When I talk about what it means to have joy and contentment, I am not talking about relying on the power of positive thinking as you live out your life like The Little Engine That Could (“I think I can, I think I can”), or the many programs in books and on television about the power of positive thinking.

I am talking about the power that comes from being content with what God has already given you.

Contentment at Work

When I think about people I know who are so content with Jesus in their life they reflect the joy and love of Jesus in a way that actually infects those around them with their joy, one of those people that always comes to my mind is the Port-O-Let driver (his name is Fred) I worked with in the Undercover Boss show.

I never met Fred before being assigned to him as my boss for the day on the Waste Management Undercover Boss episode, and I worked with him undercover as his helper cleaning out Port-O-Lets all day.

I have to be honest with you, when I heard I was going to have a job cleaning out Port-O-Lets all day, I thought it was going to be a long day I would not enjoy very much. I knew it would be a tough, stinky job! But honestly, that day was one of the most fun days I had of all the different jobs I did for the Undercover Boss show.

And the reason I had so much fun was because of Fred’s positive and fun attitude. He showed how a happy disposition, when you are filled with the love of Jesus Christ, can make even a stinky job fun for you and everyone around you.

I have never laughed so much while doing work. In fact, after eight hours of working with him that day, my face muscles were fatigued from laughing so much that I kept getting cramps in my face. I have never had that happen to me before!

At one point I asked Fred if he was a Christian because I could just tell there was something inside of him giving him all that joy. Fred told me he was a Christian, and he guessed I was too! We hugged each other, said a prayer together, and then just kept on working.

Jesus Christ was clearly evident in his life. Fred taught me how important it is to let that joy and contentment with what you have shine on those around you and what an impact that can have on others. It is so infectious and draws others to you because they want to know the reason for the hope that is within you.

Contentment in Our Culture

Our culture tries to tell us that pursuing everything other than God will bring us contentment. People are searching hopelessly for contentment by pursuing material things or their own selfish desires and pleasures, but they aren’t seeking God.

We can see it all around us—people pouring their lives into their work with a focus on themselves, getting ahead, and making a name for themselves. I am sure everyone can identify someone they know (or maybe even you are that person) that on the outside seems to have achieved much in their career—their position, their status, their home or homes, their car or cars, etc.

Yet, even with all the material possessions they have, deep down the people who have not placed their faith in Jesus Christ are not happy. 

I think that is why there is such a huge drug and alcohol problem in the world. People are trying to find contentment with drugs, alcohol, pornography, and material things because they think those things will bring them contentment or comfort or take away their pain.

Those things might provide a brief relief from some of life’s pains and struggles, but they will never find lasting contentment and peace without Jesus in their life and turning control over to God. The Bible tells us in Genesis 1:26 that God made us in His image.

God loves us and He wants a relationship with us. Without God we won’t be content.

Contentment in Adversity

Most of the Scripture about contentment in the New Testament is written by the apostle Paul, who was arrested for teaching that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again.

Paul was beaten, placed in chains, tortured, and eventually died a martyr’s death, but never did anything to deserve it. So if anyone should have had an attitude that life is not fair, it is Paul.

But he placed his faith in Jesus and was content, no matter the situation, because he trusted God.

Paul, while he is in chains in prison, tells us: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11–13).

The last sentence of this verse is usually taken out of context when people quote it. It is really talking about contentment. It is about knowing God will give us what we need. Being content and trusting God through our trials can even reflect God to others.

Paul didn’t draw his strength from having more material possessions than his friends or from worrying about what others thought about him.

Paul’s faith in Jesus Christ brought him contentment. Paul got his strength from God and it was his faith in Christ that gave him the strength to be content–to endure–through all things.

The Source for Contentment

Unfortunately, our sinful nature, along with Satan, are at work every day to try to convince us we are not content. Paul tells us that to overcome our discontentment we must pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.

Paul is telling us to focus on our relationship with God, and that will bring us contentment.

So contentment is a spiritual issue, not a money issue or an issue about how many material possessions we have. I think the secret to contentment is understanding God is sovereign and in control. If God doesn’t want something to happen, it won’t happen.

That means God is in control when good things happen in our lives, and God is in control when times are tough for us.

Contentment comes to us when we depend on God rather than ourselves. Contentment can come to us when we give to others in need, not just of our money but of our time.

One of the things God has taught me is that neither my money nor my time is mine. My money and my time are both given to me by God. No matter how much or how little each of us has, it is still more than we deserve because God owes us nothing.

Everything we possess is a gift from God. And God wants us to be a good steward of everything He has given to us.

Another thing I have found that contributes greatly to contentment is telling God how thankful I am for all He has given me. The more I thank God, the more I become aware of what He has done for me and the more content I find myself.

We can even find contentment in difficult times. Maybe God is trying to teach us something through our crises. We can give thanks to God even when times are tough that He is taking an interest in us to teach us something and to draw us closer in our relationship to Him.

I think we all have work to do when it comes to contentment. Next time you find yourself feeling down or that life is unfair, just remember Paul being wrongfully chained in a Roman prison, and yet he was joyous and content.

I doubt any of our lives will be as difficult as Paul’s was in prison. But we can be just as content by placing our focus on Jesus Christ, being thankful for all God has given us, and asking the Holy Spirit to help us grow in our ability to live with righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.

Ultimately, our contentment comes as a result of our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes

Larry O’Donnell served many years as president and COO of Waste Management, where he became best known as the first “Undercover Boss” from CBS’ hit reality show. A popular speaker, leadership consultant and ministry leader, he holds a Master’s in Biblical and Theological Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary and mentors leaders around the world through his full-time ministry. His new book, Management Waste, from which this piece was adapted, is available now at www.larryodonnell.com.