Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you just weren’t happy?
Has anyone told you to just be satisfied?
Have you longed for peace?
Maybe you have experienced something similar to me. During the difficult seasons of my life, these were questions on my mind…and it began a search for contentment.
Honestly, I had no idea how to define what Christian contentment looked like! I was too miserable to see past my circumstances, or even past the end of my nose for that matter!
Contentment…I just knew I didn’t have it.
With that said, and being a seasoned student from the school of hard knocks, it was easier for me to write a dissertation on what contentment is not. Does that sound like you?
My restless mind was put at ease knowing that greater minds than my own have also been challenged to define this word.
The wisest mind of all time, King Solomon, wrote an entire book (Ecclesiastes) about his quest to find meaning in this life “under the sun.” In other words, his pursuit was from an earthly perspective, without consideration of God the Father in Heaven, above the sun. His horizontal perspective revealed one thing after another to be void of meaning. Solomon was profoundly affected by the meaninglessness of life under the sun.
Here’s what we know about Solomon:
1. He was wealthy.
“So King Solomon surpassed all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom.” 1 Kings 10:23
2. He was wise.
“Then God said to Solomon… ‘wisdom and knowledge are granted to you; and I will give you riches and wealth and honor, such as none of the kings have had who were before you, nor shall any after you have the like’.” 2 Chronicles 1:11–12
3. He experienced misery.
“Therefore I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind.” Ecclesiastes 2:17
King Solomon was a man with incomparable riches, ruling a vast territory. God said He would pour out riches upon him, and He did. Scriptures tell us that King Solomon had many houses, orchards, and vineyards, and much livestock. He had many servants and mighty soldiers. His military power was so impressive that he established cities to station his chariots. He established other cities for the sole purpose of storage. We are given a detailed inventory of his wealth, and we are told that silver and gold were as common as stones in Jerusalem.
In addition to having all the stuff he could ever want or need, Solomon was given wisdom superior to that of anyone else on Earth, which made him so famous that all the other kings and queens sought his presence. Solomon’s spectacular wisdom not only piqued the interest of other rulers, but they also lavished more riches upon him because of it.
The queen of Sheba came to him with hard questions, and she, like everyone else, was amazed by his greatness.
“And she gave the king one hundred and twenty talents of gold, spices in great abundance, and precious stones; there never were any spices such as those the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.” 2 Chronicles 9:9
So how does a man who has this kind of power, prestige, and intellect end up so stinkin’ miserable? How did he end up wallowing in it? Why did he feel like everything he had and did was like chasing the wind?
Remember, his whole perspective was “under the sun.” He didn’t have a vertical focus to help him look beyond the earthly tangibles and find his answers. He sought earthly pleasures to fill a void that only God can fill. In fact, Solomon wrote that God has put eternity in our hearts. And that means that there is nothing this earth can offer, whether it be a material possession or a personal relationship, that will ever fill the void that only God can fill. He designed us that way.
So if we were hard-pressed to come up with a definition of contentment, under the sun, where would we look? We could use the dictionary, which would attempt to define this word as a “state of happiness and satisfaction,” and we would see synonyms like ease, comfort, well-being, and peace.
I don’t know about you, but I wrestle with the nonchalant interchangeability of words like happiness and peace. There have been times in my life when I’ve been at peace with a situation that didn’t make me happy. For instance, I’ve been at peace with the loss of a loved one who suffered a long-term illness, but did my loss make me happy? Was saying good-bye easy? I think not.
I’ll accept the word peace, because I could make a list of lousy experiences where I’ve found complete peace, whether it be ongoing surgeries on my child, a divorce, or even loss of man’s best friend. I can guarantee you that none of those situations put a smile on my face, but the quiet steadiness and strength I felt within did prove to be the power of peace.
My idea of happiness is totally different and has much more of a carefree flair to it.
What does happiness look like for you?
