Secret of Contentment

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know whaKate having fun in the gardent 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.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:11-13).

The Apostle Paul knew something that most of us have missed. He knew how to be content in any circumstance. That is a bold claim. When I think about the life of Paul, such a claim is amazing! After only a few years of work in God’s service, he was falsely arrested and sent to a Roman prison. There he sat, well aware that the various churches he planted needed his immediate attention and leadership, and yet content.

Notice he said, “I have learned the secret.” The word learned implies a process. As Paul grew in his spiritual life, he discovered the truth about contentment. He referred to it as a “secret” because the truth he discovered is a truth that eludes so many believers. It is a truth we search for in our own way and yet miss.

Paul learned the secret of being content in and through circumstances. It wasn’t the secret of changing or getting God to change his circumstances. Real contentment does not hinge on circumstances. It goes beyond that.

Paul’s discussion of contentment closes with a verse that many of us are familiar with: “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” Unfortunately, for many of us, no one explained the context of this popular verse. Paul was referring to his ability to be content in every circumstance. To paraphrase, “I can endure any circumstance without losing my peace and joy because of the strength I gain through my relationship with Jesus.”

What is the secret of contentment? From what Paul says, it has to do with our willingness to accept three powerful truths:

First, real contentment hinges on what’s happening inside us, not around us. We are all tempted to believe the lie that our contentment (or happiness) hinges on our ability to control what is going on around us. We spend a great deal of energy and time trying to control our environment and the people in it. But real contentment has to do with what is going on inside us, not around us.

Think about it this way. When we become discontented the first two things we lose are our peace and joy. But the Bible teaches peace and joy are the fruits of the Spirit. Their source is the Holy Spirit; He is producing them in us. If we can lose our peace and joy when our circumstances turn bad the peace and joy we were experiencing were not fruits of the Spirit; they were fruits of good circumstance.

As long as our contentment can be destroyed by a change in our environment, we can never be content in any circumstance. Such is the fragile nature of externally oriented contentment. For Paul, what was happening around him didn’t overwhelm what was happening in him. His contentment was internal from start to finish.

To experience contentment, we must first begin by refusing to blame our circumstances (or the people who make up our circumstances) for our lack of contentment. As long as we blame what’s going on around us, we will never understand what is happening in us. When circumstances rob us of our peace and joy, we must take responsibility. We must acknowledge that we are looking to what we cannot control to provide us with our contentment. Only then can we begin to look in the right direction for our contentment.

Second, contentment is need, not want, oriented. God will meet all our needs; He is going to take good care of us. Much of our discontentment stems from not getting what we want. God has not promised to meet all of our wants according to His riches in glory. As long as our peace and joy hinge on getting what we want, we are on an emotional roller coaster.

God is a perfect heavenly Father. He knows what we need. He knows what we don’t need. He knows what we want. He knows what we can handle. He is committed to doing what’s best for us.

The secret of contentment, then, includes distinguishing between what we need and what we want. It means rejoicing over the promise of God to meet our needs. We can stop and thank God for meeting our needs without allowing our emotions to attach themselves to our wants.

Third, contentment is a matter of trust. If we really trust God – if we really believe He loves us and has our best interests in mind – when things fall apart around us, they don’t have to fall apart inside of us. Contentment is trusting God even when things seem out of control.

Paul’s unshakable faith in God allowed him to say, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” He trusted God completely. When things fell apart around him, he kept trusting. Consequently, he was content.

Discontentment, on the other hand, is really a lack of faith in God’s love and concern for us. To express discontent is to suggest God has lost control or He doesn’t care. Discontentment always causes three things to happen.

First, discontentment erodes relationships. Discontentment usually translates into a burning desire to change the people around us. If others would act the way we think they should act, we would be fine, right? But as soon as we try to change others to suit our particular taste, mood, or style, we are no longer able to love them. Love is replaced by manipulation. Manipulation is to a relationship what fire is to paper. While the only person you and I are responsible for changing is ourselves, a discontented person usually expresses discontentment by attempting to change others.

Second, discontentment clouds the decision-making process and makes it almost impossible to wait. Discontented people want change – and they want it now! Consequently, their decision-making abilities are skewed. The emotions that accompany discontentment are so strong that they often override reason.

