I wonder a lot about contentment. It seems like a characteristic that is similar to peace. If one is content, one will be at peace. Paul writes, from prison no less, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Phil. 4:11) He then goes on to list a variety of physical situations that he has lived through and in which he was “content.”
This contentment that Paul writes about clearly comes to him from God (vs. 13 and 19). And contentment in all circumstances seems to be a goal that Paul advocates, given the general context here.
But my question in all of this, is whether it is ever ok to be discontent. Are there circumstances in which we actually should lack contentment?
So, for example, should we be content with poverty in the world? Should we be content that women and children are regularly exploited in various places? Ok, so those examples are rather extreme.
What about our own spiritual growth? Should we be content with where we are spiritually and not strive, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, toward holiness even though it often feels like we are making little progress? Should we be content when a friend, or loved one, or acquaintance is content with where he or she is at spiritually or should we gently prod them to strive for more? For example, perhaps you have a friend who doesn’t think they need to go to church anymore. They can worship just as well on a hike. Should we be content with that, allowing them to find their own path, as it were, or should we carefully and pastorally call attention to this spirit-killing behavior?
Or is contentment, the sort Paul is talking about, something like being discontent with situations like these and striving for change, and yet being content as we work and pray knowing that ultimately God is in control? And maybe is that even true with Paul’s situations? Could it be that the learned contentment with being imprisoned, for example, had to do with praying for release – a lack of contentment with the immediate situation – yet an overarching contentment knowing that whether in prison or out, God would accomplish his purpose.
So maybe contentment, at least in certain cases, must always be mixed up with a dose of holy lack of contentment.