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As I look back over my life, I realize how very blessed I have been. Even when the disappointments have come, one of the major blessings has been the contentment to not dwell on them too long. I have been able to move ahead with my life and felt joy and happiness in that living.
Paul had some strong words to say about the subject of contentment. In 1 Timothy 6:6, Paul tells us that "godliness with contentment is great gain." He goes on to say that "we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out." There is much wisdom in these words. Some people are able to survive the loss of everything and start all over again with vim and vigor. These people seem to be winners all of the time.
Paul was also inspired to write in Philippians 4:11-12 that he had learned to be content in whatever state he was in. He learned to be content with plenty and with little. Paul did not go out of his way to suffer need, but when he could do nothing about it, he accepted the situation and moved forward. At times he found himself in prison, hungry and cold, forsaken (yet not alone), marooned and shipwrecked. This learned ability to stay content is one of the most precious gifts one could have with which to face each day.
Paul makes a third statement along this line in Hebrews 13:5 when he says to be content with such things as you have. We know that Paul would have liked to have had a wife (1 Corinthians 9:5). It seems this was not to be for Paul, and though he expresses the wish, he had learned to be content without one.
Coveting and Complaining
One of the most interesting of the Ten Commandments is "you shall not covet." Coveting is the result of not being content with one's lot in life. It is the desire to have something that belongs to someone else. We can waste much of our lives and all of our opportunities by not applying this important principle of learning to be content.
We humans are able (it seems) to develop a great skill in complaining, criticizing and finding fault. Self-control is needed in us all. To be able to force our thoughts in a godly direction is possible. We have the choices to make. The key is in what we allow ourselves to think. The more we allow ourselves to think in the negative mode, the more negative we become. The more we allow ourselves to complain, the more we do complain.
I recall living in a union town. The union bosses got the men thinking they were so ill-treated that they went on prolonged strikes. The end result was that the whole town closed down, and the men had to find jobs elsewhere.
The sad truth was that they had fairly good jobs with good pay where they were, but someone had sown a root of complaint in their minds, and they believed they were being mistreated. The more they thought about it, the more mistreated they believed they were. Soon everything was continually wrong.
Murmuring and complaining lead to a strong belief in the supposed (and magnified) inequalities in life. We can convince ourselves that our boss, job situation, spouse and even our God are not fair. We feel sorry for ourselves.
Living in the greatest nations on earth, with many gadgets that make life easy, the ability to travel, education for all, good homes and an abundance of food—all of this and more does not lead to contentment. Far too many people in our nations drink or drug themselves into an early grave. Suicide is a major problem and restlessness is rampant. Many people simply are not content.
There are many tales of those who were not content—those who felt they deserved more. God recorded some of these sad moments for us. In 2 Samuel 12:8-14 we read about King David. He had a number of wives, but wanted the wife that Uriah had. His repentance and tears are recorded in Psalm 51.
King Solomon was given wonderful gifts from God—but they were not enough. He took for himself 1,000 wives and concubines and finally his head was turned away from the very source of all his gain. He had it all, but somehow felt unsatisfied and convinced himself he could have more. His complaints are stated in the book of Ecclesiastes 2:18-23 and 4:1 (among other verses).
Need for Action
There is a time for complaining. Some complaints can bring good results. Complaints that take the form of constructive criticism are sometimes even appreciated. It is the presentation and positive input to change that is good. The kind of complaints that are harmful are those that arise from a constant contemplation of the things one does not like. Harm comes when no action is taken outside of the complaints. The mind is trained to be discontented in time. Marriages fail from this syndrome. Careers are lost, and the complainer becomes someone who has few, if any, friends.
Learning to be content does not mean just staying in a situation forever, no matter how uncomfortable. My first job was unloading boxcars of salt, watermelons (often rotten), boxes of canned goods and almost anything else that can be shipped in a boxcar. My salary was very low, and it was hard to save anything. I was content, but I continued to work toward improving my lot in life.
Complaining is a negative reaction that brings no positive returns in most cases. Action will bring changes. How many of the great inventions came because someone decided not to complain but to do something about a problem?
Complaints slow us down and give us cause to look back. Jesus told us to look ahead. In Luke 9:62, Jesus said that one who is plowing and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God. A farmer knows that when you are plowing, the furrow will only remain straight as long as the plowman looks ahead. Looking back will throw you out of the track.
Considering all this, it is clear why God tells us that godliness with contentment is great gain. It is the only way to progress and move towards eternal life.
The next time things seem to go wrong (as they always do), make lemonade out of the lemons. Avoid the complaints that go on and on. Lift up your eyes to the future—to the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). That is where the things that truly matter and that are solid, permanent and lasting reside. Take to heart the words of the old song that said, "Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative...and don't mess with Mr. Inbetween"! UN