The answer to this question depends on what we are content with. It is one thing to be content with our circumstances; it is quite another to be content with our character. The first type of contentment is encouraged by scripture, the second warned against. One of the vital keys to an authentic and flourishing Christian life is learning to differentiate between the two, and deal with the fallen human tendency to reverse them.
Most honest believers, if pressed, will admit that they have a propensity to be comfortable with their faults and distinctly uncomfortable with the difficult things they must face in life. This is part and parcel of the "old man" within us. Our flesh constantly seeks to excuse our character flaws while simultaneously complaining about every seemingly unfavorable condition in our day-to-day existence. In distinct irony, many of the latter are a result of the former. We are naturally self-indulgent and comfort-seeking, and when we give in to these two temptations, bad circumstances-that stem directly from doing so-result! Perhaps this is the reason why there is a clear biblical imperative not to make idols of indulgence or comfort.
The reverse irony is that, in seeking to improve our Christian character and learning to live with our circumstances, one helps the other. As we grow in the fruit of the Spirit like kindness, faithfulness and self-control, we may start to resolve some of the bad situations that came about before we possessed these things in increasing measure. For instance, if our lack of kindness made some enemies in this life, becoming more sincerely kind to those enemies might win them over as friends.
Something else to remember about the "circumstantial" side of the equation is that difficult problems in life can themselves be character builders if we approach them with the right attitude. Patience is one of the most vital qualities of godliness. We learn patience by bearing unpleasant situations through the grace of God. The truth is that even the best application of other aspects of a maturing character will not remove every hard circumstance we must endure on this side of Heaven. When we cannot change an external condition (or, in the case of something like illness, an internal one), we have no good choice but to use it as a springboard to becoming more patient in long-suffering, in imitation of our Lord. Through the advent of patience in our character (along with learning to share our burdens with Christ) we learn to be truly content with whatever difficulties we face in life.
It might be said that the primary reason God does not remove the thorns from His children's sides in this world is to make us all better, more Christ-like people. It is in the crucible of our circumstances that He does much of the sanctifying work in us. This is absolutely essential in both preparing us for eternity with Him and helping others to know Him that they might be with us in that eternity. So in the quest to be content with our circumstances, but not our character, we are properly ordering our lives not only for ourselves but ultimately also for the benefit of those around us.
© Shea Oakley. All rights reserved.
Shea Oakley is a freelance Christian writer from Ridgewood, New Jersey.