How can we learn
(J. R. Miller, "The Hidden Life" 1895)
"I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am." Philippians 4:11
How can we learn contentment?
One step toward contentment, is patient submission to unavoidable ills and hardships. No earthly lot is perfect. No mortal ever yet in this world, has found a set of circumstances without some drawback. There are . . .
trials which we cannot change into blessings,
burdens which we cannot lay down,
crosses which we must continue to carry,
thorns in the flesh which must remain with their rankling pain.
When we have such trials, why should we not sweetly accept them as part of God's best way with us?
Discontent never made . . .
a rough path smoother,
a heavy burden lighter,
a bitter cup less bitter,
a dark way brighter,
a sore sorrow less sore.
It only makes matters worse! One who accepts with patience, that which he cannot change—has learned one secret of victorious living.
Another part of the lesson, is that we can learn to moderate our desires. "Having food and clothing," says Paul again, "let us be content with these." Very much of our discontent arises from envy of those who seem to be more favored than ourselves. Many people lose most of the comfort out of their own lot—in coveting the finer, more luxurious things which some neighbor has. Yet if they knew the whole story of the life they envy for its greater prosperity, they probably would not exchange for it their own lowlier life, with its more humble circumstances. Or if they could make the exchange, it is not likely they would find half so much real happiness in the other position, as they would have enjoyed in their own.
Contentment does not dwell so often in palaces—as in the homes of the humble. The tall peaks rise higher, and are more conspicuous—but the winds smite them more fiercely than they do the quiet valleys. And surely, the lot in life which God makes for us—is always the best which could be made for us for the time. He knows better than we do—what our true needs are.
The real cause of our discontent is not in our circumstances; if it were, a change of circumstances might cure it. It is in ourselves, and wherever we go—we shall carry our discontent heart with us. The only cure which will affect anything—must be the curing of the fever of discontent in us.
A fine secret of contentment, lies in finding and extracting all the pleasure we can get from the things we have—the common, everyday things; while we enter upon no mad, vain chase after impossible dreams. In whatever state we are in—we may find therein enough for our need.
No earthly misfortune can touch the wealth which a Christian holds in the divine promises and hopes. Just in the measure, therefore, in which we learn to live for spiritual and unseen eternal realities—do we find contentment amid earth's trials and losses. If we would live to please God, to build up Christlike character in ourselves, and to lay up treasure in heaven—we shall not depend for happiness, on the way things go with us here on earth, nor on the measure of temporal goods we have. The earthly desires are crowded out by the higher and spiritual desires. We can do without childhood's toys—when we have manhood's better possessions. We desire the toys of this world less—as we get more of God and heaven into our hearts.
Paul knew this secret. He cheerfully gave up all that this world had for him. Money had no power over him. He knew how to live in plenty; but he did not fret when poverty came instead. He was content in any trial, because earth meant so little—and Christ meant so much to him. He did not need the things he did not have. He was not made poor by the things he lost. He was not vexed by the sufferings he had to endure, because the sources of his life were in heaven—and could not be touched by earthly experiences of pain or loss.
These are hints of the way we may learn to be content in whatever circumstances. Surely the lesson is worth learning! One year of sweet contentment, amid earth's troublous scenes—is better than a whole lifetime of vexed, restless discontent. The lesson can be learned, too, by anyone who is truly Christ's disciple; for did not the Master say, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you"?
The artist painted life as a dark, storm-swept sea, covered with wrecks. Then out of the midst of the wild waves, he made to rise a great rock, in a cleft of which, high up, amid herbage and flowers, he painted a dove sitting quietly on her nest. It is a picture of Christian peace in the midst of this world's strifes and storms. In the cleft of the Rock, is the home of contentment.