The Elusive Business of Contentment (Part 1)


Socrates once said, “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.”

Martha Washington, our countries first “first lady” said, “The greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.”

And Pastor Steven Furtick gave great insight and truth when he shared, “One of the Enemy’s most effective strategies is to get you to focus on what you don’t have, what you used to have, or what someone else has that you wish you had. He does this to keep you from looking around and asking, “God, what can You do through what I have?”

Our culture influences us to be discontent by teaching us to play by the wrong rules…and it starts early.

When I was young, my sisters and I played a game called “The Game of Life.”

“The Game of Life” subtly or not so subtly taught me at an early age, what success was and where happiness came from:

These were the rules:
>He who ends up with the most money WINS!
>You get money for having children.
>You get a car for free.

This got ingrained in my head as I went to business school in the 80’s and it was reinforced by my professors and by the award winning movie “Wall Street” with Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen, where happiness and contentment came by getting what you wanted, at all costs…IT LOOKED SO GLAMOROUS AND TRUE.

Then I got out in the real world and learned that there were different rules and realities in the real game of life that were the exact opposite of the board game.

These are the REAL rules:
>Money has little to do with whether you win the game!
>Kid’s suck you dry of every dollar you will ever make.
>You only get a free car if you make the half time shot at an NBA game or you win one on “The Price is Right”.  And yet you still have to pay taxes on it.

The truth is, people are really confused these days about what the rules of life are.

Never in the history of our world have we had more.

Never in the history of our world has depression, sadness, loneliness and discontentment been higher.

CONFESSION: I am not very good at contentment. I wrestle with this everyday. Maybe it’s my generation, maybe it’s the way I’m wired up, maybe it’s my experiences, for sure it’s my fallen nature but I struggle with contentment.

The wisdom of scripture and the testimony of content people makes me realize that “Real contentment does not come from the right circumstances, but from a rich relationship with God.”

Not the right circumstances.  (You fill in the blank of what circumstances would make you content…a job, a better job, money, more money, a spouse, a better spouse, health, better health, a house, a better house, children, better children, that your children would move out.)

We can spend our whole life hoping to spin the right number, hoping that we will land on the right spaces, so we will get the things that will make us happy, or we can stop, begin a relationship with the one who made us, redeemed us and discover that contentment isn’t as elusive as we think.

Our cultures contentment is like cotton candy. It might taste good, but it’s fleeting, you can’t build you life on it, and you can’t eat too much or it will make you sick.

You get a new car and it smells good for a while, then you get the first door ding and the first spill and the first payment and you no longer have that rush of happiness when you see it. (Cotton Candy)

You meet this amazing person, and for a while you can’t sleep, work or do anything without thinking about this perfect human being that God has given you, and then it’s not long before you realize they have some quirks, and they do some things that irritate you, and they have bad breath, and the feeling of euphoria that you felt for that 1st week has left, reality has set in, and the real work of love begins. (Cotton Candy)

You go to a church and the music grabs a hold of your soul and you are amazed at how brilliant and relevant the person is who is giving the message, and then you keep coming and the music loses it’s emotional edge and there is a song that the worship team does too often and it’s getting on your nerves, and the guy who is giving the messages tells the same joke too often and is a little long winded at times and you realize he is not as brilliant and relevant as you thought and you have to decide that your belief in God is deeper than a feeling and the real work of faith begins. (Cotton Candy)

Imagine getting to the place the Apostle Paul got to when he wrote these words in prison, “Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One(Jesus)who makes me who I am.”


1) From a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being very content and 1 being not content at all, how are you doing when it comes to living a contented life?

2) When and where are those times when you are most content? What are you doing?

I will talk more about this in “The Elusive Business of Contentment” (Part 2)

For more thoughts about contentment, you can watch my message on contentment starting at the 25:45 mark:

Contentment: The Elusive American Virtue

Most of our lack of contentment has to do with COMPARING.

When we compare what we have to what those around us have, we will never be content.

Living a life of discontentment affects our own personal happiness, our relationships, our finances and many times our moral choices.

Your life is unique.

You are one of a kind.

