Erik Reymond’s Chasing Contentment: Trusting God in a Discontented Age is graciously available free to Christ and Pop Culture members until October 26, 2017, through our partnership with Crossway.
Philippians 4:13 may be one of the most ubiquitous Bible verses in our culture. No doubt this has something to do with Tim Tebow’s eye black. Even without his influence though, it is oft quoted in Christian circles.
I am fond of pointing out that in order to understand when Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” it is in the context of talking about contentment. While this makes the verse more understandable, it unearths a tricky subject, because contentment isn’t really a buzz word. It isn’t something trendy that generates click-baity articles in the Christian blogosphere. And yet, it’s something we are all more or less chasing, whether we realize it or not.While Reymond focuses more on the accumulation of things, the principles transfer to how we interact with culture in general.
Because of that, we would do well to let Erik Raymond’s book Chasing Contentment: Trusting God in a Discontented Age guide us along the way. Early on, Reymond notes that the topic of contentment is found with more regularity among Puritan writers (14). As a result, his book draws heavily on two authors (Jeremiah Burroughs and Thomas Watson) who wrote key books on the subject. Reymond’s work translates these older works into a more accessible modern take on contentment.
Before getting too far into the book, Reymond spends a chapter defining contentment. As he explains, “The danger of an oft-neglected word like contentment is that we may not have a firm grasp on what it actually means.” He will ultimately summarize contentment as “inward as opposed to external. It is quiet rather than complaining. It is a work of grace rather than a result of human effort. It rests in God’s providence rather than complaining against him.” (32)
With this definition in mind, the real question is whether or not this something we can attain. The second half of the book focuses on this very issue. The short version, is that yes it is attainable. While it requires effort, it is grace-driven effort and is something we can find through the right channels. Not surprisingly, these include developing habits of communing with God in his Word and responding to God in prayer.
The perhaps more significant path to contentment is learning self-denial. Reymond deals with this in detail in chapter 6. After encouraging readers to practice on-going self-denial, he notes that:
Most people say they’d be happy if they could just have more. But God often makes us content not by giving us more stuff or relationships but by giving us more humility and trust. We want to be promoted, but the path of contentment is to be brought lower. (110)
While Reymond focuses more on the accumulation of things, and mentions relationships, I think the principles transfer to how we interact with culture in general. The lie we buy into is that satisfaction and contentment come through consumption. That may be actual physical consumption of food and drink, or the diet of pop culture and media we take in. There is a subtle lure to expect those things to bring ultimate satisfaction and contentment. Yet, we often find ourselves still empty after binge watching the latest series on Netflix.
The solution is not to deny culture and avoid it. Rather, the solution presented in Reymond’s book is to find contentment first in Christ. Then, you are able to freely enjoy community and culture without using it to chase contentment.
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