The American way of life is characterized by being consistently discontent with your current circumstances. We love to buck the norm and pursue the next horizons in our lives. Our preoccupation with pursuing “our best life now” can get in the way of God’s sanctifying purposes in our lives. One of Paul’s secrets was that he “learned in whatever situation…to be content” (Philippians 4:11). So often we place our contentment in our accomplishments, money, relationship status, job title or a myriad of other things. The futile search to secure hope and joy in our circumstances only drives our discontentment deeper.
Below are 12 points that Jeremiah Burroughs lays out in his book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (written in 1648), along with helpful thoughts from Burroughs on each point. They have been a great help to me in my heart lately, and I hope they lift your eyes off your circumstances and onto the Giver.
1. All the rules and helps in the world will do us little good unless we get a good temper within our hearts.
“There is nothing outside us that can keep our hearts in a steady, constant way, but what is within us: grace is within the soul, and it will do this.”
2. If you would get a contented life, do not grasp too much of the world, do not take in more of the business of the world than God calls you to.
“Do not be greedy of taking in a great deal of the world, for if a man goes among thorns, when he may take a simpler way, he has no reason to complain that he is pricked with them. You go among thorns – is it your way? Must you of necessity go among them?”
3. Be sure of your call to every business you go about.
“Nothing in the world will quiet the heart so much as this: when I meet with any cross, I know I am where God would have me, in may place and calling; I am about the work that God has set me.”
4. Walk by rule in the work that I am called to.
“When I know that I have not put myself on the work, but God has called me to it, and I walk by the rule of the Word in it, then, whatever may come, God will take care of me there.”
5. Exercise much faith.
“Exercise faith, not only in the promise that all shall work together for good to them that fear God, but likewise exercise faith in God himself; as well as in his Word, in the attributes of God. …
“So what do you get by being a believer, a Christian? What can you do by your faith? I can do this: I can in all states cast my care upon God, cast my burden upon God, I can commit my way to God in peace: faith can do this.”
6. Labor to be spiritually minded.
“Be much in spiritual thoughts, in conversing with things above. Many Christians who have an interest in the things of Heaven converse but very little with them; their meditations are not much upon heavenly things. Conversing with spiritual things would lift us above the things of the world.”
7. Do not promise yourselves too much beforehand; do not reckon on too great things.
“Those who look at high things in the world meet with disappointments, and so they come to be discontented. Be as high as you will in spiritual meditations; God gives liberty there to any one of you to be as high as you will, above angels. But, for your outward estate, God would not have you aim at high things; ‘Seekest thou great things?’ said the Lord to Baruch, ‘seek them not’ (Jeremiah 45:5).”
8. Labor to get your hearts mortified to the world, dead to the world.
“Let afflictions and troubles find you with a mortified heart to the world, and they will not break your bones; those whose bones are broken by crosses and afflictions are those who are alive to the world, who are not dead to the world. But no afflictions or troubles will break the bones of one who has a mortified heart and is dead to the world.”
9. Let not men and women pore [ponder] too much upon their afflictions.
“When they awake at night their thoughts are on their afflictions, and when they converse with others – it may be even when they are praying to God – they are thinking of their afflictions. Oh, no marvel that you live a discontented life, if your thoughts are always poring over such things. You should rather labor to have your thoughts on those things that may comfort you.”
10. Make a good interpretation of God’s ways towards you.
“If you should converse with people with whom you cannot speak a word, but they are ready to make a bad interpretation of it, and to take it in an ill sense, you would think their company very tedious to you. It is very tedious to the Spirit of God when we make such bad interpretations of his ways towards us. Thus, when an affliction befalls you, many good senses may be made of God’s works toward you.”
11. Do not so much regard the fancies of other men, as what indeed you feel yourselves.
“You may think your wealth to be small and you are thereupon discontented, and it is a grievous affliction to you; but if all men in the world were poorer than you, then you would not be discontented, then you would rejoice in your estates though you had not a penny more than you have. You would have no more then than you have now; therefore it appears by this that it is rather from the fancies of other men than what you feel that makes you think your condition to be so grievous, for if all the men in the world looked upon you as happy, more happy than themselves, then you would be contented.”
12. Be not inordinately taken up with the comforts of this world when you have them.
“When you have them, do not take too much satisfaction in them. It is a certain rule: however inordinate any man or woman is in sorrow when a comfort is taken from them, so were they immoderate in their rejoicing in the comfort when they had it.”