Happiness is big business. A seemingly endless number of advertising campaigns, books, courses and gurus (even supposedly Christian ones) advocate particular gadgets, apps, hobbies, exercise routines, diets, medicines or other practices aimed at quenching our thirst for well-being. But like the green light across the way from Gatsby it remains out of reach.
As he reflects on his circumstances and the simple provisions available to him, Robinson Crusoe pauses to consider the nature of contentment. He notes that discontented people:
‘…cannot enjoy comfortably what God has given them, because they see and covet something that he has not given them. All our discontents about what we want, appeared to me to spring from the want of thankfulness for what we have.’
Here is a diagnosis of discontentment that points inwardly to the greedy human heart rather than outwardly to circumstances. Here is a call to contentment based on a thankful recognition of the gifts that have already been received from the Heavenly Giver. Why are you unhappy? Isn’t it because your eyes are on the possessions you desire, the relationship you don’t have, the job you aspire to rather than the things you already have? This recent video was a good reminder of just how much we have:
For the Christian contentment is not just about a kind of pythonesque positive thinking that always tries to “look on the bright side of life”. It is found in a recognition that God is a Father who provides many of the important things like rain and sunshine that we all take for granted (Matt 5:45). More than that, it is grounded in the message that He entered into the world as the ultimate gift through his Son, Jesus Christ. In John’s gospel Jesus claims to give everlasting water that quenches our deepest thirst (4:14) and to be the true bread that satisfies our deepest hunger (6:48). He describes himself as the light (8:12), the resurrection (11:25), the way, the truth, the life (14:6), and the vine (15:1). In John 10 he claims to be both the gate to good pasture (v. 9) and the good shepherd who gives abundant life (v.11).
Here is everything we ever truly wanted and needed: peace, relationship, guidance, hope, protection and provision. These are realities secured by the death and resurrection of Christ and accessible by the faith given through the Holy Spirit. When our hope and focus is on Him we are freed from the world of gnawing ambition and materialism and into a life of contentment and generosity both in good times and bad.