The Apostle Paul made a pretty bold statement in his letter to the Philippian church. He told them, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” At first that may seem like a bit of an exaggeration. We might retort back, “Whatever situation?! Ok. What if you ended up in say…a Roman prison cell? How could you be content there?”
Paul’s answer: “Read the rest of my letter to the Philippians.” Earlier on in the letter, he was the one calming his audience down and praying for them! Let me repeat: the guy in the prison cell was praying for and comforting those on the outside! In fact, he even said he had somewhat of a prison ministry happening with the guards he was chained to. I like to think that he wasn’t chained to guards – they were chained to him! He had a captive audience. Literally.
Throughout Philippians, many of Paul’s other writings, as well as his life and journeys, you can tell that his statement of contentment was not an over-exaggeration.
Even though he was content, he was glad to “spend and be spent for souls” – always trying to reach more. More cities. More continents. More countries. More people. More missionary journeys. More. More. More. But I thought he was content.
He was content…but he was never satisfied.
If you look up the words “content” and “satisfied” in the dictionary, they are used somewhat synonymously. In fact, they’re sometimes used to define each other. But if we look at them Biblically, I think they are diametrically opposed.
Paul wrote about and lived out a necessary tension that I believe every follower of Jesus needs to have in our lives:
Always content with our resources. Never satisfied with our reach.
Contentment says, “If I don’t have it, I don’t need it, and if I need it, God will provide it.”
Discontentment says, “If I only had ______________, then God could use me.”
Dissatisfaction says, “As long as there are people who need Jesus, I will keep walking by faith and sharing Jesus.”
Satisfaction says, “Someone else will tell my neighbor/classmate/co-worker about Jesus. I’m doing enough.”
In a conversation I had with a friend about this subject, he told me, “Satisfaction is the prelude to complacency, and that’s our biggest issue.”
So how do we cultivate an ongoing attitude of contentment AND dissatisfaction?
- Trust God. If He thought you needed that resource that you think you need so desperately, then He would provide it. If He hasn’t, that means you are to be thankful and faithful with what He already gave you.
- Kill envy. Envy will kill you and your calling if you don’t first kill it. You are not that guy or girl that you look up to and long to be. Stop envying their gifts or platform. What many of us don’t see is how much that platform cost them in the first place! Be faithful with what you have, and as Paul told Timothy, “fulfill YOUR ministry” (not theirs).
- Get creative. One of the most valuable things about contentment is that it requires creativity to fulfill your calling. You don’t have to get too creative if you have millions of dollars – you can just hire the right company and buy the necessary equipment. But a perceived lack of resources could dramatically hinder your effectiveness, if you let it. So creative and work around it.
- No cruise control. Refuse to sit back or slow down. The calling God has on your life is exhausting and expensive. It will cost you everything: time, talent, energy, finances. It’s ok if you’re worn out. We’ll rest in heaven!