What brings you joy? What gives you satisfaction? There’s nothing wrong with enjoying God’s good gifts, but how can you tell when a good thing becomes a God-thing? How do you know when you’re looking to something or someone else for contentment, rather than to God?
One way we can tell is to ask ourselves: what happens when we lose something we value? How do we react when our friend gets the job we applied for, our quiet weekend gets disturbed, or we flush our new phone down the toilet? Of course we’ll be disappointed; but do we also react with envy, irritation or self-pity?
Or what about bigger things? How about when we have to live without a relationship we deeply long for? Or when we lose something or someone important to us? Yes, there will be grief and anguish and sorrow, and that is fully appropriate. But will we also give in to bitterness? Will we give way to despair? Will we turn our backs on the God who stole our dreams away?
Watching my son Ben struggle with chronic illness over the last five years has made me ask lots of hard questions. I hate seeing him in pain. I grieve for what he misses out on. I’ve given up my ambitions to care for him. This isn’t the life I planned for either of us. I’ve had to fight to be content when so much has been taken away.
One of my all-time favourite psalms is Psalm 73. It shows a guy called Asaph struggling for contentment. He’s brutally honest about how he feels:
|Surely God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost
I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the
They have no struggles;
their bodies are healthy and
They are free from common human
are not plagued by human ills. (Ps. 73:1-5)
Have you ever felt like this – that there’s not much point in being a Christian? Those around you seem to have it so much easier. They go to parties on the weekends. You go to church. They eat in expensive restaurants. You give money away. They seem so carefree. Meanwhile, you’re struggling, and you wonder why. So what’s the solution? I’ve stuck these words above my sink to remind me:
|Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my
my portion forever. (Ps. 73:23-26)
What I love about this guy is the way he wrestles for contentment. It doesn’t come easily to him, any more than it does to me. He’s honest with God about how he feels, but he doesn’t let himself get away with it. He reminds himself what he really values. He remembers that, while he lacks many things, he has the one thing that truly matters: he has God himself.
And there’s more (as they say in the world of infomercials). If we have God, then we have everything else as well! We have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). God isn’t holding out on us. How could we question it? After all, he already gave us his most precious gift (Rom. 8:32). We have “every spiritual blessing” in Christ. That’s every single one! If you’re in any doubt, you can read the list in Eph. 1:3-9.
Sometimes, when I feel miserable, I repeat Psalm 103 to myself (I’ve memorised it for that purpose). It puts these words in my mouth: “Praise the LORD, my soul”. Then it lists his blessings: “Who forgives all your sins … who redeems your life … who crowns you with love and thanksgiving … “. As I say the words, my heart is moved to rejoice, even when everything else seems calculated to make me mourn. But it’s not just God’s blessings that make us content. Ultimately, it’s God himself. When I am grieved by my husband’s cancer and my son’s chronic illness, these verses often come to mind:
|You fill my heart with greater
joy than when their grain and new wine abound. (Psalm 4:7 NIV 1984).
Whom have I in heaven but you?
How can we be content when we lose what we hold dear, or when we never gain the good things we long for? The day will come when every earthly blessing is lost to us. We will only find lasting contentment when we look for it in God alone.
God is our ultimate source of satisfaction. There is no true contentment apart from him. Next time, we’ll learn that he is also the source of our security, and – finally! – we’ll discover the “secret” of contentment.
1. Where do you look for satisfaction? If you’re not sure, ask yourself what gives you pleasure, happiness, joy? What makes you grumpy, anxious, sad? What do you feel like you can’t live without?
2. Can you say truthfully to God, “Earth has nothing I desire besides you”? Do you really believe you have “every spiritual blessing” in Christ? You might like to read Ephesians 1:3-9 and Psalm 103 and be reminded of all you have in him.
Photo: Echten Feige (Janericloebe)