I wonder how many people find real satisfaction with life. I don’t just mean satisfied with a couple of small bits of their lives, but instead, truly contented with life overall. Let me clarify further. Somebody who considers Monday through Friday a grind to be endured so that they can really live Friday night through Sunday night—I wouldn’t count them among the folks who are genuinely satisfied with their life as a whole.
What’s it take to be satisfied with life overall? You can’t measure it on the basis of a few weeks of happiness or sadness, can you? Maybe not even on a whole year that you write off as bad or another that you remember with extraordinary happiness.
Does satisfaction with life depend on how many of our plans we were able to realize? Probably a lot of us can actually attain a surprising amount of what we aim for. Or is it better measured by looking back and seeing how well you’ve weathered the storms that you’ve been through?
There are so many things in life that we have absolutely no control over—weather, viruses, recessions, the guy in the other car. Yet there are some things in any situation that we have at least a small measure of control over. For example, even in the face of a big, unexpected loss, we can decide what kind of attitude we’re going to display.
So between our yearnings, no control, and some control, how many people end up really content with their lot in life?
An Example of a Man Satisfied with Life
Paul, a believer in Jesus who wrote thirteen of the New Testament’s twenty-seven books, said,
… I have learned to be content in any circumstance. I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing. (Philippians 4:11-12)
By the way, Paul was in jail when he wrote that. This is a man who had been beaten with whips on five occasions, beaten with rods three times, left for dead once after having been pummeled with rocks, and shipwrecked three times. (2 Corinthians 11:24-25) And Paul was not a masochist!
He goes on to describe his hard work and toil, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst (many times without food) in cold and without enough clothing. (2 Corinthians 11:27) Sounds kind of like a North Korean dissident in a re-education camp, doesn’t it?
Here’s the point where most of us would say, “Well I’d love to know his secret of contentment and satisfaction, but not if it requires going through all that hell!” Well, nobody on Earth can tell you what you’re going to have to go through, but somebody already did record how you will be able to say at the end of the road, “…the time for me to depart is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith!” (2 Timothy 4:6-7)
In other words, Paul was saying that he could close his eyes in death genuinely content with what his life had been.
Satisfaction: It’s Not All About Me
In the same book where Paul said he had learned the secret of contentment, he also wrote what that secret is. He said,
For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. (Philippians 1:21)
That’s it! That’s the secret! But what exactly does it mean?
We came into this world naked. We go out naked. He who finishes with the most toys doesn’t “win.” He just leaves the most stuff for somebody else to dig through and pass judgment on. [“Why’d Grandpa have all these ugly things?”]
Statues and monuments are great … for pigeons to roost on. Really amazing stadiums are really amazing … until the new owners want more income and don’t believe they can accumulate it in the current city.
Families will remember you … until the third generation, maybe. Universities will proudly name an honorary “chair” after you … until the “–ism” that you taught becomes a “—wasm” in the future.[i]
“Hey, Hutchinson, don’t be so cheerful!,” you may say.
But wait! I’m not saying that we shouldn’t teach in universities, build stadiums, or cultivate great families in this life. I am saying that there’s a difference between doing these things and finding life really satisfying and doing such things, yet ending up empty. The difference lies in why and for whom we do them.
Here’s what Paul meant when he said, “For me living is Christ, and dying is gain.” He explains,
Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me, yet I don’t know which I prefer: I feel torn between the two, because I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more vital for your sake that I remain in the body. And since I am sure of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for the sake of your progress and joy in the faith. (Philippians 1:22-25)
You see, he had a heavenly view about everything he did, whether in this life on Earth or in the life to come.
- If we find our meaning in Christ in this life, before we ever see Him face to face, we will always be going about meaningful work with results that will last into eternity.(John 15:16)
- If we find our meaning in life in Christ, His announcement to us, “Well done, My good and faithful servant,” (Matthew 25:21) will echo in our still-conscious ears throughout all eternity!
Serving Christ is gratifying, satisfying, and eternally meaningful. It gives real sense to this life, regardless of circumstances, because this life becomes visible for what it actually is—a precursor to the eternal.
[i] A rough paraphrase of something the late Dr. Vance Havner frequently said.