People in marketing and sales understand this all too well. Part of any effective advertising campaign or sales pitch is to make potential customers discontented with their existing product. The feelings that accompany discontentment are enough to make people buy things they don’t need or can’t afford. Discontentment clouds the ability to make wise decisions. Discontented people tend to make foolish decisions.

Have you ever noticed how bad your car looks when you drive it onto a new car lot? Have you ever become self-conscious about your clothes when shopping for new clothes? Have you ever noticed how small your house feels after visiting in a larger and newer home? These feelings get us in trouble if we do not keep them in proper perspective.

Third, discontentment distorts our view of God. Discontented people attempt to control God. Worship, prayer, Bible study, and church attendance become a means to an end – getting God to change whatever they think needs changing. Even faith is reduced to another tool to use to move God in their direction. Discontented people reduce the heavenly Father to the status of an automatic teller machine. Christianity becomes a lifelong attempt to find the right code to get from God what they want. Discontented believers will never know God for who He is. Their discontentment distorts the picture.

Like many, I struggle with contentment. How much is enough? Should I be satisfied with what I have or seek more? Is ambition bad? What kind of goals should I make? The answers are not simple, but I believe Scripture provides the balance we need to cultivate godly contentment. Jesus said to pray for our “daily bread” – sufficient provision for our daily needs.

The key to contentment is learning you can do everything God wants you to do through His strength. You can establish objectives that are in God’s plan. Ambition is all right as long as you primary aim is to glorify Christ. You cannot do everything, but He will help you to do what He has planned for your life. You can be content knowing that He enables you to deal with all the fluctuations of life as you depend on Him. Contentment is something you learn by adhering to the basics – cultivating a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, living daily, and knowing that Christ strengthens you for every challenge.

* Read more in my book: Back to the Basics: A Guide for Christian Living.

Cover (woods)


  1. You must be reading my thoughts. I’ve been thinking along the same lines all this week. Especially as we are getting closer to Christmas, which should be renamed National Greed Day! So much commercialism. Ads for Black Friday. Retail workers who will not have the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with their families. Personally I don’t celebrate Christmas. Stopped years ago. Too much materialism. Like you stated how much is enough? How many rims, Tims, Bling & money do we need? Yes I understand we live in a capitalist society and not in the barter system but what is really sad is that young people are hooked on things, possessions, riches & wealth. Plus young and old will do anything to get money. Like the song by the O’Jays says a woman will sell her precious body. I see the local drug dealer selling death for a lifestyle. Kids beat up each other and push old people onto the subway tracks for an iPhone.

    Is this what the holidays have become? Think people! Do our lives revolve around possessions or people?

    I’ve had plenty of time to think on this question as I must move at the end of this month to a smaller place. Actually at this point I’m thankful to have a place to live. New York is expensive. Anyway the result of this impending move is that I must downsize. Becoming a minimalist. An ascetic close to the teachings of Buddha. I’m still and always will be a Christian but the teachings of Buddha resonate with me. I can truly say as I clean my apartment of 22 years worth of life and I throw things about the lighter I become. It will be just me and my cats. Keeping my computer, books and Kindle but giving up cable, home phone and TV. After nearly 54 years of being on this earth I’m ready for the Simple Life. I’ve heard God’s call to separate myself from the world. Submit to God and devote myself to helping others, humans and animals as much as possible. Thank You Lord for this New Phase in my life, the second 50 years.

      1. Thanks Joe. Christmas is supposed to be a celebration of Jesus not about gifts. I don’t want to seem like Scrooge and my parents made Christmas magical for my brother and I but we were also brought up to help others & to be servants in our community. Back in the day folks knew the meaning of Neighborhood. Growing up in the 60s & 70s people helped one another. Spoiling children only gives them a sense of entitlement. Some of these young people think the world owes them a living. I’ve had to remind my nieces, nephews & the young folks I encounter in my workplace, not so. I wish some young people and a few old ones, could switch place with someone in the 3rd world and see how life really is. Christmas for them would mean fresh food, clean clothes, a proper home & safety.

