I have a fantasy. If I would have the perfect job that would somehow incorporate my fanatical appreciation for music, writing, or coffee, or preferably all three (if that would be possible), I would be completely satisfied and happy for the rest of my life. I like to picture myself as a writer.
I could live in a rainy northwestern city like Seattle or Portland that just oozes culture and has lots of interesting people. I would do some writing at home in my small comfortable house, but most of it would be in very hip coffee shops, the kind where they roast their own beans, really care about the quality of the coffee, and make coffee an art form.
These are the places I would frequent. I would slouch in a comfortable chair close to the window to do my writing, occasionally taking a break from it to talk with some like-minded patrons about my latest book, and pretend to be intelligent.
On the side, as a hobby and for a little extra money, I would start or join up with a folksy progressive acoustic band with a cello, a few guitars, and a piano. We would write these amazingly simple but beautiful songs and we would play streets and coffee shops in the evenings and I would build relationships with people that way. We would bless a lot of people with our encouraging words and touching exquisite harmonies.
I would have this super cool, but upbuilding group of Christian visionaries for friends, that would agree with me on most things, but be just different enough to challenge me. (Ideally, some of my friends from Kansas would have moved there too.) We wouldn’t get mad at each other. They would be hysterically funny, but would be well able to have serious conversations too. . .
My heart actually knows that these things actually have nothing to do with happiness and contentment , but my brain really wants to test-drive that idea.
My brain really wants it to be that way, just to see if it’s actually true. It might be different for me than other people. I would somehow how like to travel a lot too . . . to exotic places. Europe and the like.
Paul addresses something like this in his letter to the Philippians. If you think about what he was claiming, it sounds like he learned something that very few people with whom I interact, have learned well. In chapter 4:11-13 he says,
“11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 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. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Before He followed Jesus, Paul was a Pharisee in a respected position. Considering his position, it’s very likely he had plenty of money to buy what he wanted and enough power to make him feel important. When he started following Jesus, he had to make a decision between wealth and power, or poverty and running for his life.
Few of us have had to make a decision between two vastly different lifestyles, but Paul’s focus wasn’t on how much stuff he owned or how cool his job was. Paul was a guy who followed whatever believed was true with all his heart. When he saw that Jesus was right and he was wrong, following a path with fewer material things and less power seemed of little consequence.
Paul says that his circumstances didn’t dictate whether or not he was content. What he’s saying his true, but I often live the opposite of that. I just love fantasizing how cool my life would be if I could be a writer, or a musician, or ran an amazing gourmet coffee shop.
The fact is, if you can’t be content with how your life is now, you won’t be any more content if circumstances change for the better. People who think their lives are crappy will keep thinking that even when they get their wishes, because the newness of their circumstances wears off.
If you base your contentment on circumstances, contentment will be elusive. Circumstances change. True contentment has nothing to do with circumstances.
Paul’s audacious claims don’t seem quite so far out when you look at the last verse. He doesn’t say the secret is being disciplined, or following the five steps to contentment. He says it’s possible through Christ who strengthens him. It’s that simple.
Receiving your identity, your sense of worth, your direction in life from Christ, makes it possible to be content in any circumstances. It seems insane, but think about it this way: God is the only thing that doesn’t change. Since contentment can’t be base on things that change, and everything else is subject to change, God and His strength are the only things that can give contentment capable of standing up against all the stuff that makes life tough.
Don’t mistake this post as a call to mediocrity or never trying anything new. I am only saying that if you are ticked about what God has put in your life right now, changing jobs, getting new friends, buying new clothes, or moving to a different city isn’t going to make you content. Instead, it will drive you crazy. It will drive you crazy because you are trying to get the permanent from the temporal and that never works. Ever.
Not even if you live in Seattle and are a writer or barista by day, and musician by night. Seriously.