A Lesson from my dog. Philippians 4.11-12
The most contented soul I know belongs to my dog. His name is Chester, and he knows what makes him happy-being next to me. Ha, I call him my Christian dog as he has staked his claim at my left side as I read my Bible and pray [in my study chair] in the morning. Funny thing, the rest of the crew (his family of three), know not to even try to get in that chair!
So, is Chester a brilliant dog? O I know I sound daft, but let's think this morning. He knows what makes him the most content and he goes after that thing-it is being in my presence, which even Psychology Today states as a dog's number one pleasure-being in his owner's presence.1
I remember being a young mother when I first fully recognized Paul's words, "In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content-" I was in the mountains at my first ever women's retreat, and those words disarmed me. 'Really Paul? Could you be content when:
--Your mom just died, and truth be told, she might have been your reason for living?
--The thing you fasted and prayed about for 10 years finally came to be, and then it crashed and burned?
--You are a young mother and your little kids are growing up in a world that seems to have a daunting future, and well, sometimes you worry about what will happen?
Yup, he said it: "I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself. I know both how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content-whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need."2 Challenged, I memorized the passage and have reflected on it hundreds and hundreds of times since.
Contentment is rather illusory, isn't it? Just when we grab ahold of it, like a slick balloon, it seems to escape our grasp again.
Looking back, it feels like contentment has looked different to me at different times of my life. The dictionary defines contentment as 'satisfaction'. But the Greek word used to describe contentment in the Bible does not just mean to be satisfied, or to have sufficient, but to have an attitude that lets us be satisfied with whatever is available. Aha. That would account for Paul's disposition and his ability to be content, even when shackled in prison and in pain. Wow.
One thing I know about contentment - it is for the 'now'. How common it is for us to think I will be happy when . . . or everything will be better when . . . or I will be satisfied when I get this... or become this . . . THEN I will be happy. Not so! Contentment is not found in possessions, accomplishments or even station in life. Experiencing contentment involves good and right thinking, evaluating our purpose and living by the priorities that help us fulfill that purpose. God alone gives us our purpose in life, which is why Godliness with contentment is great gain.3
But honestly, I think Chester has it right. He has learned the simple route to contentment - being in the presence of the one he adores and vice-versa. Hey wait...that reminds me of what the psalmist wrote, 'in Your presence is fullness of joy.'4 Not just any kind of joy, but the fullest expression of it. I so love that!
Contentment: do not be satisfied until you have found it. Paul found it - he had it; he knew the secret. Note: you will not truly find it without Jesus. But in His presence is fullness of joy . . . and contentment.
1 - Just being in the presence of his owner brings pleasure to a dog "Just Being Near You is Reward Enough for Dogs," Psychology Today.
2 - Philippians 4.11-12, CSB
3 - 1 Timothy 6.6
4 - Psalm 16.11, NKJV