(The previous post in this series is here: https://memoirandremains.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/the-rare-jewel-of-christian-contentment-1/
Contentment is Inward:
Burroughs provides a thoughtful, comprehensive definition of contentment. First, he states that contentment is “inward”. By this, he means that contentment takes place in the heart. It is not contentment to merely maintain a calm composure; rather the face must reflect a quiet in the heart.
We can see that the heart, the soul must be true seat of contentment:
For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation. Psalm 62:1
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me. Psalm 131:2
The heart, the soul, the inner man is the place in which the human being truly interacts with God, and is the place where sin (Mark 7:21-23) and true faith (Romans 10:9) have their true root. In the Bible, the “heart” (soul, mind) is the complex thoughts, affections, memory and desire which constitutes the true self. The outward expression may be deceitful:
6 Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy; do not desire his delicacies, 7 for he is like one who is inwardly calculating. “Eat and drink!” he says to you, but his heart is not with you. Proverbs 23:6-7.
Thus, true contentment must have its place in the heart — or it does not have a true place in the life. Indeed it is in the “soul” that distress has its place (Psalm 6:3). When the Psalmist is discouraged, it is his downcast soul which is “in turmoil within me” (Psalm 42:5).
Seeing that contentment must exist in the heart, and not merely in the face, it takes a fundamental hold upon the soul — it requires a transformation which can only be done by the Spirit, “It is a work of the Spirit indoors.”
Thus, the work of contentment is ultimately a work of submission, “it is the inward submission of the heart.” And here we see the trouble of contentment: It is not merely a tranquil emotional state. Rather it is the heart in submission to God.
What then must be done in teaching this matter? First, recognize that contentment will require great learning:
If the attainment of true contentment were as easy as keeping quiet outwardly, it would not need much learning. It might be had with less strength and skill than an Apostle possessed, yea, less than an ordinary Christian has or may have. Therefore, there is certainly more than can be obtained by common gifts and the ordinary power of reason, which often bridle the nature. It is a business of the heart.
How, as a practical matter, would one begin to learn such a thing. Certainly, we must know the target: submission of the heart in quiet. However, to know an end can often be a ground for frustration. Imagine a box containing dozens of pieces necessary to construction some furniture. I may know that in the end, I will possess a desk or dresser. But if I do not have instructions for use of the parts, knowing the goal will be of little help.
Yet, when we look to the matter of submission, we find a direction to follow. Submission is complex of how I understand myself, my circumstances and God. To lack submission ultimately means that I value myself too highly and somehow denigrate God’s authority, wisdom, goodness, strength.
Thus, to gain contentment, I would do well to begin to learn and meditate upon the nature of God. The Shorter Catechism explains that God is, “a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” A failure to understand and believe anyone of these aspects of God would lead to discontentment in my circumstances.
A massive erudite volume like “No One Like Him” (Feinberg) (as wonderful a book as it is) would crush a wavering Christian. Therefore, a counselor should suggest something shorter, like Tozer’s “Knowledge of the Holy” or Pink’s “Attributes of God” or a sermon series like Hughes’ sermons on Psalm 145 (http://calvarybiblechurch.org/site/cpage.asp?sec_id=180007650&cpage_id=180020121&secure=&dlyear=0&dlcat=The+Attributes+of+God+-+Psalm+145) would be a good source. Read (or listen) to the discussion of a single attribute. Make sure the counselee fully understands the particular attribute. After you have confirmed the knowledge, move to application. Doest the counselee truly believe (not merely state, but willingly trusts) that God is so? If the counselee really did believe God’s (power, goodness, holiness, etc) were true, how it change the way the counselee relates to the situation.
At the same time, the counselee needs to begin to examine himself: How is he being tempted to discontentment? When? Where? What is being desired? The counselee needs to be more acutely aware of his own sin, the need for daily repentance. The blessing of God’s free grace. Thus, journaling, prayer, meditation are needed.
There many wonderful songs which express God’s attributes and our response. A counselee should learn such songs to help focus his thoughts and affections. For example, “Great is thy Faithfulness” will help confirm and teach the reliability of God.