It's likely you know more people who would like to change their circumstances than you know who are content with their lives.
There's a story about an older couple having dinner in a restaurant. The wife sees another couple about their age sitting in a booth nearby. She sees the husband sitting close to his wife, with his arm around her. He is whispering things in her ear, and she is smiling and blushing. He's gently rubbing her shoulder and touching her hair.
The woman watching this turns to her husband and says, "Look at the couple over there. Look how close that man is to his wife, how he's talking to her. Look at how sweet he is. Why don't you ever do that?"
Her husband looks up from his Caesar salad and glances over at the next booth. Then he turned to his wife and said, "Honey, I don't even know that woman!"
The more we look at what others have or what they're like, the more discontented we become with our own lives.
The idea of making life about a mission of changing our circumstances has become so profuse in our culture that it has also corruputed our pulpits. So much of preaching today has turned away from the proclamation of the Gospel to, instead, being much more like a motivational seminar. A favorite topic among such motivational preachers is to exhort their listeners to constantly be working to change their current circumstances into better circumstances, as if our purpose in life is to always be improving our lot in life.
The Apostle Paul taught a directly opposite message.
"Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you. This is my rule for all the churches," 1 Corinthians 7:17.
As we study that verse, especially in context, it doesn't mean that we should never improve our circumstances, but the message is clear that life isn't about always pursuing "your best life now," or thinking you deserve more and should constantly be seeking something different, bigger, or even "better."
So many preachers seem to miss the point that it is God who has placed us in our circumstances, and He didn't put us where we are just to be focused on how to get out of those circumstances, but rather, He put us there for us to live through them for a reason.
Mitchell Dillon once wrote the following about this verse and topic:
"When I read this verse I envision a great card table, with God dealing each of us the hand we must play in life. That hand includes things like who our parents will be, where we'll be born, what our gifts and talents will be, the doors of opportunity that will open to us --- all the things in life that are given to us --- all those things that are beyond our choice.
"Clearly some of us are dealt a better hand than others, which raises the question of fairness. Isn't it unjust of God to grant some so little while others have so much? The answer is yes, it is unfair. At least that would be the answer if God's purpose for us were that we should be successful in life. If winning at life were God's purpose then the way He has chosen to distribute life's advantages is certainly unfair. But that's not God's purpose for us. Success in this life is the purpose we have chosen for ourselves. God's purpose for you and me is that we should glorify Him, something we can all do, regardless of our circumstances."
Dillon concluded his thoughts with this: "While none of us can choose the hand we're dealt, we do have the power to decide how we'll play our hand. This is where knowing the true goal of the game of life becomes so important. The power of knowing our true purpose is that it provides us with the possibility of fulfilling our divine purpose, regardless of our circumstances. When we seek to glorify God in our circumstances, our life takes on its ultimate meaning. And the empowering thing is that this can happen for us no matter who we are or what we do or do not possess."
Knowing that, I cringe every time I hear preachers telling people they should try to be a "winner," or preaching yet another sermon about how to be "successful." They're completely missing the point!
Whatever your circumstances are, you can find great contentment, joy, and peace in focusing on glorifying God in them. That's the focus Jesus wants us to have. In a single sentence, Jesus offers us the perfect recipe for contentment: "Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need," Matthew 6:33.
Are you glorifying God in your current circumstances?