While researching and writing a book on crime and justice, I was surprised to learn that two-thirds of those in prison had full time jobs at the time of their arrests. These people, now barred from the simple pleasure of walking down the street, had not been the victims of unemployment or bad economic conditions; they had lost their freedom because they had not been content with what they had and were willing to break the law to get more.
Contentment comes from appreciating what we have rather than longing for more. The secret of contentment is to live daily with an attitude of gratitude; it is simply heeding Paul’s call to be thankful all the time (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Contented people have learned to keep possessions in perspective.
Asked what he had learned from drifting about with his companions in life rafts for 21 days while lost in the Pacific Ocean, World War II hero, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, replied, “The biggest lesson I learned from that experience was that if you have all the fresh water you want to drink and all the food you want to eat you ought never to complain about anything.”
Contentment conquers covetousness.
To covet is to focus on what we want rather than on what we have.
“Thou shalt not covet” says one of the Ten Commandments. But coveting has become one of the more respectable sins, one we hear little about from pulpits.
Those who do not cultivate contentment become covetous. And in not appreciating what they have, these discontents often begin to long for things that will harm them.
King David’s lack of contentment at home caused him to covet beautiful bathing Bathsheba while Uriah, her husband, was away fighting for his country. Soon the king and the soldier’s wife were involved in adultery and the infamous plot to get rid of Uriah so that Bathsheba could marry David was hatched, a development that resulted in great guilt and emotional pain for the coveting king (Psalm 32).
The same act is played out year after year, century after century. Husbands or wives stop appreciating one another and become discontented. Since they’re no longer grateful for what they have, they start coveting what belongs to others. It is then but a short step from coveting to collapse, from lust to loss.
Covetousness is at the root of most crime and many marriage breakups. No wonder the Bible speaks out so strongly against it: “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist of the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15).
Contentment that springs from a thankful heart is a powerful force for good, affecting every area of life. Contented people possess peace and become peacemakers.
The secret of contentment makes one thankful for the necessities of life. When we strip away the frills of our present pampered lifestyles we’re down to the basics, the things that really matter. Having the essentials ought to make us immune to self-pity and covetousness. To quote Paul again: “Having food and raiment, let us therewith be content” (1 Timothy 6:8).
Roger Campbell is an author, a broadcaster and columnist who was a pastor for 22 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.