The Power of Christian Contentment, Andrew M. Davis. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019.
Summary: A biblical study of Christian contentment, exploring in what it consists, how it may be found and learned, the great value of contentment, and how contentment is sustained in one’s life.
It seems that a characteristic of the modern condition is restlessness–a relentless dissatisfaction with one’s circumstances. More is better, or in the words of a cell phone carrier’s ad a few years ago, bigger is better. We never have “enough.”
Contentment seems like a strange idea and yet for generations of Christians, one of the marks of the depth of one’s relationship with Christ was contentment. In 1643, a Puritan pastor, Jeremiah Burroughs penned what became a Puritan classic, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. In this book, Andrew M. Davis draws upon both scripture and this classic in a contemporary exploration of this classic Christian quality.
After reflecting on our contemporary discontents and the profound contentment that the apostle found in Christ, a contentment that brought him strength in weakness, Davis reminds us that contentment is commanded (Hebrews 13:5) and draws upon Burroughs for a definition of contentment:
“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”
He parses out this definition word by word, noting the mindset, and our submission to God’s decisions. He then proceeds to show how contentment is rooted in a trust in the providence of God. He describes the “mysterious mindset” of contentment that is both completely satisfied in the world while completely dissatisfied with it, a paradoxical mindset that can embrace suffering with joy. In our quest to find and learn contentment, he directs us to the teaching of Jesus: his example, God-centeredness, atonement, resurrection, the access he has won for us, his presence, his demands,, the worth of the kingdom, and the defeat of our fear and anxiety.
Contentment is of great value. It fits us to worship more excellently, is central to all the fruit of the Spirit, prepares us to receive grace, prepares us to serve, enables us to resist temptation and comforts us with our unseen hope. By contrast (and this was a challenging chapter), Davis explores the evil and excuses of a complaining heart. The excuses are particularly convicting: “I’m just venting”; “God has abandoned me”; “You don’t know…”; “I never expected this”; “You’ve never experienced what I’m going through”; “I don’t deserve this”; and “I admit I’m complaining…but I can’t help myself.”
He explores the contours of contentment in suffering and how we find contentment in suffering by asking for wisdom, resting in God’s goodness, expecting suffering, acknowledging our limited perspective, accepting that suffering can sanctify, anticipating our eternal glory, and sharing hope. He then shares a Puritan example, Sarah Edwards, and two contemporary ones. In the following chapter, he discusses what may be even more difficult, to be content in seasons of prosperity. He challenges our lack of generosity without calling us to asceticism, but rather commending the enjoyment of goods and knowing when to say “enough” and to realize the fleeting nature of wealth.
His final section is devoted to staying content. He draws an important distinction between contentment and complacency. Contentment can be zealous for God’s kingdom and is not complacent about hell. The last chapter talks about very practical practices to protect our contentment.
What is striking to me in all this is that contentment is not attained by a passive “chilling out” but by the active pursuit of Christ and the active forsaking of things that undermine our contentment. Contentment is not about having all the conditions of our lives just right. Paul is content in any and all circumstances because he “can do all things through Christ.” Contentment is far from settling for less. It is realizing that in Christ, we already have everything that matters, something that makes us bold and passionate for the things of God, because we have nothing either to fear or lose.
This is so different from all the positive thinking, best-life-now books on the market. These feed on discontentment rather than lead us to true contentment. My biggest beef with them is that their vision is too small. Davis offers us the expansive vision of a provident God who meets us in both plenty and want, offering us the sufficiency of the work of Christ, and our ultimate hope of glory. As Burroughs says, this is the jewel, worth exchanging everything else to obtain.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.