        1. Amen! I remember when my son was 4 on Christmas morning, he saw presents under the tree. He got sooooo excited and asked if Jesus was coming to our house for His birthday. He didn’t even realize the presents were for him…

    1. i dig this comment!!!!!! i myself spent the day driving around house hunting with my mother, and spending the rest of the day with her driving around the lake (my future houseboat home) with her. even though the leaves are brown and falling, it was incredibly beautiful!!!!! why??? why was it beautiful??????? because i was spending the day with my mother!!!!!!,……
      she and i have missed sssssssssssooo many years, but today we gained so much more than we have lost!!!!!!!,…….god said he would restore our wasted years (google it!),….didn’t he???????? he restores these “wasted years” when we desire for him to. we have to “let him restore” them,……………….how? how do we do this???? it is one of the automatic bi-products of??????????? yup. you guessed it!!! good old contentment,……………………what a great day this has been!!! and other than gasoline, it didn’t cost a thing!!!!!!!,…………

  2. I like your paraphrase of Paul’s secret. Our joy and peace are a result of appreciating that we are in Christ. The gal who is downsizing- good for you!! Your comment resonated with me too!!

  3. Great Post. Hit right to my heart. The power of prayer is so powerful, I made a commitment to pray for a spirit of contentment every day. Over time I began noticing my desires were decreasing, to the point of wanting everything to wanting nothing (most of the time =) ). But God truly has answered my simple prayer, and I thank Him so much for it. It really has boosted my faith in praying for things that align with His Word and Will. When God says ask and you shall recieve, He means it.

    Thanks Joe

  4. Well said, Joe!

    Having come through a lot, especially in the last 10 years, I can personally testify that God can indeed give us contentment in the most diverse and difficult situations.

    As for going forward, there is nothing wrong with having plans, but, like Paul, we must hold them lightly and be willing to let go if God shows we are to change direction.

    1. I agree. The older I become, the more I learn to hold my plans loosely, allowing God to give me direction.

  5. Excellent! This is something I will keep in my spiritual folder with my bible. A good reminder for me to keep centered on God and to be content in all my circumstances. Blessings – Patty

  6. Hello Joe,
    You mentioned that fleeting joy or peace is not joy or peace that comes from the Spirit, but comes from our circumstances. I believe that is probably the most likely, but I would add that it is possible that we have denied ourselves access to the fruit of the Spirit by quenching the Spirit. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit” – (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 ESV).
    God, help me to rely on your Spirit and not on my own strength, wisdom, or resources. Let me know you, and be filled with your Spirit and sanctified by your Word.

    1. Thanks for pointing this out, Steve! You are right. The Apostle Paul is an amazing example. Our joy, prayers, and thankfulness should not fluctuate with our feeling. Obeying these three commands – be joyful, pray continually, and give thanks – often goes against our natural inclinations. When we make a concious decision to not quench the Spirit, however, we will see a new perspective. When we do God’s will, we will find it easier to be joyful and thankful in all circumstances. Thanks again for this wonderful comment, Steve!

    2. I receive contentment from knowing I am a child of God and assured of his grace and love and protection. Here are some verses that show how much we are loved by our Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
      What were people reading? Verses that inspire, instruct, correct, and tell about the King of glory.

      10. James 1

      Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

      9. Philippians 4:6

      Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

      8. 1 Corinthians 13

      Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

      7. Philippians 4:13

      I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

      6. Psalm 139

      O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.

      5. Romans 8:28

      And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

      4. Genesis 1

      In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

      3. Jeremiah 29:11

      For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

      2. John 3:16

      For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

      And the most-read passage of Scripture for 2012 is something that likely won’t surprise you:

      1. Psalm 23

      The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

  7. Great post. In a society where ‘more’ is pushed and encouraged, discontentment is a real danger. Total trust in God is must. Sure, it isn’t easy, but the reward of contentment is worth it.

