-18). Here are some helpful ways to do that:
- thank God for Jesus’ death and resurrection when we pray
- memorise or read and pray through Bible passages about the cross
- talk and pray about a gospel passage with a friend
- aim to read a book about God and the gospel each year (e.g. JI Packer’s , Timothy Keller’s )
- listen to gospel-centred music (e.g. Sovereign Grace ).
- Turn to God in thankfulness. God commands us to give thanks (1 Tim 6:17; 1 Thess 5:16-18) and thankfulness is a great help to contentment. You might like to read through
- the list of spiritual blessings in Ephesians 1:3-9 or Psalm 103
- the list of physical blessings in Psalm 104
- or write a list of blessings from your own life – perhaps one or two each day
and thank God for each one.
5. Turn out. Contentment isn’t just achieved through self-reflection and self-discipline. The way to become content isn’t to think about ourselves more; it’s to think about ourselves less.
- Love: instead of thinking about ourselves and what we don’t have, we forget ourselves and serve others (1 Cor 13:4-7; 1 John 4:10-12).
- Give: instead of seeking money or possessions, we give generously and share what we have (2 Cor 9:6-15; 1 Tim 6:17-21).
- Pursue: instead of investing in our own kingdoms – our homes, families, and careers – we invest in God’s kingdom (Matt 5:2-12; 6:19-34; 16:21-28; 19:27-30).
- Encourage: instead of retreating into our own thoughts, we encourage and pray for each other to find contentment in Christ (Col 3:16; Heb 10:24-25).
Contentment is a decision. It’s active. It’s choosing to seek our joy in Jesus and his kingdom. God promises that, as we do that, we’ll find true contentment in him (Matt 16:25).
I’ve made plenty of suggestions, but please don’t feel like you have to do them all. You might like to start by making one small change from the list above. As you do that, ask God to help you. He’s the one who changes our hearts.
Now I want to shake it up a little. In my next post, instead of thinking about , I want to think about . Didn’t know there was such a thing? I look forward to reflecting on it with you.
1. Which of the above steps sounds the least familiar or the most helpful to you? Think about one way you could put it into practice this week, and start today. Ask God to help you.
2. Over the next 5 weeks, you might like to take one step at a time and concentrate on it for a week. Remember that one small change is more manageable than 50 big ones.