Confident Contentment

Recently, I went through a major period of discontentment. There was a situation in my life that I found frustrating, and I wanted a change. I daydreamed about how much happier I thought I’d be in different circumstances. I prayed for guidance and direction, knowing that it could be God’s will for things to stay the same, but also believing that surely He was calling me to MORE. I was convinced that He would want to use my passions and talents in a different capacity, according to the plans that I had conjured up in my mind. 

But God had other things He wanted to teach me during those emotionally tumultuous months. I noticed that when I first got an idea for a new opportunity, I would be very excited about it for a week or two. Then as the novelty of the idea started to wear off, I’d think of potential problems, or realize that it might not actually be as fulfilling as I thought, and I’d move on to the next bright idea. I was allowing myself to be ruled by my emotions, which are untrustworthy and constantly shifting. No situation is always going to be perfect and exciting, even if it is one that maximizes the use of my gifts and abilities. 

The second thing I noticed is that my discontentment was largely coming from a place of pride. I was chasing notoriety and praise. I thought I had impressive things to offer the world and that it was unfair to not be recognized for them. Obviously, I love to write and study. I’m especially interested in the topics of theology, Christian living, and apologetics. I thought it was really a shame that I didn’t have a bigger online following, or that no one had “discovered” me yet to offer me a book deal or a position with some kind of apologetics ministry. 

That’s a hard thing to confess. It sounds horribly arrogant (probably because it IS horribly arrogant). But one by one, God removed the possibility of a new opportunity coming along. A number of ideas that I had actively pursued didn’t pan out. I had to admit that no apologetics ministry was going to hire me to speak or write without getting an expensive and time consuming apologetics degree. I saw comments on Instagram from other “regular” people (not even theologians or professional Bible teachers!) that were more eloquent, witty, and profound than anything I could’ve come up with. I consider myself to be fairly intelligent and well-read, but I saw posts on social media that were so intellectually and theologically complex, I couldn’t totally make sense of them. I regularly listen to two podcasts that function as Q&A’s (Mike Winger’s 20 Questions and Greg Koukl’s Stand to Reason), and it occurred to me that I usually didn’t know how to answer the questions at all, and certainly could not have answered even the ones I did know something about with as much clarity, logic, and wisdom as the podcast hosts did. 

I realized the truth: God is not obligated to give me any specific opportunity in life- even one in ministry. And He’s especially not obligated to give it to a person who thinks she deserves it just because she likes to read, write, and listen to theology podcasts. I’m not qualified for some of the things I was dreaming about, and right now I’m not called to them either. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever be called to something in that realm; but it does mean that I need to learn contentment in the present. If I cannot be faithful, content, and humble with the smaller responsibilities God’s given me, how could I ever expect anything more? 

When the bigger and better (in my mind) opportunities I was pursuing kept falling through, and the frustrating situation I wanted to escape unexpectedly became less exasperating, I reluctantly admitted to myself that God had answered my prayers for guidance. He was showing me where He wanted me. It wasn’t what I would have chosen, but knowing that God is good and sovereign gave me confidence to trust Him. In Matthew 7:9-11, Jesus says, 

Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

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Even imperfect, earthly parents desire to do what is beneficial for their children. God is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly loving towards His children. There are no deficiencies in His ability to do what is best for us, either in knowledge or power. Therefore, whatever situation we are in must be what is best for us at that time, according to His perfect love.

It’s easy for me to conclude that my situation must be better than the other options; it wasn’t all that bad to begin with, just frustrating and inconvenient at times. But what about when we are going through something incredibly difficult and painful? How could we say THAT experience must be better than the alternative? 

Sometimes the situation itself isn’t good. It’s no use trying to deny that our world is full of wickedness, evil, and pain. But our God is a God of redemption. Romans 8:28-32 says, 

And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 

The hardships and trials we go through in our lives are used by God to bring about the ultimate good for believers: being conformed to the image of Christ. James 1:2-4 testifies to this as well:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 

Of course James doesn’t mean we can attain perfection in this life, but that we are gradually perfected through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit as we learn obedience and reliance on God amidst life’s troubles, until they are forever removed when Christ returns. And no one can thwart God’s purpose of bringing good from evil. The ultimate example of this is the cross. The murder of the perfect Son of God was simultaneously the greatest evil that has ever occurred and the greatest good that was ever accomplished. If God did not even spare His Son in order to obtain our salvation, it is unthinkable that He would not do what is best for us in situations far less costly to Him. 

The passage in Romans 8 goes on to say that we are “more than conquerors through him who loved us.” For a long time, I didn’t understand what it meant to be “more than” a conqueror. How does it get better than winning? The answer is that through Christ, not only do we win in the end, but God turns our suffering into something that actually benefits us. God doesn’t just give us the victory over our trials; He uses the trials to our advantage as we are sanctified and conformed to the image of Christ!

All of the situations in our lives are either better than the alternatives (for reasons we may never know), used by God for our spiritual benefit, or both. They are for our good and His glory. 

Phylicia Masonheimer’s weekly email newsletter was a timely reflection on this topic. She quoted Psalm 16:5-8, which says,

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. 

“Lines” here refers to boundary lines, which we tend to view in a negative way. A boundary is something that prevents us from going somewhere or doing something we want to do. But as Phylicia says, “The lines drawn around the psalmist are for his good, his protection, his blessing, and his joy… God is right here, right now, not just in the someday. He drew the boundary lines- and they are in pleasant places, even when we can’t see it yet… Embrace the boundary lines because they are drawn in love and kindness, because the limits that are given to keep [us] in also keep [us] close to the heart of God.” I also love the notes from my ESV study Bible on this passage- “[This psalm] promotes contentment with the arrangements of one’s life, seeing them as providentially ordered.” 

It is worth noting that all of the opportunities God has given me in the past two years were things I was not pursuing or expecting; in fact, some of them seemed to be nothing less than divine intervention, and I did absolutely nothing to bring them about. My job that “just so happened” to work perfectly with my schedule literally fell into my lap at the exact right time through a somewhat bizarre set of circumstances; after volunteering at my local pregnancy center in a less involved capacity for about a year and a half, I was unexpectedly asked to take on a role with more responsibility; through another set of completely unexpected circumstances, I was asked to speak at my church’s women’s retreat, which then led to an invitation to teach an upcoming Sunday School class; and I’ve had more opportunities and requests to be involved with the music at my church as other musicians have stepped down for various reasons.

And aren’t those things where the majority of the work is done anyway? Most people don’t write books, or have podcasts, or acquire thousands of online followers. Most people are working regular jobs, teaching small Sunday School classes at regular churches, and volunteering their time in regular local ministries. They’re raising families, managing homes, ministering in small, ordinary ways, faithfully serving God in their everyday lives. We should never underestimate the eternal value of those efforts. 

God doesn’t need my help or human “wisdom” to bring opportunities for service, ministry, and productivity into my life, and He certainly doesn’t need my sinful pride and discontentment. God wants us where we are for a reason. He is the one who puts us there, who doesn’t let us go outside the boundaries of His purposes for us. Maybe it’s because we’re not as gifted as we think we are. Maybe He knows we couldn’t handle the pressure or the temptation of pride that comes with more of a spotlight. Maybe He has something better planned for us even if it doesn’t seem that way. We must set the Lord always before us, remembering that He is our portion and our strength. True contentment is only found in Him. 

Psalm 16:11

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. 

You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.

Saint Augustine

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