As I continue to be laid open and bare by conviction of the Spirit through the pastoral pen of Jeremiah Burroughs, I was reminded of the grace-filled medicine for the believer against the malady of murmuring and discontentment, namely thankfulness.
If discontentment is expressing dissatisfaction with the providential lot that the Lord has ordained through various circumstances, be they financial, marital, physical, and vocational, etc., then thankfulness would be the opposite expression, i.e. satisfaction and acceptance through the embrace of the providential lot that the Lord has laid upon us.
The Word of God expresses this most clearly in the primary thesis passage of Burroughs’s work, Philippians 4:11. Expanding our view of this passage to include the surrounding verses of the chapter, we find the following commendation from the Apostle Paul,
“4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
It would appear that these verses provide the backdrop for Paul’s statement in verse 11 concerning his own expression of contentment in every situation. Working briefly through the passage, we note first that joy, a believer’s joy in Christ, is the first exhortation. In whatever situation or lot that may come our way, we are to be joyful. We simply cannot let our external situations determine our joy. How often are we guilty of allowing our moods or attitudes to be so swiftly turned like the tide of the sea when a particular circumstance comes our way? Here the frame of contentment is marked by the joyful fruit of the Spirit. Summarily, rejoicing in the Lord is to be a continual, external expression brought about by the internal reality of joy in Christ.
Next, we read in verse 5 of letting our “reasonableness be known to everyone.” This actually seems to be a poor translation choice by the ESV. The NASB translates this phrase, “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men.” Here, the Apostle is calling us to a public display of the joyful condition of our hearts. This comes from the overflow of a joyful heart. Gentleness is a mark of a settled spirit that has its focus set on things above such that it is not easily rattled nor shaken by the things of this world.
In verse 6 we read of the third exhortation, though from the negative side, one against a believer’s anxiety. As the flow of this argument develops, it would appear that anxiety occurs from a failure to maintain a joyful disposition and to rejoice in the Lord. Because anxiety most often presents itself as an outward display of internal turbulence (the opposite of rejoicing), it follows that the gentleness of spirit the Apostle discussed in the previous verse is also not visible for all to see. At its root, anxiety is discontentedness.
Progressing out of the negative side of this exhortation, we enter once again into the positive side with the charge “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God”. It’s evident that this imperative is meant to be the elixir for anxiety, “prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving” and it seems reasonable that it likewise forms the backbone for the Apostle’s contentment in every situation. Bitter and sweet water cannot flow from the same stream; thankfulness and anxiety, or discontentedness, cannot simultaneously exist. A prayerful heart is a thankful heart and a thankful heart prevents any notion of discontentment and its rotten fruits, anxiety, joylessness, murmuring, covetousness, etc. This brings us to our focus from the passage, namely that thankfulness to God undermines anxiety and is the bedrock out of which contentment flows, the direction toward which the Apostles turns his attention in verse 11.
For the Apostle Paul, thankfulness is a great theme in his writing. It is not limited to the Church at Philippi, but is expressed in his letters to Ephesus (5:20), Corinth (1 Co. 10:30), Colossae (3:15-16), and most notably Rome (1:8; 1:21; 14:6). In fact, he mentions thankfulness or its derivatives some 57 times in his epistles and in all except Galatians and Titus. Is it then any wonder how he can state the possession of contentment in every situation? He is governed by a thank-filled heart. What ought we to be thankful for? Believer in Christ, there are endless mercies of God for which to be thankful. Turning to Burroughs again we read “There is not one of you in the lowest condition but you have an abundance of mercies to bless God for, but discontentedness makes them nothing.”
In the face of our discontentment, which lurks around every corner with a net to ensnare us, let us remember to be thankful and give ourselves unto prayer with thanksgiving in an expression of our gratitude to the Almighty God.
 Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. Banner of Truth, 2013. P. 155.