Are you content? I mean really content? The Bible makes it clear that our satisfaction is not contingent on any earthly source. But in Christian circles, our conversations surrounding the issue of contentment are insufficient. We preach that “God’s love is enough.” So what more could we ever want, right?
The reality is that there will always be things in life, in the world, and in ourselves that we wish we could change. How then can we ever achieve contentment? By forcing a smile and stifling desire?
In this post, we’ll explore the complex relationship between our promised contentment in Christ and this unshakable desire for more. But before we can reconcile the two, we need to get clear on this theological truth:
In Christ, you have more than enough.
Our God is a God of abundance, not depravity. This principle appears and reappears all throughout Scripture:
● And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. - 2 Corinthians 9:8
● The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. - John 10:10
● And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4:19
● You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. - Psalm 23:5
● The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. - Psalm 34:10
● I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. - Psalm 63:5
● Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” - John 4:13-14
● For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. - John 1:16
Cliché as it may sound, God’s love really is enough. I used to think Christians would rattle off this saying just to make themselves feel better.
But a true understanding of our own spiritual abundance should move us to action. Not feeling.
And here’s the kind of action I mean. Say you’re struggling with finances, but you come across someone who’s struggling more than you. You might say, “I need to take care of myself first. There’s no way I can give any money away until my situation improves.”
But if you’re in touch with your own abundance in Christ, you’ll know that though your bank account says you’re in lack, the truth is that you have more than enough. You’re empowered to give out of your spiritual supply, not your earthly supply. You give even when it’s not practical, trusting that God will always provide you with all you need.
It sounds crazy, but it’s at the heart of the Gospel. In Mark 12, Jesus commends a widow for giving away “all she had to live on.” When we take an honest look at Scripture, it’s hard to argue that God calls us to prioritize practicality over radical generosity.
(Pro-tip: If you’re feeling led to give a gift and make someone’s day, a subscription box is an excellent place to start.)
We have more than enough. This statement is a truth we get to act on, not an incantation to recite.
So if you agree, let’s discuss how to reconcile this spiritual, theological “abundance” with our undeniable desire for more.
Know this: It’s OK to be honest when you want something you don’t have.
Knowing your abundance in Christ doesn’t mean denying your desires.
Can I be real for a second? I know some single women who are discontent with being single, and I can tell- not because they say it, but because they don’t say it. They frequently bring up how perfectly fine they are with being single and how they’re not at all interested in a relationship, though their actions suggest otherwise. They attempt to mask their desires with a proud facade, and it’s easy to see through.
Then there are other single women who don’t talk much about their singleness. When I ask whether they’re looking for a relationship, they happily admit that they would love to be in a relationship, but they’re waiting for the right person.
There’s no desperation in their tone. They’re not coming from a place of neediness or lack. They’re coming from a place of abundance, yet they’re not afraid to acknowledge their unfulfilled wants. This attitude, to me, seems much more beautiful and good and godly than the first. But are these women discontent for wanting something they don’t have?
Sometimes we make the mistake of believing that contentment means having the first attitude: denying our wants, lying to ourselves and others, and pep-talking our way to happiness.
But a truly content person has the courage to admit when they want something they don’t have. Why? Because they know that regardless of those unmet desires, God has given them all that they need; He has them right where they need to be.
Jesus is the ultimate example of this:
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” - Matthew 26:39
Here Jesus doesn’t pretend to be thrilled about His imminent death on the cross. He admits His desire for a different fate.
We could say that Jesus was “discontent” with His future, but here’s what we need to notice: Jesus doesn’t accuse the Father of holding out on Him. He doesn’t act like He deserves better. Instead, with those words, “not as I will, but as you will,” He acknowledges the Father’s ultimate sovereignty in directing His path, whether it’s a path He likes or not.
The same is true of the apostle Paul. Most church sermons on contentment stem from Paul’s bold claim in Philippians 4:
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. - Philippians 4:11-12
But in 2 Corinthians 12, Paul also admits to this:
I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. - 2 Corinthians 12:7-9
Paul is not afraid to admit that this thorn in his flesh torments him. However, like Jesus, he trusts in the sovereignty of God’s plan.
Contentment is not the absence of want. You’re allowed to want more, while still knowing that what you have, where you are, and what God’s having you do is good and right and more than enough.
Hold the tension between loss and gain.
God uses our loss for gain. The gain may not negate the pain of the loss, but it’s important to be able to acknowledge both and hold them in tension with each other.
I went through a bad friend-breakup a few years ago. Not “bad” in terms of a dramatic fall-out or aggressive argument. No, our breakup was a different kind of bad: a slow, gradual shifting of priorities with a drawn-out, painful period of slipping further and further away from each other. You know the kind.