I’m sure I could brainstorm a long list of things I enjoy that make me happy — grinning ear to ear happy. For the sake of discussion, I’ll confess that cheeseburgers, chocolate, and theme parks fall on this list, and if you were to combine them all in one delightful experience, you would see me frolicking around like a kid in a candy shop.
Can you see yourself doing the same if everything on your list was combined into a single event?
Peace and happiness; the two just don’t equate. So how do we know what contentment is and whether we’ve got it, if we can’t even properly define what it is?
Actually, we can.
I want to emphasize the difference between absolute and relative truth.
You see, it doesn’t matter what I think contentment is, because my idea may differ from yours. I could think it’s snuggling up with pink and purple polka-dotted puppies with two scoops of vanilla ice cream, while you think it’s strategically positioning green army men in formations amid the smell of smoking cannons. It’s all relative to my point of view, or relative to your point of view.
Without an anchor, these word games we play are a moving target that we’ll never hit. So let’s toss any tools “under the sun,” including Webster’s dictionary. Let’s dive deep for the treasure of absolute truth which will surely become our anchor.
What does the word of God, our anchor as Christians, say about contentment? Let’s begin with a basic definition of the original Greek word used in the original Scriptures.
…to be sufficient
…to be possessed of sufficient strength …to be strong
…to be enough for a thing
…to defend, ward off
…to be satisfied.
Are you already feeling more at ease releasing yourself from the idea that the size of a smile plastered across your face is the litmus test measuring your degree of contentedness? This faulty approach assumes happy smiles are the primary indicator of contentment.
These particular words speak to more boldly to my heart and make more sense to me. However, we also see included in the definition of arkeo this notion of defending or warding off. What might that look like?
To fully grasp a key to contentment that I missed for years, we need to look at some clues. Using this part of the definition, wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that being on the defensive requires us to be on the lookout, watching for what’s coming?
Solomon gives us some wise hints that will help us achieve contentment.
“I returned and saw under the sun that…the sons of men are snared in an evil time.” Ecclesiastes 9:11– 12
“Thorns and snares are in the way of the perverse; he who guards his soul will be far from them.” Proverbs 22:5
One thing most of us can surely agree upon is that hindsight is 20/20. Solomon discovered his lessons the hard way, after sparing no expense and exhausting all earthly pleasures. He saw the futility of trying to be ultimately satisfied by the things of this life. And he was able to reflect upon his meaningless pursuits, boiling it down to these simple statements.
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13–14
Our paths are going to have some briars and thorns. We’ll get snagged, and we will have to stop and release ourselves. Rarely does a thorn ever break free on its own. It most likely will require some careful picking on our part, and we may flinch when we have to remove it.
Worse than the briars and thorns, our paths are going to be sprinkled with snares and traps, spring- loaded and waiting for unsuspecting victims to step right onto the trigger. It’ll probably be a rusty old trap, one that’s been around for a while, but it’s a trap most effective. Getting out of this bind might cause more than a flinch.
As Solomon learned, there is nothing new under the sun. Satan has used traps like materialism, lust, and greed since the beginning of time, and they still work today. We all fall prey to them. That’s why Solomon’s wisdom should be heeded when he tells us to guard our souls.
Even though Solomon found himself in a few snares, let us not forget that God gave him wisdom like no other, and so the wisdom he dispenses as a result of these experiences should be received.
But what if you don’t watch out for the traps? What if you aren’t careful in guarding your soul? I can assure you that you’re in good company. I have pounced on almost every trigger set before me — enough times that I could write a book about it!
Looking back, with 20/20 vision, of course, I can clearly see how I didn’t guard myself from those unexpected snares and walk in obedience to His commands. Consequently, my contentment was snatched and it took a while to get it back. Praise God for coming to the defense of a bound-up creature and graciously setting me free over and over again.
I thank Him for teaching me about His freedom and the contentment He wants me to have. He can do the same for you!
Let’s proactively guard our souls and live the abundant life He’s called us to have!
Redeemed and free,