When I was a young girl, I was restless. It wasn't that I was behaviorally hyperactive, but internally, I was constantly pacing. I was always longing for the next phase. No matter how perfect my current situation was – material possessions, success in school, a handful of great friends – something deep in me wanted more. Something felt missing, and my natural inclination was to look for it in a new set of circumstances that the future held.
How many of us allow our internal sense of well-being, or contentment, to be determined by our circumstances? We feel dissatisfied with our current lot; maybe even disappointed. So we dream about new scenarios that will surely give us reprieve from our dissatisfaction and restlessness. Maybe we turn the negative energy into fuel to create this dream. We work hard with this end goal in mind. Maybe this is also what fuels our consumerist society. We look to the latest gadget, clothing trend, home d√©cor, body figure, and more to shape our ideal circumstance. We desperately want to feel content!
Who doesn't want to be content? After all, the Bible even commands it! Nestled in Hebrews 13:5 is the exhortation to "be content"! This means God wants us to be content, right?
We have to read the entire verse and consider the context. Hebrews 13:5 says, "Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you'". Clearly, biblical contentment is not contingent on material riches; it even transcends circumstances. Instead, this contentment is dependent on only one thing: Christ. Jesus not only offers salvation to sinners; He offers Himself. Union with Christ means eternal access to His steadfast love and enduring presence! It is this union that allows believers to live out the whole of Hebrews 13 – to be content, show brotherly affection, extend hospitality, remain pure, care for those in prison, offer praise, exude gratitude, and more.
Does this mean believers will never feel disappointment? No. We will wrestle with disappointment from time to time because we will experience unmet expectations, undesirable circumstances, and even suffering. It is the nature of our fallen world. However, we can respond appropriately to our disappointments. Our contentment in the Lord can influence our reactions. This is because we can cling to the Rock of Ages in the midst of any life storm. When our circumstances are hard, we don't despair or hope for the future as our resolution. Instead, we are deeply satisfied in Christ and trust in His character and divine providence. We cling to the tender love of our Father and allow His strength to help us endure.
How do we get there though? How does the transformation from being hopelessly restless to deeply satisfied in Christ happen? Is it possible to will ourselves to unwaveringly trust in His divine providence? How can we be content, as the Word of God describes contentment?
What I have learned is this: biblical contentment is a work of God's grace. Even though I tried for years, I was unable to force my heart to be transformed. I couldn't will myself out of my restlessness. In order to enter God's rest, I needed the gospel and His grace to behold the beauty of the gospel. So pray! Ask the Lord to open your eyes and heart to behold the gospel. Ask the Spirit to help you fix your gaze on the gospel so that your affections are shaped accordingly. These are desires that align with the heart of God. He wants you to delight in Him!
However, this requires us to know Him. This is why our contentment is closely tied to our study of God's Word. It is what helps us know, love, and trust Him. It is what sanctifies us. It reminds us of His faithfulness from the beginning of time. It also has the power to shape and inform our reason, which can combat the desires that seem to grow from our restless hearts. When our minds are renewed by the Word, we can correctly identify what is right, true, and beautiful and fashion our desires accordingly. So when you hide away to pray, take your Bible with you. Dedicate time and effort to pore of Scripture and get to know the God that is the greatest delight.
I never imagined I would ever feel true contentment. I even believed that restlessness was engrained in my personality. However, as I have grown in my understanding of Scripture, I have come to know the God that knows perfect contentment in Himself and invites me into fellowship. His grace has transformed my heart and mind, and He has given me new desires. I still encounter disappointing situations here and there. However, my inner person is no longer pacing and looking outside for satisfaction. I have a peace that is rooted in the tender providence of my God. And when the going gets tough, I know that His strength is perfect in my weakness.
For more on contentment in the midst of unmet expectations, listen to Episode 24 of the Daily Grace podcast, "Being Content when Life is Disappointing."