Often we tend to think of contentment as something that we need to “do better at.” It goes in that same general category as watching our weight, exercising, keeping a budget, and biting our tongue. We think I’ll get around to contentment when I get around to working on a few of those other things.
What if contentment were not an activity, but an appetite? Notice the context in which Jesus speaks of satisfaction (here considered a synonym for contentment), “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:6).” I believe he is saying that there is a correlation between what we hunger for and our level of satisfaction/contentment.
I have been told that when soldiers are trained for the possibility of being stranded at sea that the first point of emphasis is, “Commit to not drink the sea water.” Think about it. Once you have been in the sun for a few hours (or days) you would be thirsty. There is water surrounding you. You take the first salty drink. The salty drink causes greater thirst. With each drink you get thirstier and the increased sodium intake kicks dehydration into overdrive. Death is accelerated and intensified.
Jesus goes on in the Sermon on the Mount to evaluate the “hungers” of many in his day. Some sought to fill their hunger by having a reputation of giving to the poor (Matt 6:1-4), praying with eloquence (Matt 6:5-6), or fasting severely (Matt 6:16-17). Really what they wanted was to be noticed. And Jesus says a strange thing each time, “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward (Matt 6:2, 5, 16).”
Personally, I do not read sarcasm in Jesus’ voice. They received their reward, but their repetition and grandiosity seems to imply that their reward did not satisfy—produce contentment. Like our poor soldier above, with each attempt to quench their thirst they became thirstier as futility and despair sat in.
We are no different. Our hungers maybe different, but our hearts are not. There are certain things we want (i.e., hunger and thirst for): acceptance, success, significance, money, stuff, freedom, belonging, affection, etc… These are not bad things, but they are bottomless things. There is never enough. Even when we have them, we still wish we could stock pile some for a “rainy day.” Unfortunately, these items do not have a shelf-life.
This brings us back to the beatitude, ““Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:6).” It is only a hunger and thirst for righteousness that produces satisfaction and then only when we accept the righteousness of Christ on our behalf by faith (2 Cor 5:16-21). It is only this hunger that does not become a slave to performance, trapped in people-pleasing, or corrupted with pride. This is the hunger that produces contentment.
And contentment is attractive. Contentment, like few other character qualities in our day, opens the door for us to be salt and light to our peers (Matt 5:13-16). A heart that is at rest as it works, serves, and loves is a testimony to the Living Water (John 4:10) and Bread of Life (John 6:35). At this point we can communicate clearly that what we have found in Jesus is the daily sustenance that allows us to enjoy every other pleasure (list above) without being driven or controlled.
Praise God for Paul’s words in Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”