Someone had graciously given us a gift card to Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House. So there we were, just my wife and myself, getting ready to enjoy a sumptuous feast in elegant surroundings. Julie had ordered the petite filet mignon, because she is, well … petite. Not me. I chose the 16-ounce prime strip. Of course, I had considered the 24-ounce version, but had restrained myself, anxious to save room for the deserts I had heard so much about. Julie completed her order with the sautéed mushrooms. For me, it was a heaping platter of onion rings. Not exactly elegant, but oh so delicious. We both added a salad, which we enjoyed with warm bread slathered in butter as we waited for the main meal to arrive. Now fast-forward a few hours. I am sitting in the same well-padded seat in the company of my lovely wife, having just placed the last bite of mouth-watering dessert into my mouth, chased by one last sip of fresh-brewed coffee. And I am miserable. I have overindulged. I am suffering from post-meal internal gastritis, or P.I.G. as it is referred to in the medical community. My pants felt too tight, my stomach too full, and I could barely bear the thought of having to make the long walk back to our car. I had ODd on Del Frisco’s. And I was paying the price. I felt fat, but I was anything but happy.
Fat and happy. What a strange phrase. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Especially in our diet-crazy, weight-obsessed society. Is anybody ever really fat and happy? If they are, it probably doesn’t last too long, because they’re constantly bombarded by commercials, images and not-so-subtle messages that thinner is better. But the phrase isn’t really about weight and diet. It’s actually an idiom, a colloquial term used to describe a certain kind of contentment – the result of being well-fed. It carries with it the idea of satisfaction from over-consumption or unbridled success. As in, “Since all the employees were fat and happy, there was little incentive to improve productivity.” The employees were satisfied and, as a result, complacency had set in. They were content and seemingly successful. In other words, they were fat and happy. That night in Del Frisco’s I had over-consumed, but I was far from happy. I was not content. Because contentment has little to do with consumption and it has virtually nothing to do with circumstances. Contentment can never be achieved through over-indulgence.
So what is the real definition of contentment? According to the Bible, contentment is associated with godliness. In his letter to Timothy, Paul reminds him that “godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment” (1 Timothy 6:6 NASB). Paul had just been referring to individuals who were pursuing godliness in the hopes that it would profit them financially. They were expecting their pursuit of a life of righteousness to result in monetary blessings from God. Paul lets Timothy know that the pursuit of godliness does have its benefits – when accompanied by contentment. Another translation paraphrases Paul’s statement this way, “A devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God” (1 Timothy 6:6 MSG). Paul goes on to say, “After all, we didn’t bring anything with us when we came into the world, and we certainly cannot carry anything with us when we die. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content” (1 Timothy 6:7-8 NLT).
We live in a society that thrives on consumption. We have to have more and more to be satisfied. When we finally get what we think we need to make us happy, we suddenly discover there is something else we have to have. We grow increasingly “fat,” but never truly happy. In the world, contentment is elusive and happiness is short-lived. But the apostle Paul had learned the secret to contentment. He had discovered that it had little or nothing to do with his circumstances or possessions: “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13 NASB).
When Paul prayed to God to remove what he referred to as his “thorn in the flesh,” God answered, “My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9a NLT). And what was Paul’s response? “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me. Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9b-10 NLT). Paul had learned to find contentment and satisfaction in the very things he had asked God to remove from his life. He discovered that godliness or spiritual growth must always be accompanied by contentment – a satisfaction with our circumstances and situations – because God is good and knows what is best. Godliness is not about having more, but learning to be satisfied with less – as long as God is in it. Our satisfaction and contentment do not come from things, but from Him. Our happiness does not come from material possessions or financial gain, because those things are unreliable. They come and go, and when they do, our happiness goes with them. But God is permanent and trustworthy. He is always with us and never leaves us. What He promises, He delivers. What He says, He does. He can be trusted because He is true.
Shakespeare once wrote, “My crown is in my heart, not on my head; not decked with diamonds and Indian stones, nor to be seen: My crown is called content: A crown it is that seldom kings enjoy.” A huge meal and a full stomach do not bring contentment. Money in the bank cannot produce genuine contentment. Popularity or fame will never result in contentment. Satisfying our desires and fulfilling our wishes will never leave us contented. Contentment is a result of viewing life from God’s perspective. It is a God-focused viewpoint that recognizes Him as the all-satisfying focal point of our lives. With Him I have all I need. I do not need another raise or a bonus to make me happy. I do not need to be respected to have value. I do not need a bigger home to increase my self-worth. I do not need to drive a nicer car to feel like I have arrived. Contentment is a companion of godliness. As I grow in my understanding of and love for God, I increase in my contentment. I slowly learn that joy in life is not God plus something else. It is God alone. He is all I need. He has all I need. Like Paul, I can learn to be content in whatever circumstance I am in. I can even learn to be content with my own weaknesses. Why? Because it is in my circumstances that I learn He is all I need. It is in my weakness that I learn He has all the strength I need to not only survive, but also thrive.
As believers today, we face at least two dangers. The first is the condition I described at the beginning of this article. It is the P.I.G. syndrome – bloating ourselves on the things of this world in the hopes that they will bring us some level of satisfaction or contentment, only to find that they leave us feeling miserable and disappointed. The other danger is complacency. We can become satisfied with our current spiritual condition and never move beyond that point. We lose our incentive. Our ticket to heaven is stamped and our eternal destiny is secure, so we become fat and happy, failing to press on in our spiritual growth. Both are dangers we need to avoid. Neither are pictures of true contentment.
The pursuit of godliness when accompanied with contentment really does result in great gain. We discover that our joy is not tied to earthly things or worldly pleasures. We learn that our weaknesses are really strengths and our heartaches can produce true joy. We learn the truth of the great old chorus: “Little is much when God is in it. Labor not for wealth or fame. There’s a crown and you can win it, if you go in Jesus’ name.” It’s okay to enjoy a good meal, to appreciate a financial windfall, to drive a nice car and live in a lovely home. But none of those things will ever bring us contentment. They can’t even leave us truly fat and happy. Because true contentment, real happiness is a companion of godliness.