Not too long ago, I was driving home from a friend’s house after dinner and good conversation together. It was a warm summer evening with cool breezes coming through the open car windows, and the song “Jireh” came on the radio. And as I was singing along to the words, “I will be content in every circumstance/You are Jireh, You are enough,” – I realized that they were completely true in that moment.
I hadn’t felt so content in a long time, and to my surprise, this sweet sense of contentment lasted for more than a week. I had battled many emotions at the beginning of summer, particularly loneliness since my days were quiet and lacking the stimulation of teaching.
And yet here I was, enjoying my quiet routines, both at home and in setting up my classroom, embracing time with friends and family, devouring good books and creative pursuits, and not wanting for more.
At one point I called my mom to ask if I should feel guilty or concerned that I was feeling so content. Did that mean I was complacent? Selfish in loving my own life too much? Unable to change if God brought some new opportunity along?
But as we talked, I realized that this season of contentment was both a gift to be enjoyed and a choice that I was cultivating. Because how often when the dark blue descended on me did I plead with God for it to be lifted? And this was his answer—to give me a calm sense of extraordinary peace and gratitude over what I’d been given.
I knew the feelings wouldn’t last forever. Human emotions change often depending on circumstances and hormones. But choosing contentment and embracing it as a gift can continue even if we don’t always “feel” it.
The Gift of Contentment
It’s mysterious to me how God works through his Spirit in us. Much of contentment comes from our choices, but at the same time, those choices become more like Christ’s as his Spirit works in us.
Sometimes God allows us to fight through hard emotions and seasons of loneliness to draw us closer to him in ways we couldn’t otherwise. When I have a sin struggle or an exhausting shroud of loneliness upon me, the continual running to God and depending on him purifies me like nothing else.
But sometimes God graciously allows the intensity of such battles to decrease and “leads us beside still waters” as Psalm 23 says.
It reminds me of Ecclesiastes 5:19-20: “Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.”
“To accept his lot and rejoice in his toil” – this is truly a gift because how often do discontentment and depression characterize the lives of unbelievers? Or – for all of us – when we try to find our fulfillment in our lot and toil (jobs, families, relationship statuses, etc.), how often do we get frustrated and dissatisfied?
But when we see all those things as gifts and realize that God is the one providing them, we can enjoy them while not being defined by them.
For myself, I’m at a point in my life where I objectively desire marriage, but the fact that I don’t have it currently is not crippling. This is a gift. I’ve experienced many days where the desire for it did feel overwhelming, yet God has brought me to the point where I can honestly say, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance” (Psalm 16:6).
I can’t take credit for the gift – I can’t claim to have “received” it because I’m more spiritual than others. I might wake up tomorrow and find the gift doesn’t seem to be so near to me. But while it is here, I will embrace it and be grateful for it.
The Choice of Contentment
While we acknowledge contentment is a gift, we have to realize our choices influence it as well.
As I’ve studied and memorized 1 John this year, chapter 4, verses 16-17 have struck me deeply:
“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us …”
It doesn’t say, “We have come to feel and to experience the love of God,” but rather “to know and to believe the love of God.” Knowing the love of God means we read it, study it, and meditate on it. Believing the love of God means acknowledging it as true, even when we don’t feel it.
And as we do so, we abide more in God, God abides in us, and this brings great contentment. This is a sign that he is “perfecting” his love in us through the process of sanctification. It doesn’t mean we’ll be perfect at loving God or being content this side of heaven. But it does mean we can take hope in what God is doing in us.
What does the choice of contentment look like practically? It means consciously guarding what we allow our minds to dwell on. As pastor Jerod Gilcher says, “We become like what we love. What we love the most, we start to resemble.”
So in the quiet, non-“work-related” moments when our minds have a choice, what do we choose to dwell on? If our minds are constantly dwelling on what we don’t have and what we hope to have someday, we will cultivate discontentment. If our minds are constantly returning to Christ and all that he is to us, we will instead cultivate contentment.
When we feel ourselves becoming anxious or angry over our circumstances, may we learn to stop and submit our hearts to the Lord once again. We need to look around at what we physically have (a warm/cool home, a family, food to eat, a flickering candle, a TV show to laugh at, a song to worship with) and also at what we spiritually have (eternal salvation, an intimate relationship with the God of the universe, forgiveness for sins, strength to fight against sin, deep grace and peace) – and bow our hearts in worship and gratitude to the Lord.
Discontentment will return because our sinful hearts are always wanting more. But the Lord is faithful, and he will continually reveal to us how much better it is to find rest in him instead of seeking it in the restless arms of an unfulfilling world.
This is a gift. And this is a choice. May we be grateful to receive the one and diligent to pursue the other.
Photo by Maksim Samuilionak on Unsplash.