September 12, 1995
A wealthy employer once overheard one of his workers exclaim, “Oh, if I only had a hundred dollars, I would be perfectly content.”
Knowing something about having money and feeling discontent, he surprised her. “Since I would like to see someone who is perfectly content, I am going to give you a hundred dollars.”
He handed her the cash but before he was out of earshot, he heard her remark, “Why didn’t I say $200?”
Contentment is like stepping into your own shadow. It certainly is not part of the package we call success. Wealthy people wish they had more money. Autocrats crave more power. Models want wrinkle cream and facelifts. Famous people worry about the few who never heard of them.
What is perfect contentment? Is it being happy and totally satisfied all of the time? If true, no one would come to the table for lunch! Some would say it is life without distressing or uncomfortable concerns; hunger but not starvation, earning a living but not staying below the poverty line.
Even defined that way, contentment is still elusive. Who can ensure their circumstances will be somewhere between great and favorable? Working hard does not guarantee financial independence. Living carefully does not guarantee healthy bodies and intact bones.
Another definition comes from Webster’s dictionary. It says contentment is “limiting one’s desires or expectations.” In other words, if steak is not on the menu tonight, a contented person will be just as happy to eat hot dogs. This is not resignation but a true attitude of acceptance. A contented person has a sense of well-being that does not depend on “having it all.”
The Apostle Paul displayed this kind of contentment, but he had to learn it. In his letter to the Philippians, he told them how glad he was that they could care for him, but added, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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.”
This great man of God was not exaggerating when he said “in any and every situation.” He had known extremes. He had adoring followers and spiteful persecutors, great moments with God and terrifying hours at the hands of men. If we lived as he did, we would find ourselves on an emotional roller coaster, nevertheless, Paul learned how to remain level.
His secret? He said, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Paul knew that no matter what happened to him, Christ was with him, giving him the power he needed to handle the situation. It is like walking through a dark alley with Joe Fraser or Mike Tyson. Who cares what danger lurks in the shadows!
Paul also had a philosophy about money and contentment. He realized “men of corrupt mind . . . think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” He said “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”
For him, food and clothing was enough. There is a life beyond this one and that was far more important. Besides, he had seen “people who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires.” Paul was smart enough to look elsewhere for his contentment. He firmly believed “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”
One hundred dollars or one million dollars cannot buy lasting peace of heart or total satisfaction. However, to those who are willing to seek out their true source, both are available.