God made you and picked you and gave you a purpose that is like no other.

Your looks, skills and resources are original.

God does not want you to be like someone else.

He wants you to be YOU!

Your unique purpose is needed in our world.

You cannot be you while you are trying to be like someone else.

C.S Lewis very wisely wrote in Mere Christianity, “We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. Nearly all those evils which people put down to greed or selfishness are really far more the result of pride.”

Our obsession with riches really is an obsession of what I have compared to what others have.

The apostle Paul said some encouraging and powerful words when he said, “Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.”

Finding contentment in America is like fitting a camel through the eye of a needle. Hmm? Someone much smarter than I said that once.

Most of our problem with comparing ourselves to others is that we don’t really know who we are. We feel lost. We feel like we need to attach ourselves to what the world says is important in order to feel valuable.

Once a human finds out WHO THEY REALLY ARE, they then begin to find the real contentment that they have been searching for.

Our perspectives, hopes, dreams, priorities change when we realize WHO WE ARE!

Fred Craddick tells this story about the time he was vacationing in Tennessee.

Fred and his wife were seated at a table in a restaurant when an old man came up to them and asked, “Are you folks on vacation?” “Yes,” said Fred, “and we’re having a good time.”

“What do you do for a living?” the old man said. Fred was trying to get rid of the guy and he said, “I’m a preacher.”

“Oh,” the old man said. “Then let me tell you a preacher story.”

He pulled up a chair and sat down.

“I was born an illegitimate child. I never knew who my father was. That was very hard for me. The kids at school made fun of me and they called me names. When I walked around our little town I always felt that people were staring at me and asking that terrible question, ‘I wonder who the father of that little boy is?’”

“I spent a lot of time by myself and growing up I didn’t have any friends.”

“One day a new pastor came to town and everybody was talking about how good he was. I’d never gone to church but one Sunday I decided I’d go hear him speak.”

“He was good. So I kept coming back. But each time I went to church I’d come in late and I’d leave early so I wouldn’t have to talk to anybody.”

“Then one Sunday I got so caught up in listening to the sermon I forgot to leave early. The service ended, people stood up and I couldn’t get out the door. Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder.”

“When I turned that big tall pastor was looking down at me. He asked, ‘What’s your name boy? Whose son are you?’”

“When I heard that question I just shook. But before I could say anything the preacher said, ‘I know who your family is. There’s a distinct family resemblance. Why, you’re the child of God.’”

“You know, mister, those words changed my life,” he said. The old man got up and left.

The waitress came over and asked me, “Do you know who that was?”

“No,” said Fred. She said, “That’s Ben Hooper, two term governor of Tennessee.”

A man learned he was the child of God and it changed his life.

All the depression and all the cuts and hurts and rejection he’d had through his life were eliminated by the power of God’s love.

And no longer could people diminish his sense of dignity because he was a child of God.

David wrote in the psalms “God is the Father of orphans, champion of widows, He makes homes for the homeless, and leads prisoners to freedom”

Paul wrote to the Romans, “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’ For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs.”

That elusive virtue called contentment happens when we realize who and whose we are and that we have been called to a greater purpose and calling than just acquiring things.

We have been called to represent our Heavenly Father to a world that desperately needs to know about His love.

Mother Teresa said these beautiful words about our highest calling of representing God here on earth, “Hungry for love, He looks at you. Thirsty for kindness, He begs of you. Naked for loyalty, He hopes in you. Homeless for shelter in your heart, He asks of you. Will you be that one to Him?”

My son’s girlfriend, Pauline Hassan is a hero in my life. Her mother was born in Sudan, and Pauline was a young girl when they moved to San Diego to escape the persecution and danger of her war torn country.

I believe we can learn from her and her family about how right priorities and hard work can lead to a contentment in America that is greater than just how much money we can make.

They remind me to always make my life purpose greater than just about myself.

The news organization Al Jazeera interviewed Pauline and her mother Agnes talking about “Living the Modern ‘American Dream’”.

It is a very inspiring interview.

I am proud to know Agnes. I am proud to know Pauline.

Check out the link below