When I realized that every last bit of interest she had in our friendship had dissipated, I sat on my bed and wept. Losing people isn’t fun. I’m not going to pretend like it is.
But from that heartbreaking experience, I gained so much. My immediate urge was to let my insecurities eat me, to wonder why I wasn’t good enough to keep her friendship.
But God drew near. He taught me not to take the disinterest of others as an insult. He walked me out of that rut with power and purpose, and I now have a healthier view of friendship and a firmer grasp of my own worth as a result.
I could have denied the pain. I could have resorted to pride by telling myself that she was never that great of a friend anyway or that I was happier without her.
But those would have been lies. Because the reality is that she had been a great friend at one point, and I was sad to lose her. Dishonesty is never the road to contentment.
Balance is. The ability to hold the pain of loss in tension with the acknowledgement of what we gain from it- that’s where our power lies.
So if you’re single and wanting a relationship, you don’t have to downplay that desire. But you can celebrate the fact that your singleness has given you the freedom to focus on other things.
Or if you’re overweight and unhappy with your body, you don’t have to downplay your desire to be healthier, but you can acknowledge that your struggle with body image has taught you not to rest your identity in physical appearance. This admission is not an act of complacency. It doesn’t mean that you want to stay where you are. It just means that you’re celebrating the lessons learned.
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.
What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ. - Philippians 3:7-8
True spiritual maturity is being able to admit your losses, while simultaneously allowing yourself to recognize the good that comes from them. To hold that tension, to strike that balance- that’s what contentment looks like.
We can choose to identify with our wants, or we can choose to identify with our abundant nature.
What defines you? What are you about? What do you identify with? Do you identify with your lack- your lack of husband, lack of child , lack of health- or do you identify with the real you- the abundant, overflowing, ever-satisfied child of the King?
Will you identify as an unhappy single person, or as a whole, loved, abundant disciple, who also has the desire to be in a relationship? Will you identify as a miserable employee, or as a thriving, joyful, blessed daughter, who also hopes for a better job?
When you feel the pang of lack, let God’s love define you. Every lack is a learning opportunity. And what you learn is your own wholeness in Christ. So when you lack job fulfillment, learn just how complete you are even without a great career- how you can live in purpose and power and deep satisfaction regardless of your professional role.
This realization of your own wholeness doesn’t mean that you’ll stop wishing for a career change. It just means that you’re content without one. And if you do get one in the future, it will be that much better because rather than just filling a void, it will be extra on top of the more than enough that God’s love already is.
He is our sustenance, our bread of life; everything else is just excess.
Contentment boils down to trust, and trust silences envy.
We’re called to have faith that where God has us is where we need to be. Satan will do everything he can to trick us into believing that we’re missing out. He devised this tactic in the garden, and he continues to execute it today.
Our desire to be somewhere else is not bad, as long as we pair it with a trust that where God has us is where we need to be.
And this trust can’t help but silence envy. The Creator of the universe has placed us where we are for a unique, divine purpose. When we sink our teeth into this truth, we realize just how ridiculous we are for envying someone else’s position.
The creation story of Genesis 1
can teach us volumes about envy and contentment:
And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good. - Genesis 1:9-10
Water does not compete with dry ground; dry ground does not envy water. Each has its own place, its own name, and this distinction is “good” in God’s eyes.
Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day. - Genesis 1:11-13
He creates each plant and fruit tree according to its own kind- each kind of fruit with its own taste, its own appearance, its own place in the garden and in the world.
And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day. - Genesis 1:14-19
The greater light to govern the day, the lesser light to govern the night. I’m about to get a little woo-woo on you, but stay with me.
Some of us are discontent right now because we’re the lesser light, looking at the greater light in envy. We forget the incredible fact that God created us to give light to the earth. We forget the fact that He separated day and night, which means we don’t have to compete with the greater light; we each have our own role, our own domain, our own kingdom. We forget that our role is just as essential as the greater light’s role.
This principle carries over to the New Testament in Paul’s description of the body of Christ:
Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? - 1 Corinthians 12:15-19
Be the ear, and be the lesser light. Be the unrivaled expression of God’s glory that He designed you to be.
So going back to our initial question, “Can we really be content with God’s love alone?” The answer is yes. But this contentment does not require the abandon of all desire.
Have you ever struggled with “contentment?” We would love to hear your story. Please feel free to comment below!
by Erica Baker
Erica is a professional writer and editor, helping ministry leaders and entrepreneurs share their stories.
She is passionate about pointing women to God's Word and empowering them to take fierce ownership of their discipleship to Jesus.