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The Secret of Spiritual Contentment

No matter what happens in a person’s life, these three simple steps can help one find peace and keep self-pity at bay. From Karol Ladd, author of The Power of a Positive Mom

Contentment is the opposite of self-pity. If our hearts are content because we trust in God as our loving provider, then we’ll tend to keep our eyes off our troubles. But if we dwell on our wants or our difficulties (great or small), we will lose sight of the provisions God is granting us.

The Old Testament character Job learned this secret of contentment. Amazingly, after losing everything — his home, his wealth, his family, even his health — he was able to say, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21). In all of his sorrows, Job continued to believe in God’s goodness. He refused to charge God with wrongdoing, even when his complaining wife urged him, “Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). Job resisted the temptation to be angry with God. He knew his peace and security came not from having a multitude of things, but from knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was faithful.

Our church in North Dallas helps with a wonderful ministry called Voice of Hope that provides an after-school program in a Christian environment for underprivileged kids. Several years ago my family, along with others, agreed to help deliver holiday turkey dinners to some of the families that were being served by Voice of Hope. Our simple task was to deliver the dinners to the people’s homes and sing a few Christmas carols.

At virtually every house, we were greeted by wonderfully warm and grateful people. Each visit went the same way: we presented the dinners, sang our songs (even though none of us could carry a tune), then said our good-byes. To my surprise, almost every household asked if they could offer a prayer before we left. Their prayers typically went something like this:

Dear Lord, you have given us so very much. We do not deserve your rich blessings! Thank you, Lord Jesus. Thank you for your loving-kindness, your forgiveness, and your mercy. Thank you most of all for your son, Jesus, in whom we have abundant life. Thank you also for these kind people who have brought us a bountiful turkey dinner. We are so grateful! In your wonderful son’s name we pray. Amen.

These were contented people! They had very little in the way of possessions, but they were rich with peace and joyfulness. My family and the other volunteers learned an incredible lesson that day as we got back in our SUVs and returned to overindulgent, discontented North Dallas. We learned that contentment is not based on what you have; it is based on how you choose to view life. It is an issue of the heart.

Paul’s Potential Pity Party
Consider the apostle Paul for a moment. Now, here was a man who deserved a pity party! He was thrown into a Roman prison not for committing a terrible crime, but for sharing the gospel of Jesus throughout Asia Minor. Certainly he could have whined, shaken his fist at God, and cried, “It’s not fair!” We wouldn’t have blamed him, would we? Haven’t we all said those words at some time in our lives?

Many situations in life are not fair, especially for mothers. We work hard serving our families and the needs of our households, and we don’t get enough appreciation for all we do. It’s not fair! Paul could have said the same thing. “I’ve given my all to tell others about Jesus, and what has it gotten me? A jail cell!” Paul could have grumbled and complained and given up on the mission God had called him to. But he didn’t.

Instead, Paul faced this challenging situation by choosing to look up and not down. He did not focus on how bad the circumstances were but on what God could do through the circumstances. And what did God do? For one, he opened up many opportunities for Paul to minister to the prison guards, the officials who tried him, and the visitors who came to see him each day. Second, he made sure Paul had some ink and some papyrus and prompted him to begin writing. Today we can open our New Testaments and refer to the letters Paul wrote to the early churches from his prison cell. We can see — and benefit from — the awesome work that God did through Paul in prison.

Paul was able to write these words during his time in jail: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11). Now if Paul could say this from his prison cell, I wonder if we could say it from our laundry rooms? The good news is that Paul did not leave any confusion as to how he was able to be content. In the next two verses he gives us the key that unlocks the prison door of self-pity: “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. I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (verses 12-13, emphasis added).

Perhaps you have heard that last phrase before. You may have even memorized it in another translation: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (NKJV). It is truly a wonderful — but often misused — verse. Did you realize that Paul was talking about contentment when he wrote it? He was giving us the key to unlocking our prison of self-pity: believing that with God’s strength, we can get through whatever life brings.