  8. OK MAN, YOU KNOW ME BETTER THAN THAT!,……….so, joe,…the journey continues,…and what a long strange trip it has been, huh? i have returned to my beautiful oklahoma. phoenix is now just another place of many memories. some good memories. so bad memories. i choose to focus on only the good, for the others, when given strength in my thoughts, are just an incredible waste of time. at this moment, i type this from nashville, tennessee. if anyone would have asked me two weeks ago if my life adventure would have taken me to nashville, my answer would have been no. daily contentment has allowed me to see the doors which have led me here. because of contentment, my journey to, as well as my time spent in nashville have been great surprises. this has been a journey of hope and promise as well. do i know what tomorrow brings? no. am i content with whatever comes my way? yes. why? because hope and promise, for me, is simply contentment based. each new day, when viewed in this manner, become a pleasant and refreshing surprise. moving waters don’t stagnate.
    who knows, maybe pennsylvania will be next? hope all is well with you and yours. on another note, i have found that “NO MATTER WHAT “STATE” I AM IN, I’LL CHOOSE TO BE CONTENT.” (you know that was funny, joe!),……………………freewill can be really cool, huh??? toksoon,…..gimmee a call sometime,…….c-ya

    1. I am a traveler too, John! I have moved so many times in my life. I also lived in Tennessee (Memphis to be exact) a few years back when I wanted to be a professional musician. Actually, it took me many years before I was able to let go of that dream and pursue the pastorate wholeheartedly. To be honest, I still think about music at times.

      1. Pastor Joe, Maybe you can do both. After all music is a gift that God planted within you. Many Gospel musicians also pastor churches. Dreams never die they just return at a different point in our lives.

  9. It is amazing how our expectations play into this process of contentment. What we expect from God (based on our view of doctrine etc.) and what we expect from others. Another aspect is where our hearts are, there will be your treasure also (and the other way around). Too many times our treasure is not in God, thus anything else will let us down and we become discontent. When God is our treasure, who could want anything else. And anything else will tend to draw us away from our love relationship with Him.
    In Papua New Guinea where I serve, the predominant attitude is that men are to control the spirit world by doing the right things so that the spirits will bless us physically. Religion came here over a hundred years ago with the God of the Bible, who had his own list of 10 things to do to have him bless you. However, God cannot be placed in a box like that. So there are many disgruntled people whose expectations are dashed and their contentment with what God provides them is never what they think it should be. Then the quarrels and fights break out in the way of lawsuits and compensation claims. Everyone disillusioned that God must not love them because he is not giving them everything that they want.
    This post is beautiful. It is a secret isn’t it? For those who live above religion. Great post.


    1. Thanks Steve. Where we put our time, money, and energy should reflect Kingdom values. Unfortunately, your story is a sad reality for many people.

  10. For me contentment came with a great crises of “surrender”. After failing to live up to my own expectations so many times, I finally realized it was better to just completely trust God, as you said. I now rely on “His” strength more than mine, and that keeps me praying. When I was in my own strength I would get so busy trying to make it all work, that I would fail to pray, and fall in bed exhausted wondering where the day went? And when we don’t pray we end up operating in our own strength. (Big mistake!) Now I don’t worry about expectations. I drink deeply of Him, do my best to flow in His Spirit, and let Him worry about expectations. And sense God does not worry, then all is well in the Kingdom of God. I love it!

  11. Hi Pastor, Thank you for your insights on this important and relevant topic facing us as we sojourn through this wilderness of a world.
    You said the flip side of contentment is discontentment , may I enlarge this idea to say that the opposite end of contentment is restlessness which easily could lead us to looking outward (not upward) to temptation and if we go for it – rebellion against our God. Satan is a good example of original restlessness which eventually led to his downfall when he wanted to be like the Almighty.
    Also, from your verse, I find that contentment has to be learnt – it is not a given. I would think it is like training ourselves to be spiritually trim and fit which is what Hebrew 12:1 suggests that we are to cast away every weight that will beset our running. The modern buzzwords would be downsizing and de-clustering, I guess.
    Lastly, your verse makes I Timothy 6:6 comes to mind – “godliness with contentment is great gain” and if I may paraphrase:: contentment is great but the greater gain is to be content and godly.

  12. Thank you for sharing this. Thank you for speaking God’s truth and walking as a disciple of Christ. You are a true prophet of Christ. I’m sure he is smiling down upon you with grace. 🙂

  13. Going to quote you on GRACE PARTAKERS with full credit to you, of course! Thanks – I can do all things through Christ who does indeed strengthen me. Many blessings, Joe. Carley

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