Thoreau and Ryken: Quotes on Contentment

We have had some good discussion and comments over at this week’s Sunday Morning SoundBytes. So I thought I would share a couple of the quotes that I shared at church during Sunday morning’s message on contentment.

The first quote is by Henry David Thoreau from his masterful journal, Walden; or, a Life in the Woods. Although Thoreau was not a Christian (and could be quite smug about it at times), he puts most of us to shame in this book when it comes to living simply and doing without. Here is his definition of what it means to be rich.

A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone. (Henry David Thoreau; from Walden)

There is a contrarian viewpoint for you. A man is not rich according to what he has but according to what he does not need. Thoreau understood that contentment does not require more things or stuff. But he missed out on the deeper secret of contentment – which is finding your satisfaction in God. Philip Ryken, pastor at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA, fills in the rest of the picture for us:

As long as we base our sense of contentment on anything in the world, we will always find some excuse to make ourselves miserable. Our problem is not on the outside–it’s on the inside, and therefore it will never be solved by getting more of what we think we want. If we do not learn to be satisfied right now in our present situation–whatever it is–we will never be satisfied at all. . . .

The truth is that if God wanted us to have more right now, we would have it. . . . If we were supposed to be in a different situation in life, we would be in it. Instead of always saying, “If only this” and “If only that,” God calls us to glorify him to the fullest right now. . . . Contentment means wanting what God wants for us rather than what we want for us. The secret to enjoying this kind of contentment is to be so satisfied with God that we are able to accept whatever he has or has not provided. (Philip Ryken, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory, pp. 673-74)

Contentment is not found in things but in God. If only we could all learn this lesson well.

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