The Secret of Contentment

One of the most difficult things for people to do is to cease striving and rest. Yet striving after the things the human heart craves, like significance, security, and success, has not brought people contentment. Instead, people are frustrated, hate their jobs, despair of life itself, and grieve their failures and losses. The Preacher, whose words are recorded in the book of Ecclesiastes, is no stranger to such emotions. He could not stand to think that after working so hard he would have to leave it to another person to enjoy, not knowing whether that person would be wise or foolish with the assets he had worked so hard to attain (Ecc. 2:18-23). The fact that we cannot control the outcome of our endeavors, particularly after we have died, drives us crazy.

               How do we learn the contentment that David learned when he testified, “O LORD, my heart is not lifted up” and “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother” (Ps. 131:2)? David gives us the answer, “hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore” (v. 3). The Preacher gets at the same thing when he points us to God in Ecclesiastes 2:24-26.

               The key to finding enjoyment in our work, as well as in eating and drinking, is to recognize that these are gifts “from the hand of God” (Ecc. 2:24). There is no enjoyment of these things apart from Him. Only the believer who is walking in His ways, pleasing Him in all that He does and says, receives the gifts of wisdom, knowledge and joy that gives work, food and drink meaning. In contrast, the unbeliever, who has also been given business to do by God, will experience hatred, despair, sorrow, frustration, and discontentment. Significantly, God uses the work of unbelievers to bless His people (2:26).

               Psalm 1 characterizes these two kinds of people, the believer and the unbeliever, as the righteous and the wicked. The righteous person places “his delight in the law of the LORD,” but the wicked “are like chaff that the wind drives away” (Ps. 1:2, 4). The book of Proverbs also contrasts the wise person and the foolish person, “the wise hear and increase in learning” but “fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Pr. 1:5, 7). The Preacher never denies that there is value in wisdom. Indeed, the greater Preacher “became to us wisdom from God” and in Him “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (1 Cor. 1:30; Col. 2:3). Christ transforms how we think about wisdom. It is not “a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away,” but instead “a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory” (1 Cor. 2:6-7). Believers “have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (v. 12).

               Such wisdom transforms how we think about everything, even death itself. The sting of death is gone since “death is swallowed up in victory” by the work of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:54-57). Since “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” we eagerly await the day of resurrection when we will receive glorified bodies and behold the face of God (1 Cor. 15:20, 52; Rev. 22:4). Until then we can rest and find our deepest contentment in the “mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). It is “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (v. 28). This is for what Paul toiled, and it is for what we should strive as well, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (v. 29).

               When we begin to “count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8), and when we “do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31), we experience contentment even with “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” (2 Cor. 12:10). It is in our weakness that God’s grace and power shine brightest (vv. 9-10).

               The book of Ecclesiastes repeatedly reveals the futility of doing life apart from God. The reader is constantly met with the invitation to become His disciples so that on the last day we will hear “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). Otherwise, we will hear the most dreadful words of judgment, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). The Preacher labors to show us a better way of life than living for ourselves. He reveals the “one Shepherd,” so that we will “fear God and keep his commandments” because “God will bring every deed into judgment” (12:11, 13-14). Therefore, let us say, “as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Josh. 24:15).

Sarah Ivill (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a Reformed author, wife, homeschooling mom, Bible study teacher, and conference speaker who lives in Matthews, North Carolina, and is a member of Christ Covenant Church (PCA). To learn more, please visit


Sarah Ivill