"I have found the secret of contentment." If someone held a press conference today and made that statement, they would be mocked and ridiculed to no end. Contentment isn't something we actually believe in in 2015. We might believe in what makes us content right now, but those things are always subject to change. It doesn't really matter if we're talking about material possessions or marriage from a cultural standpoint. The fact remains that contentment is always a moving target, which means we are forever doomed to rest dissatisfied.
Or are we? Paul doesn't seem to think so in Philippians 4. At first glance his answer to the "secret" seems awfully churchy and impractical. But blink and you'll miss a truth that took Paul years to earn. (Take a look at 2 Corinthians 11:22-33 sometime to see what I mean by "earn.")
Simply put, Paul says he has learned how to manage any kind of circumstance by relying on Jesus. See what I mean by seeming too churchy? "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" is the type of verse-phrase you see crocheted into kitschy wall decorations at your local Christian bookstore. It is so often quoted as to be rendered impotent upon impact. And when you really think about it, the claim itself seems almost stupid in practice. What is so special about simply "knowing Jesus" that makes everything else tolerable no matter the circumstance? It's not like there's a human comparison that I can make that's similar to this. I can't say that about my wife, or my mom, or my pastor, though I love them all dearly. Is Paul simply being idealistic here? How can this actually be true in practice?
And this is precisely the point worth making here. We can't come up with a good human comparison because there isn't one. This is something else, something we would never have come up with, something we could have never expected. In spite of all the movies we've seen, relationships we've created and products we've purchased in the hopes of finally being content, only to be let down once again when they fail to secure it for us...Jesus actually satisfies! He actually does what so many other things have promised to do for us. And he accomplishes it in a way that once more seems painfully obvious, but at the same time totally unexpected.
Jesus promises to make us new. Not in heaven, but today. He promises that when we place faith in him as Redeemer, he will actually replace our desires with his own. Over time, we will stop wanting the things we want so badly. Read that sentence again. It's hard to believe, mostly because our desires are so strong. But that's what he promises to do for us. This is what it means when the Bible talks about God giving us a "new heart." We start to want the things the Master wants. Other things lose their luster because we have seen something brighter, higher, and more worthy than what we thought of on our own. And when we have come to see this, the changing of our circumstances becomes increasingly less important. And there we come to it: the secret of contentment.
I would not call myself a content person. I am easily swayed by many of the things I've mentioned above. I get caught up in my own story, simply because I'm a sinful person and that's what sinful people do. But the Master is beckoning us with an offer that has the potential to rearrange our lives for the better, and in this case, the promise is not too good to be true. We can be new. As Augustine so eloquently said, we were made for God alone, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.