Contentment stinks. So read the T-shirts worn by Oakland Athletics team members, repeat American League baseball champions, as the team headed into Spring Training 1990: “Contentment Stinks; Stay Focused.”

But isn’t contentment actually a coveted and honorable state of mind?

Years ago, the Saturday Evening Post ran a cartoon showing a big old fellow in a shirt and tie sitting still on a divan in his meticulously appointed home. It was clearly a rare moment for this high-powered, fast-moving, intensely driven gentleman, often preoccupied with all of the routine details of life. A somewhat startled look was on his face, and he was muttering: “What … was that? Something just swept over me — like contentment or something.”

Now with that background, let me ask you to stop reading, look up, and tell me — is contentment admirable, or is it just a lazy cop-out? Is contentment to be pursued or avoided?

Might the correct response have something to do with relevant circumstances?

If someone is trapped by circumstances beyond their control and yet is willing to accept his or her lot, smile through tears, and make the most of what he or she has — how admirable!

But if a guy is capable of building on the aspects of life that truly matter, for himself and others, and yet fails to do so, who will excuse him? “God is solidly backing a well-lived life, but he calls into question a shabby performance.” (Psalm 10:29, The Message)

And one other matter — what is required to make one truly content anyway?

George Sweeting tells the story of Ali Hafed, an ancient Persian who owned a very large farm that had orchards, grain fields and gardens. He was a wealthy man, and quite content. But one day a man from the East told Hafed about all the diamonds he could have and how wealthy he would be if he owned a diamond mine. That night, for the first time ever, Ali Hafed went to bed a poor man. He was suddenly poor because he was suddenly discontent.

Craving a mine of diamonds, he sold his farm to search for the rare stones. He traveled the world over, eventually becoming so poor, broken, and defeated that he committed suicide.

One day the man who purchased Ali Hafed’s farm led his camel into the garden to drink. As his camel put its nose into the brook, the new owner saw a flash of light from the sands of the stream. He pulled out a stone that reflected all the hues of the rainbow. That man had just discovered the diamond mine of Golconda, one of the most magnificent diamond mines in all history. Had Ali Hafed remained at home and dug in his own garden, instead of finding death in a strange land, he would have had acres of diamonds.

What would it take to make you content right now? Where are you searching for contentment? Is it possible that what you really need to be really content is already within your reach? Is it possible that you’re actually already content and just don’t know it?

The Bible says that godliness “is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. (1 Timothy 6:6-8, NASB)

Food and covering. Not stocks and bonds. Not a big pension. Not a big bank account.

Someone once observed that the desire for great riches, if realized, often is quickly replaced by the fear of losing them. I’ve personally seen that truth illustrated in the contorted face of a wealthy man who once sat before me, gnashing his teeth and literally shaking with worry that the government would one day rob him of his assets.

“Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for [God] Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.’”

Can you imagine yourself content on the sole basis of God’s promise to be with you in all of life? Many folks who are neither religious nor Christian claim to be content. But such contentment is hardly the ultimate abiding spiritual contentment to which the Apostle Paul refers in Philippians 4 when he says that he has learned to be content in whatever circumstances he finds himself.

Know Jesus? Know real peace. No Jesus? No real peace.

The Rev. Daryl E. Witmer is founder and director of the AIIA Institute, a national apologetics ministry, and associate pastor of the Monson Community Church. He may be reached at the Web site AIIA.ChristianAnswers.Net or by e-mail at AIIAInstitute@aol.com. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.