Learning Contentment in a Material World: The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs

“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”

With Thanksgiving coming up this week, it seemed this would be an appropriate book to highlight. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (1648) was very profitable and helpful to me in this day of materialism, covetousness, and greed. Even though I have a very comfortable life, I still find myself complaining and worrying – whether outwardly or in my heart – about trivial matters, and this book really helped put everything into proper perspective.

I was concerned about attempting to read a book that was written in 1648 by a Puritan author, but Burroughs’ writing style is very readable, certainly no more difficult than a KJV Bible. Burroughs does a wonderful job of reminding the reader that we are merely pilgrims passing through this world. That it is natural not to be comfortable here, because it is not our home. (“I am a traveler and I must not be finding fault; I am in another man’s house…”) That my contentment and peace should derive from God alone, and from no earthly person or thing. Right at the start of the book, Burroughs offers this definition of Contentment:

“Christian Contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which FREELY submits to and DELIGHTS in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in EVERY condition” (Caps mine).

He goes on after this to dissect this definition and expound on each of these aspects of contentment. Burroughs explains that achieving contentment is a lot like a math equation; he observes:

A Christian comes to contentment not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction…not by adding more to his condition, but rather by subtracting from his desires, so as to make his desires and his circumstances even and equal.

He also gives this explanation about finding our contentment in God alone:

Since God is contented with Himself alone, if you have Him, you may be contented with Him alone, and it may be, that is the reason why your outward comforts are taken from you, that God may be all in all to you. It may be that while you had these things, they shared with God in your affection, a great part of the stream of your affection ran that way: God would have the full stream run to Him now.

In other words, God will not share His place in your life with any other thing or person. In fact, if we are not seeking all we need only from God, then we are idolaters. During our life here, God is continually working to ween us away from the things of the world. That likely will include taking away the things that our hearts tend to hold too tightly to.

Charles Spurgeon addressed the topic of contentment in his Morning and Evening devotionals. Regarding the verse Philippians 4:11, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am , therewith to be content,” Spurgeon writes,

“Contentment is not a natural propensity of man…Covetousness, discontent, and murmuring are as natural to man as thorns are to the soil. We need not sow thistles and brambles; they come up naturally enough, because they are indigenous to earth: and so, we need not teach men to complain they complain fast enough without any education. But the precious things of the earth must be cultivated…Contentment is one of the flowers of heaven, and if we would have it, it must be cultivated; it will not grow in us by nature.”

And it is so true, at least for me personally, that it is often easier and more natural to find things to complain and be unhappy about than to willingly accept and even embrace the circumstances in our life that are not enjoyable or comfortable. But we must remember and trust that everything that comes into our life is ordained and controlled by our loving and sovereign Heavenly Father.

Burroughs’ illustrations are well constructed and memorable. And I found the truths to be life-changing. This was one of those books that, as soon as I finished it I felt like I wanted to turn to the beginning and start again. I am still in the process of learning to turn complaints into contentment, and may God give me the grace to improve in this area.

Have you struggled with learning to be content? What have you found yourself grumbling about lately? Can you find a way to turn your complaining to thanksgiving? Here are a couple of examples I picked up somewhere along the way:

When I find myself starting to complain about needing to wash dishes or do laundry AGAIN – I remember to thank God for all the food and clothes He has provided for me to enjoy. When I start to become annoyed because I have to park far away from my destination, I can be grateful that I don’t have a reason to park in a handicapped space because I am strong and healthy and able to walk. Remember Paul’s exhortation: “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thess. 5:18).

Now it’s your turn – give it a try!

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment is a book I’ve included on my list of non-fiction works I believe every Christian should read, and along with many other great works by Puritan writers, is available from Puritan Paperbacks.

6 thoughts on “Learning Contentment in a Material World: The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

  1. Wonderful article, Linda. I am content most of the time, even with what I am going thru because i can thank God for providing me with a wonderful family that looks after me. When I struggle with discontentment is when I don’t feel good and just wish this were all over. Then I remind myself that God knows the number of my days and He has a purpose for keeping me here. You have given me something else to remember. I am just passing thru this world and have a future destination.

    1. Thanks, Annette. Isn’t it wonderful to know that, not only has God ordained a unique life journey for each of us — the way and length of it — but also provides everything we need to get through it, including companions to accompany us along the way?

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