Picking up a book on contentment is dangerous for me, because it exposes the discontentment clinging to my heart. As an apparent glutton for conviction, I collect books and even teach a Bible study on the topic. After all this time I should be the most contented person I know. Instead, I only grew more discontent with my discontentment. What’s my problem?
Enter Erik Raymond—pastor of Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Nebraska—and his new book, Chasing Contentment: Trusting God in a Discontented Age. In it, he offers biblical direction for understanding true contentment.
Raymond defines contentment as “the inward, gracious, quiet spirit that joyfully rests in God’s providence” (23). The first half of this definition is uncontroversial. After all, who wants an obnoxious, spiteful, loud spirit? But the second half is much harder. Raymond explains that a truly contented spirit rests in the overruling providence of God. This can be exceedingly difficult when it is God’s providential will for us to suffer and endure difficult times.
The Bible’s teaching on God’s providence—that he ordains everything that comes to pass—is difficult to grasp and even harder to swallow when life is hard. But we must embrace it if we want to know contentment. This difficulty, Raymond reminds us, is as old as the Garden of Eden. Our first parents didn’t believe God had their best interests at heart, so they became discontented with their lot and strayed from a life of trusting obedience. Our task is to avoid their error, believing God is always working for our good, no matter our circumstances.
After introducing a God-centered vision for contentment, Raymond demonstrates how biblical contentment is best viewed through “the lenses of the gospel” (52). The more we behold who God is and what he’s done for us in Christ, the swifter we’ll be in our race toward contentment.
Raymond not only points us to Jesus but also puts the wind at our backs by walking us through key dimensions of the Christian life. He explores the gravity of sin and the mercy of Christ (ch. 3–4); he instructs how to read Scripture and pray with purpose (ch. 4); he warns us to recognize and fight temptation (ch. 5); and he shows how embracing our daily need for Christ can bring about “an explosion of happiness in the soul” (107).
At every point, Raymond carefully notes that we gain contentment only as God faithfully works contentment in us through the power of his risen Son. “Contentment comes,” he explains, “not from focusing on ourselves or feasting on stuff but by focusing and feasting on Jesus Christ” (68). God uses all things to conform us into the image of his Son. Jesus died to free us from our self-indulgence and to grant us satisfaction in himself. In this way, “contentment is something that God commands and provides the grace to experience” (16).
What makes Raymond’s work particularly useful is the way he connects growing in contentment with the local church.
Of course, God works through means, and Chasing Contentment does a beautiful job explaining the practical steps God uses to work contentment in us (131–39). Raymond doesn’t merely encourage us to pray and read our Bibles; he suggests methods such as praying and studying the Word. God doesn’t want us to check these “means of grace” off our list and go on our merry way. He wants us to worship him through encountering him in prayer and Scripture reading, thereby filling ourselves with him and ridding our hearts of discontentment.
What makes Raymond’s work particularly useful is the way he connects growing in contentment with the local church. We’re not to travel the road to contentment alone; we are, after all, one body in Christ. As a church family we pray together, read Scripture together, listen to the Word together, and delight in the sacraments together. Where these simple practices are faithfully performed, church members grow in their love for God, as well as in their confidence that he works all things together for his glory and their good.
Refocus Your Gaze
Jeremiah Burroughs and Thomas Watson—two 17th-century English Puritans whose theology figures prominently in this book—are evidence that Christians have been thinking carefully about contentment for centuries. God’s sufficiency for his people endures forever.
Chasing Contentment is a wonderful new book to recommend to those who are new to the Christian faith as well as to any Christian who struggles with discontentment. Instead of merely growing more discontent with your discontentment, pick up this little book and remind yourself of the satisfaction found in a life fixed on Christ rather than fixated on self.