Contentment: The Learned Virtue

Mechthild Clark

Contentment is not what we often associate it with. We think in order to feel contentment, the following should happen: I have no worries; everything is going well.

But then life happens and reality catches up:

  • Anxiety, fear, defeat
  • Loss of parents and siblings
  • Sickness
  • A feeling of being of being overwhelmed by life and circumstances –
  • A friend turned on me. Just “normal” life…

For most of us here in addition to a varying degree – a foreign country, new language, people think and act different – lots of stressors.

And still the question: Am I content?


  1. a) Contentment is the state of being happy and satisfied.

Contentment isn’t an excited kind of happy, it’s more like a peaceful ease of mind.

  1. b) contentedness, satisfaction, fulfilment, happiness,

To me contentment means:

1) I feel balanced in my inner being and I do not long for anything else.

2) I am in agreement with the way things are right now in my life.

I do not find fault with the conditions of my life. I have accepted them.

Now Paul says in Phil 4:12–13:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.

There was insufficiency, lack of perfection, loss

But then he continues: “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 all this through him who gives me strength.”

In other words: Paul has learned to accept who he was, what he had to endure – his lot in life.

Quickly a few points, what contentedness does NOT mean:

  1. 1. Contentedness does not mean that my life is free of worry and difficulty.

2 Cor 1:8 “For we would not, brothers, have you ignorant of our troubles which came to us in Asia. We were pressured beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.”

So, even when I have distress and need in my life – it is possible to have a general feeling of contentment.

  1. Contentedness does not exclude conflict in relationships.

Again Paul in 2 Cor 2:4: “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears, not that you might be pained but that you might know the abundant love I have for you.”

All the accusations, the pain of being falsely accused, the persecution.

You feel the pain and the anguish in Paul – and I think we all have lived long enough to know that there will always be conflict in relationships – at church, even in our family and there will be a heavy heart, anguish, despair and tears.

For me the hardest: Friends – people who know my heart and yet are suddenly against me.

  1. Having a content outlook on life does not exclude a longing for change in certain situations or improvement of relationships. We have certain desires in our hearts. Things we wish for…

We think again of Paul and his thorn in the flesh – yet he is the same person who says: I have learned the secret of being content…

And God says to him: Let my grace be sufficient for you.

  1. Being content does not exclude us from experiencing fears, worries, or even danger.

Again Paul in 2 Cor 7:5-7:

“For when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, and we were troubled on every side. On the outside were conflicts; on the inside were fears. Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us through the coming of Titus,  and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, when he told us about your sincere desire, your mourning, and your zeal toward me, so that I rejoiced even more.”

Paul wanted to do the right thing, his intentions were pure – and yet that’s what happened to him… physical danger, bodily harm, real fear

So, we know, we don’t choose contentment when we get up in the morning like we pick out our clothes.

Can I train my soul to look beyond situations that I cannot control?

Can I learn to be more composed and experience more serenity?

Contentment refers to the condition, the state of our soul – our innermost being.  Contentedness does not seem to happen automatically, but we have to continually strive for it.

And I believe, the more I learn to be more in control of my inner feelings and the way I process negative experiences – the more content I will be.

Wilhelm von Humboldt: Most people are dissatisfied with life, because they have exaggerated demands on fate.

But what is the result of living a life of contentedness:

  1. A content person is a thankful person

We are not driven by the desire to have more and more. We are thankful for our possessions, for our family, for work, for what we have been able to accomplish with God’s help. We are not driven to have more and do more and to achieve more for more recognition.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: For the thankful person, everything is a gift, because he knows that he does not really deserve anything.

  1. A content person does not compare herself or himself with others.

Each person has a unique life, unique giftings, a unique biography. Many situations in our life, we are responsible for because of decisions we made, but much of it we cannot control.

But a content person accepts his life and God’s leading and His hand in everything …

I accept he uniqueness of my life, my personality, my development. I learn to accept the course of my life…

Søren Kierkegaard: To compare yourself to others is the end of happiness and the beginning of discontentment.

  1. A content person is more interested in relationships that things.

We know of the importance of good relationships to our family members, our church members, our friends and neighbors …

To help people to grow, to flourish… It helps us to grow…

We invest in relationships and that brings an enormous amount of contentment.

  1. Content people are people who serve others and have the heart of a servant.

“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”
― Mother Teresa

Make people feel happy that you are around, be a blessing to them. Hear them out. Listen, before you speak.

  1. A content person is happy about the little things in life.

Sometimes we get so busy with ministry and the importance of our work that we forget to just be. To enjoy a quiet evening at home, to enjoy a sunrise, or a sunset. To Enjoy a good book, a nice cup of tea, celebrate meals as a family…. Celebrate life!

So many important things in life we take for granted and we are not thankful for them. And the moment something bad happens, our perspective darkens and changes, and we forget all the good things…

David in Psalm 103: Bless the Lord, Oh my soul and forget not all of his benefits…

  1. Contentment comes from our dedication to Christ.

A content person is not just concerned about his or her own personal little world, but is committed to a greater cause. We know we are not in this world for our own personal happiness, but because God has plans for us to be used. And our life’s journey is all part of coming into this place that Paul refers to: I have learned to be content…

All the difficulties, all the beautiful things that we have experienced, all the dark nights and all the sunny days – they all lead us on this path to contentment.  Because I have learned to know in my heart that no matter what happens, God is control and his plan for my life is bigger than what I can begin to comprehend. And that is what gives me peace of mind.

  1. A content person looks with confidence to the future.

Because we know the best is yet to come.

Not everything I had hoped for or I had dreamed about has become reality.

But I still have dreams and hopes.

And I don’t want to be afraid or anxious about the future.

John 16:33: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.

In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

So: Today – no matter what difficulties you are facing today – health problems, ministry problems, family problems, things have not developed like they should have – let us focus on Him, let us be satisfied with whatever God sends our way, let us accept the course of our life.

Let us strive for contentment, because we know that God is in control.

Psalm 62:2–3

God, the one and only—
I’ll wait as long as he says.
Everything I need comes from him,
so why not?
He’s solid rock under my feet,
breathing room for my soul,
An impregnable castle:
I’m set for

Paul and his wife Mechthild have planted churches in various parts of Germany as well as in Bregenz, Austria. Presently they are planting a new church in th e country of Liechtenstein. The Clarks are actively involved in teaching as well as assisting and coaching other churches being planted in German speaking Europe.

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