Have you ever met someone who just seems content with life?
You know, one of those people who brings peace to a situation just by being in the situation. This kind of person may do great things or have nice things, but they regularly give both away as if their value doesn’t rise and fall with what they do or have. They don’t try to skim and rush through life, books, college, raising kids, and conversations. They live in the moment and they’re still ready for what’s next.
Do you want to be truly content with life? Maybe you feel like something’s missing, but you don’t even know what it is. You want to just chill, so you take out your phone, start browsing, end up on Instagram, and then see that friend with nicer stuff who happens to be with your other friend. “Why didn’t they invite me?” you wonder, sinking into an ocean of wandering and wondering.
Maybe for you, it’s a mid-life or quarter-life crisis. It feels like time is running out, and you haven’t even finished figuring out what you’re going to do in life—let alone do it. Maybe it’s more often. Do you regularly feel inferior to others—like you’re an imposter about to be found out?
There are tested ways of life that can help. These practices have been lived out, and lived in, and have remained true over time. This guide will define five practices for living a full and whole life: Solitude, silence, stillness, service, and sometimes secrecy.
But first, here’s a question:
How well do you know Jesus? He is that settled being who brings peace just by being present. He’s God’s Son who was cool with giving up everything in advance on the chance that you might one day believe in Him. He’s a reason to live. He’s the reason Christians celebrate Easter. He makes the dying places in your heart come alive. If you don’t yet know Him, the following practices will be mildly helpful at best, and empty religion at worst. If you’re unsure, stop reading and click the link in this paragraph that interests you most. You can always come back to this. Otherwise, keep reading.
In his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines: How God Changes Lives, Dallas Willard says, “If we have faith in Christ, we must believe that He knew how to live.” In other words, if we’ve decided to follow Jesus, then we must believe that He knows what steps to take, where to go, and what to do with the issues of life. But what do we often do when we feel like we’re missing something? We try harder at work. We work harder to pay for our vacations. We look for the perfect someone. We try to become the perfect someone. What if instead we looked at Jesus?
Jesus showed us how to live, and then He regularly reminded us that He showed us how to live. In John 10:10, He tells us that He came that we might have full lives. Also in John, He tells us He is the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus was saying something like: You can stop trying to look everywhere else for those things you feel like you’re missing. I’m right here.
During the Last Supper, Jesus’ last big meal before giving His life for us, He taught us communion, which is both a symbolic act to do in remembrance of Him and a reminder to live like Him. Then—as if we needed one last reminder—after coming back to life, and before going back to be with the Father, Jesus gave us the Great Commission. Fancy words for “do this with your life.” It reads like this:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. … Matthew 28:19-20 NIV
Maybe you’ve never thought of the Great Commission as a reminder to live the way Jesus lived. Maybe you’ve just never heard of it. Too often it ends up in the category of “Yeah, I need to get my life right so I can spend more time on that.” But the Great Commission is actually just the basics of following Jesus. It is how we live in the moment, in the soul-settling way of Jesus.
Jesus practiced His public ministry for about three years. During those years, 12 men followed Him around, learning to live like Him. Jesus literally made disciples—that’s the main thing He did. He ate with them, walked with them, talked with them, challenged them with His words, challenged them with His actions, was patient with them, had boundaries with them, served them, and loved them into living life the way He did. With his last few words on earth, Jesus summed it all up and basically said, go and do with others what I just did with you!
The Tested Practices for Being Content with Life
To quote Dallas again, “We can become like Christ by doing one thing—by following Him in the overall style of life he chose for Himself.” The five practices below are not some kind of equation to become exactly like Jesus. Neither are they the ingredients of salvation. Rather, they are five ways we can actively participate in the salvation work that God, through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit has made available to us and our world. They are steps toward following Jesus in the overall style of life He chose for Himself. They are the old-school, tried and true way to be content with life.
Next time you read the Gospels (the story of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) pay attention to how many stories about Jesus start with something like: Jesus was walking along the lake, Jesus went out to the countryside, Jesus went up the mountainside by Himself, and Jesus went away. Even in the cases when His disciples or crowds followed Him, Jesus regularly sought out solitude. Before Jesus announced His public ministry in Luke 4, He spent 40 days in the desert alone. Another well-known account of Jesus seeking solitude happens in the book of Mark:
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35 NIV
Jesus didn’t just get away, He prayed. This is a powerful practice for people seeking purpose and meaning in life. Here’s why. When Jesus’ disciples noticed He was gone, they went looking for Him. When they finally found Him, they piled on the pressure, saying things like, “Everyone is looking for you!” Do you ever feel like your life is just a response to everyone else’s demands? Jesus responded to the disciples:
Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” Mark 1:38 NIV
That is why I have come. Spending time away from others, with God, is where we’re reminded who we are and why we’re here. Even Jesus, the perfect Son of God, needed solitude and prayer to redirect, refine, and refresh His vision and purpose.
If you’re looking for purpose, direction, and meaning, if you’re struggling to be content with life, be like Jesus and add some solitude. Minutes at a time, hours at a time, and when possible, days at a time. Solitude brings us to the altitude where God can change the attitude of our soul.
