For many Americans, the pursuit of self-fulfillment and personal happiness has become a religion. Even Christians have bought into this religion of self-actualization, pursuing God only because they see Him as an agent for happiness.
They want happiness, and they think they can use God to get it.
In our society, we tend to make choices based on what will bring us the most happiness. But in the Bible, God’s concept of happiness is much better defined by the word contentment. Remember Paul saying, in essence, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11)?
It’s amazing how whiny we can be. Sometimes I think we’re a nation of self-pitying snivelers. Circumstances get us down, way down. And “way down” is a place where Christians, at least, don’t have to stay. So how did Paul learn to be content whatever the circumstances? He tapped into the power source:
I can do [all this] through Him who gives me strength. — Philippians 4:13
It’s God who helps us choose love over personal happiness, fidelity over self-fulfillment, serving others over serving ourselves.
It’s God who provides contentment and even joy as we choose His way.
There are two weapons for being content when circumstances make us feel miserable. The first is to remember that God is in control. God has promised to do a “good work” in us, and to complete it (Philippians 1:6). When we’re stuck in the muck of the moment, we need to keep our eyes on heaven; it puts things on earth into the correct perspective.
The second weapon is to turn our obsession to satisfy ourselves into love for others. Rather than focusing on others, too many Christians have bought into the cultural value of individualism. We think personal independence is so great that we no longer recognize the beauty and blessing of shared life. But Christianity is concerned with interdependence. God doesn’t tell us to live for our own convenience. One reason He puts us in marriages is to help us find real satisfaction and real joy in serving others.
Marriage is the first place in which we get to live out God’s many commands for serving, accepting, encouraging, forgiving and submitting to one another.
I read in an airline magazine about a London jeweler who designed a ring with a band that doesn’t go all the way around the finger. The symbolic meaning of the incomplete circle is that there’s always a way out “if you’re not happy.”
Marriage was never meant to bend to our individual purposes. That’s a shabby counterfeit of the real thing — the God-given opportunity to live out love and commitment to another human being for a lifetime. When we weigh the options, we can trade the pursuit of short-lived personal happiness for the contentment that grows when we shape our relationship God’s way.
Excerpted with permission from NIV Couples’ Devotional Bible, copyright Zondervan.
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If you’re “way down” today, stop and ask the Lord to help you up! We don’t have to stay way down, because God promises that through Him we have strength enough to do all He has put before us. Join the conversation on our blog. We want to hear from you about contentment in Christ! ~ Devotionals Daily