Can we still be content if our child doesn’t get the best teacher in the first grade? If our friend disappoints us? If our husband is not always sensitive to our needs? Through all the stressful and challenging situations of life, we can still find contentment when we fix our eyes on and place our hope in God — the only one who can give us strength to make it through.

Heading Off Bitterness and Anger
When we forget that key to contentment, we can spend all of our time dwelling on the negative in situations — and that’s dangerous. When we continue to rehearse our discontented thoughts and attitudes over and over, anger and bitterness set in, threatening and sometimes destroying the relationships we hold most dear.

Recently our family took a cruise to the Caribbean. We enjoyed visiting many wonderful tropical islands and seeing the sights as our large ship sailed from port to port. Standing on the deck one afternoon, we watched in awe as smoke billowed out of a mountain on the nearby island of Montserrat. We realized we were looking at an active volcano. What an impressive sight!

That volcano comes to mind as I think about the danger of anger in relationships. As it rumbles within us and heats up over time, anger can erupt and overflow. And just as the hot lava of a volcano destroys everything in its path, so our outbursts of anger, rooted in resentment, bitterness, and self-pity, can destroy the people around us.

I think about Suzette, who married a wonderful man but was discontent from the moment she returned from the honeymoon. She didn’t feel that her husband’s job provided her with the income she desired. The home he could afford wasn’t in the “right” neighborhood. He never seemed to help out enough around the house and with the kids. And he certainly wasn’t sensitive to her feelings!

Over time, the bitterness and anger festered and grew inside of her. What began as a spirit of discontent led Suzette to begin looking for greener grass — and eventually to an affair with her husband’s best friend, Rick. The devastation and heartache caused to both families has been incalculable. If only Suzette’s discontent had been checked at the door of her heart before she began each day, perhaps this picture would have turned out differently!

How do you keep anger from overtaking your heart? You cut it off at the pass! Here are three simple steps you can follow daily:

1. Recognize the roots of bitterness and anger. The first step toward fighting an enemy is recognizing it. If you are developing a bitter attitude toward someone or something, then you need to identify it. You may even want to write down or journal what is simmering inside you and why you feel the way you do. If you find yourself grumbling, complaining, or rehearsing a pity party, it is time to recognize it and determine to move in a new direction.

2. Change your perspective. Determine to stop focusing on what is wrong. Quit playing the “I am hurt” tape in your brain. For that matter, quit trying to make sure the other person knows how much they hurt you. Do not play the blame game of pointing the finger and saying it is all his or her fault. This is negative, unproductive thinking and will only keep you in a pity party prison. Choose to change your focus on what is good. Focus on the hope in each person and every situation. God has not left you. He can bring hope out of seemingly hopeless situations. It is your choice what you will dwell on.

3. Ask God to give you strength and direction. Seek God’s help in forgiving others and moving forward. The Bible reminds us that we must forgive others, because we have been forgiven of everything (Colossians 3:13). Dear friend, as we look to him, we begin to see a loving God who is able to help us forgive and move forward. Moment by moment, ask God for direction, strength, and help to move past the anger and toward a whole new attitude. Ask him to replace your hate with love and your anger with forgiveness. He is able to weed out the roots of bitterness in your life as you seek his help.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Karol Ladd, bestselling author of The Power of a Positive Mom (The Power of a Positive Mom © 2007 by Karol, Grace, and Joy Ladd), offers lasting hope and biblical truth to women around the world through her positive book series. A gifted communicator and dynamic leader, Karol is founder and president of Positive Life Principles, Inc, a resource company offering strategies for success in both home and work. Her vivacious personality makes her a popular speaker to women’s organizations, church groups, and corporate events. She is co-founder of a character-building club for young girls called USA Sonshine Girls and serves on several educational boards. Karol is a frequent guest on radio and television programs. Her most valued role is that of wife to Curt and mother to daughters Grace and Joy.

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