Wait, aren’t silence and solitude the same thing? No, you can be alone and still fill your mind, eyes, and ears with so much noise that little life-changing value can get in. Do you know what Jesus didn’t have when He went to get away? He didn’t have earbuds with some chill music to really help Him live in the moment. He didn’t leave the TV on with just a food show playing in the background for some comfort noise. There was no podcast or audio book to help him grow as a leader on the walk to and from the lake.
Jesus put Himself in situations where He could silence His mind and listen to the Father’s voice.
One result of Jesus’ silent moments with God shows up in John 8:31-47. A crowd was trying to figure out who Jesus was. Was He a prophet, a good man, the Son of God, or a false prophet who should be killed? Some of the crowd wanted Jesus dead and were looking for a reason to put Him to death. Yet Jesus responded in confidence:
I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence … Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me.” John 8:38, 42 NIV
Jesus knew who He was because of what He observed in His Father’s presence. If we want to know who we are, especially in the face of questioning and adversity, we need to be in God’s presence, and we need to silence ourselves so that we can hear from God.
You can add silence in a few seconds in the middle of a conversation to ask God what He might want to say to you or through you in the situation. You can add silence in a few minutes of listening prayer, when you’re not talking, you’re just listening. You can add silence by shutting off devices on certain days or during certain times. If you feel like something’s missing, you probably won’t find it in the noise. God is not living in you just to be quiet.
When someone asks you about your day, do you respond with how much you did or didn’t accomplish? Did you come to this article because you’re looking at your life wondering if you’ve done enough? After God created the whole world, He took the seventh day just to rest, and He commanded us to do the same. It’s called Sabbath, which is a day for resting from what we’ve been doing the rest of the week. It’s a day for stillness. David was reflecting on this command in the Psalms:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul … Psalm 23:1-3 NKJV
Doesn’t that sound good? I shall not want is old language for I’m content with life. He makes me lie down is another way to say that God commands me to be still. Are you constantly working to build your worth and value? Obey God’s command. Be still and know that He is God.
Being still is about reminding your life that God is your shepherd, your commander. Tell your phone and devices they’re not in charge by them putting them away and leaving them there as often as possible each night. Or maybe for a full day each week. Show your kids they can wait on God by making your own time to wait on Him. Tell your boss, and your work, who your ultimate master is by setting aside a day for rest and restoration.
Maybe you’re thinking, “That sounds great, but things fall apart every time I try to be still.” Read Matthew 8:23-27. Jesus gets onto a boat and goes to sleep. Meanwhile, a storm gets so bad the disciples think they’re going to drown and they wake Jesus up. He comes above board, tells the storm to be still, and then asks the disciples why they had such little faith. What message was Jesus sending the storm by sleeping? The same message He sent when He questioned the disciples’ faith and calmed the waves. His choices were proclaiming, “I know who is in charge.” Stillness reminds you, others, and the world around you, that God is in charge and He can be trusted.
When Jesus served communion to His disciples, calling the bread His body, and the wine His blood, it was only days before He gave his actual body and blood as a sacrifice for them, for us. He said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” He wasn’t only saying to take communion to remember Him. Jesus told us earlier in the Gospels that He’s the servant of all. The Last Supper was another reminder that one of the best ways we can remember Jesus is to live a life of service and sacrifice for others.
If you feel like your needs are unmet, or like no one gets you, and you’re struggling to be content with life, consider taking actual communion as a way to remember what Jesus did for you. But also, look at how you can add the practice of regularly sacrificing your needs and wants to serve others. Jesus said He came not to be served, but to serve. Are there any ways you have this backward in your life?
Maybe you can start regularly inviting people to a meal you’ve prepared or paid for. Or maybe you need to give away more of your income. Can you serve in your neighborhood, in your church, or at a school? Ask yourself: “How can I sacrifice my opportunities, my comfort, and my pride so that others can live a more full life?” You might not start out great at serving others, but that’s okay. True sacrifice requires your whole life.
And Sometimes, Secrecy
There are way too many of the wrong kind of secrets in this world. Secrets for the sake of covering up damaging pain or mistakes, to manipulate, and to avoid difficult conversations have nothing to do with the kind of secrecy Jesus talked about. Jesus’ secrecy was the kind you might need if you find yourself constantly needing approval, recognition, and praise from others. It’s the kind you might need if, after getting approval and attention, you still feel like something’s missing.
In Jesus’ most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, He had a few things to say about His kind of secrecy.
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Matthew 6:1 NIV
“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:3-4 NIV
Jesus isn’t saying no one can ever hear you pray a great prayer or find out that you were generous. He’s saying don’t let your ego twist your spiritual practices into a way to get approval and attention from people. It seems He’s also saying the more intimate your faith is between you and God, the more rewarding it will be. So, ask yourself how you can make your giving and serving more anonymous. How can you strengthen your faith with prayer and fasting that no one else knows about?
But Most Importantly …
Don’t try to practice these or other spiritual disciplines as some way to get Jesus to notice you. Don’t practice them as just one more way to try to be content with life. Definitely don’t just try these because we, or some other Christian, told you to. These are not a formula for success; they are ways to participate in God’s restorative work in your life and in your world. If you want that, then ask God which practice He’s leading you to start with. Because you didn’t just read the tested guide for being content with life. That’s actually a person, and His name is Jesus. This isn’t chasing one more thing. This is following Jesus.