So far, my observations have led me to see something very clearly:
People who are content are content no matter what their circumstances.
People who are discontent stay that way even when their circumstances improve.
Discontented people always feel like something could be better, and when things change, they're sure they will be happy, but they're not. Because something could always be better. Something is always lacking. "Sure, I finally got a new job, but the lady in the office next to me doesn't like me." "My house is bigger, but now I'm going to complain about how hard it is to clean." "I've switched churches three times in the last five years, and every one of them has failed to meet my needs."
Discontentment is miserable.
When I was a teenager, I made a conscious decision to be one of the content people. I was not going to let my circumstances dictate my happiness. But it's more difficult than it would seem. After all, life is full of unhappy events, and I'm a realistic person. If the going gets tough, I feel it just as keenly as the next person.
So I started reading Philippians daily- the entire book through each day- and before each reading, I would remind myself that Paul was in prison when he wrote it. His life's work, by every human estimation, was on hold, and his life was hard- physically, emotionally, spiritually. Even in those circumstances, Paul was saying, "Rejoice!" How did he do it?
In his letter, Paul reveals his secret.
"I have learned in whatever state I am,
to be content:
I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound.
Everywhere and in all things
I have learned both to be full and to be hungry,
both to abound and to suffer need.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
Paul had learned to be content no matter what befell him, in good circumstances and bad. And he was content because Christ gave him strength to be content.
It is a truly beautiful thought that Paul learned to be content. He didn't say, "How do I keep my spirits up in prison? Well, I was born a pretty optimistic person. I'm just a glass half-full kind of guy." No, contentment was a lesson he learned. And that means that all of God's people can learn that lesson. It's a difficult course, and there's no graduation, but the study is worth it.
Next time you hear yourself complaining, or you find yourself asking God to change your situation, stop and ask yourself if this circumstance might be a good opportunity to learn contentment. If Paul can do it, so can we, through Christ who gives strength.