If your life was put in three different file drawers that represented your past, present, and future, which of the file drawers drains the most joy out of your life? If there is a disruption of your contentment, it would indicate something has gone wrong in your thinking.
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The way you begin to restore contentment to yourself is by giving thought to the negative things that seek to rule your mind. It is the negative things in your life that drain your joy, rest, and contentment.
Circularity of Thoughts
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6:20
It is impossible to not think about something. You deeply embed your thoughts into your waking hours, and they never stop running through your mind. Your thoughts have so much power over you that they form random, willy-nilly, thought-collages even while you are asleep. We call this dreaming.
Because God made you in His image, you can think, ponder, and reflect. Because of what happened in Genesis 3, you can think poorly, even to the detriment of your soul.
There could be a “chicken and the egg” discussion here, as far as what came first—the thought or the treasure, though it does not matter what happened first. What matters is that you must address both your thought life and the things you value.
The blessing of the circularity of thought-to-treasure is that if your treasure is right, your thoughts will be right. If you are pursuing the right things, your thoughts will be significant assets to you.
The bane of this circularity is when your treasure is not the right thing. If so, over time, your thoughts will have drifted so far from being in line with the gospel that it will take an act of God and the community of faith to recover to a sound way of biblical thinking.
If a joyful person does not characterize you, or if you are not living in regular, uninterrupted contentment, you must reassess your thought-to-treasure construct.
Charlie Boyd says, “The key to renewing your mind is learning to live more and more in ‘focused mode’ rather than “default mode.” The discontented person has kicked the brain into neutral, which leads to the default mode.”
The main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self. Am I just trying to be deliberately paradoxical? Far from it.
This is the very essence of wisdom in this matter. Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning.
You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problem of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. – D. Martin-Jones, Spiritual Depression
This perspective makes Paul’s appeal to think on the right things the right thing to do. You see in his statement the circularity of thought-to-treasure. What you think about is what you want and what you desire represents your thought life.
If you want these things, you have the right treasure. You value the right stuff. If your treasure is less biblical, your thoughts will be less biblical, and the contentment that you desire will drain from your soul.
Controlling Your Thoughts
There was a time when Paul was not able to control his thoughts. To think well is a learned behavior, which is what he was teaching the Philippians. He learned how to experience joy-filled contentment in his thought life.
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. – Philippians 4:11-12
There is no way around the fact that to re-train your thought life will take work, over a long period. To reset the general direction of your thinking is not a five-step program, but a complete change of worldview.
The Christian life is not so much about a roadmap, but a compass. It is not about steps that you can map out to be a content-filled Christian. The Christian life is the predetermined setting of your compass on the gospel and then training yourself to have joyful contentment in this new direction for living.
The truest, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable things that you can do is live out the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-40). No other kind of life on earth transcends a person’s tenacious desire to love God and others most of all. All other attempts to fill the void in our souls will fail.
Inward thinking and self-focused thoughts lead to a depreciation of happiness. Life is found in God, not in ourselves. The person who is fixated on God, while doing the things that God does–serving others–will flourish in this life and enjoy great reward in the life to come.
Changing Your Thoughts
Learning contentment comes from intentionally and joyfully focusing your thoughts on being grateful for the people that God has brought into your life while caring about their needs above your own (Philippians 2:3-4).
One of the most life-giving and self-filling questions you could ever ask another person is, “How may I serve you?”
When this kind of thinking becomes your treasure, your thoughts will gradually move from discontentedness to contentedness. What I am talking about here is a gospel vision that is given by the Lord.
If discontentment is the issue, there is not much you can do until you see the need and there is motivation to do what is necessary to change, while pleading with the Lord to bring change to your thought life. Do you want joy? Would you like to find personal and lasting contentment?
She said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die! – Genesis 30:1
A contented life will come after you decide you will not be satisfied with any other kind of life. It reminds me of Rachel’s desperate plea for children. I am not altogether sure of her motives, but I am sure of her desperation.
Learning contentment is born out of a desperate and intentional heart. Your peace will come in proportion to your dissatisfaction about the selfishness in your life.
Intention guides your attention. Or, as Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.” The question becomes, “Is your primary goal to pursue God and others for the joy-filled expectation of finding your fullest contentment through Him while serving others?”
This transition will require a mental fight every day of your life. Each day you will have to take your thoughts captive because your thought life will be relentless in derailing your mind, with the hope of keeping you off your Christ-centered trajectories (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).
The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. – Matthew 6:22-24
Which will it be, because you can only have one? You cannot serve two masters. What are you seeking? What you pursue is what you see and what you see is what you are chasing. What do you see? Where have you set your affections?
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. – Colossians 3:2
If you make your aim to seek and to know Christ, over time, you will begin to see Christ in everything that happens to you, and you will receive from Christ the strength to be content in every circumstance.
Paul saw Christ as his chief goal and joy in life (Philippians 3:8-10). That was his learned behavior—to focus on Christ. Through this intentional focus, he received the strength he needed to be content, regardless of the circumstances, he found himself (Philippians 4:11-12).
Seek Christ in all things,
see Christ in all things,
be strengthened by Christ in all things,
to be content in all things.
Call to Action
If your life was put in three different file drawers that represented your past, present, and future, which of the file drawers drains the most joy out of your life?
Your first call to action is to determine if discontentment generally characterizes you or if you are a dissatisfied person. Would you consider yourself a God-sustained, joy-filled person?
Remember Paul’s comprehensive qualifier: I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content (Philippians 4:11). I am asking a global question, not a micro question where you can pick a slice of your life so you can answer in the affirmative.
God’s contentment should be like breathing; no matter where you go or who you are with, you are content. That is my question. Have you learned that regardless of the circumstance or the context, you are the happy recipient of God’s ongoing contentment?
If this is not the normal condition of your soul, which file drawer would you say disrupts your contentment? Is it your unresolved past, your unsettling present, or your uncertain future?
After you narrow down the file drawer question, you can begin to examine what it is that you want that you are not getting. If your soul is in turmoil, your greatest treasure is not Christ, but something else—something you are not able to control or secure.
Here are ten examples of things that we are tempted to want more than Christ. All of these statements begin with, “I am not content because…”
- My marriage is not what I want it to be.
- My life has not turned out the way I had hoped.
- I do not have all the things I desire.
- I am not living like my friends.
- My children are not the way I want them to be.
- I struggle with fear, comparison, self-pity, jealousy, or anger.
- I am not married.
- I am married but to the wrong kind of person.
- The Lord will not give me what I want.
- I want, I want, I want, I want, but cannot have.
Any of these things can supplant Christ as your greatest treasure. If you have not learned “comprehensive contentment” that spans every facet of your life, there is another treasure competing for your heart. If that is true, I want you to do the following seven things.
- Pray through this article, asking the Lord to identify what is wrong with you.
- Reflect on what the Spirit of God reveals to your mind.
- Write those reflections down so you can own them. Make them yours.
- Commit your life to change what the Lord has identified to you about you.
- Share these reflections with a few friends—at least one trusted friend.
- Walk out what you are learning, making sure your friend walks with you.
- Review these things ad infinitum until you have a new and learned behavior.