I picked up this book for two reasons: (1) the title intrigued me, and (2) because I was going through a phase in my life when I began wondering if I would be happier by having a change of scenery.
It’s the curse of most pastors, I suppose (the honest ones anyway). If you stay at a place long enough, problems appear, and then you go through seasons when things just seem to go from bad to worse and life seems to be a continuous leap from one pastoral crisis to the next. Soon, the thought of ‘moving on’ creeps in. There are lots of churches in need of pastors ‘out there’, and surely one of them would appreciate me more than this lot. At least that’s the thinking. What comes out in public is: ‘I feel like the Lord is moving me on to other pastures’ or some other ‘Christian-speak’.
So, here is a book about biblical contentment. From the outset, it reads like standard CCEF fare. The usual (brilliant I may add) Paul Tripp and David Powlison stuff on idols of the heart etc. I found myself wondering if the author had been heavily influenced by these men. Probably, but then, so what? They’re good men with lots of wise things to say. A lot like this book.
Altrogge’s main contention is that we’re all looking for the something special to make us happy. Something more or extra that will lead us out of our unhappiness and into blissful nirvana. “The truth is, biblical contentment can’t be learned unless something else is unlearned. Contentment can’t be put on without first ripping something else out. The way to grow in contentment is to undergo the process of identifying and destroying the idols in our lives. This always hurts, but the results are wonderful.” (p.36)
What I really like about this book is that it takes us back to the gospel and reminds us of the wonderful riches we have in Jesus Christ. How easy it is for us to take him for granted, and to forget that any run for happiness outside of him is a foolish thing. I particularly appreciated Altrogge’s style of writing. He was warm, witty and made his points concisely without unnecessary verbosity. He reminds us that every complaint in our life is actually against the gospel. We are saying that it is not enough. He even throws in a couple of quotes from some Puritans for good measure (it seems like no modern writer can finish a book these days without a word from Flavel, Edwards, or Burroughs!). Not a complaint but an appreciative observation.
Quoting Philippians 4:10–11, he reminds us that (1) in the face of Paul’s sufferings, most of us don’t come close and (2) like Paul, contentment is something we must learn. Encouragingly for us, at some time in his life Paul was miserable and ungrateful (as we sometimes are). Often in his life he was brought low (Phil. 4:12). In fact, he took a real kicking in his life and, somehow, through his sufferings, he learned the secret of real contentment and peace in God. We, too, must find this contentment. So far, so preachy. Jesus was perfect, Paul was content—go and do likewise you bunch of losers! Ermm . . . not really no. And this is what I like about this book.
Altrogge reminds us: “It’s not enough for us just to take our circumstances, like we’re taking a punch in the face. We won’t learn true, blessed contentment if we grit our teeth and kick our way through life. Life isn’t an iron man competition. Instead our circumstances should drive us to God and cause us to cry out for the strength to be content.” (p.80)
His chapter on complaining is just too painful and close to the bone and I suspect every person who reads it will wilt from conviction. Complaining and moaning are signs that we are not trusting God and, more brutally, holding him out as too stupid, disorganised, and chaotic to get our lives right! Our churches are full of people who ‘just want to get things off their chest’ and are miserable and joyless. Yet, they wonder why nobody really wants to associate with them and why they struggle to gain any evangelistic footholds and opportunities in their lives.
Choc-full of biblical content, particularly from the book of Philippians, I found myself enjoying (and being greatly challenged by) this fantastic little book. Buy it and read it. I found it to be a great spiritual fillip and a timely reminder for those of us constantly battling the temptation to think that ‘something better’ is out there, when the reality is that if we are ‘in Christ’, he is our all in all.