I’ve chased it for years, but I have never grasped it. In fact, every time I think I have a hold of it, I find I never really grabbed it at all.
Contentment. The “great it of satisfaction,” as an elder at our church once quipped. That’s the thing I’m after. And so often it feels like I’m chasing after the wind, an impossible pursuit.
I live in a quiet town, pastor a church plant that (at the moment) is growing. Ministry is taking place. We see visitors and guests almost every week. The budget is keeping pace. Apart from pastoring this new congregation, my own family is healthy, our house is comfortable, and my dog obeys. You’d think a guy in my shoes wouldn’t struggle with being content. Yet, discontentment so often marks my life.
I don’t think I’m alone in this particular struggle. Nor am I naïve enough to think the problem is new. Indeed, it’s an ancient struggle. In fact, it is the oldest of struggles and, in one sense, the reason for all the struggles of this life. That’s right, discontentment stands behind all that is wrong with our world. That’s how far back it goes.
Discontentment and the Pains of Life
Let’s go back to the beginning. We need fresh eyes to see how things went wrong with God’s good creation. Remember, I made the claim that discontentment is behind all that’s wrong with the world. Think of our first parents. Adam and Eve were not content with all God had given them in the Garden. Instead of being satisfied with God’s provision, they took the one thing out of everything that was not theirs for the taking.
It is quite stunning to read Genesis 1 and to note how much Adam and Eve were given by God. They were given dominion over every living creature, both in the sea and on the land (Gen 1:26, 28). Every plant, every tree, every beast and bird and creeping thing are handed to our first parents on a silver platter. Amazing provision. An overflow of riches. No lack. No need. They truly had it all.
Except one tree.
The snake slithers into the scene in Genesis 3. It doesn’t take long for the story go awry. He challenges and contradicts the Word of God and leads the couple who had everything to want just one more thing. They buy the lie that says they don’t have enough. So, they reach out their hands and take what wasn’t theirs to take. The fruit delighted their eyes and would make them wise (3:6), or so they thought. So, they eat. As a result, sin corrupts our parents and the world. Now, Adam and Eve are enemies of God, unable to remain in his presence (Gen 3:23). A word of judgment hangs over them (cf. Rom 6:23). Pain and sorrow fill the world (Gen 3:16–19; cf. Rom 8:22).
Do you see how discontentment has led to all the pains of our present evil age? If only our first parents had realized the riches they had and had been content with God’s original and abundant provision! Alas, that isn’t how the story goes. And thankfully, it isn’t how the story ends.
Contentment Through the Gospel that Gives Us Everything
Oh, how sweet the sound of the good news in light of the bad news of sin and its effects. Thankfully, our God did not leave the world to spin out of control. Instead, in the midst of his word of judgment to Adam and Eve, there is also the word of promise. Though the serpent will bruise the heel of man, man’s heel will someday crush the serpents head (3:15).
Ultimately this promise comes to fulfillment at the cross of Jesus Christ and his subsequent resurrection from the dead. At Calvary sin is atoned for (Heb 7:27; 10:12). That is, God’s wrath is satisfied (Rom 3:25). Then, at the empty tomb, death is defeated and loses its sting (1 Cor 15:55). Through faith in the person and work of Jesus, Christians are reconciled to God (Rom 5:1, 10). Because of our trust in Christ alone for our salvation we are restored to the relationship with God lost in Genesis 3. The way back to the Garden is opened for all who would believe in the Son of God.
How does all that relate to contentment and discontentment? Augustine once told us that man’s heart is restless until it finds rest in God. Another way to say it, man is perpetually discontent until he finds contentment in God. We are constantly looking for the “great it of satisfaction.” Yet, we look in all the wrong places. We look for ultimate happiness and peace and satisfaction (i.e. contentment) in relationships and riches and promotions and a host of other things. And yet nothing ever quenches that deep thirst for something more, something else.
The gospel is a message to every discontented heart that says the pathway to contentment is open to all who would come to Jesus in faith. Come to Jesus and be reconciled to the one at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps 16:11). Turn from sin and place your faith in Jesus and find that through Jesus you get God. God is the great who of satisfaction.
There is more to this stunning reality. When we come to Jesus, not only do we get God, but we get everything else thrown in. The new heavens and new earth are ours. We have an inheritance that we can’t exhaust and doesn’t fade. One day, because of Jesus, the God who reconciled us to himself will usher us into a new creation. In this new creational kingdom, we find that, once again, every plant, every tree, every beast and bird and creeping thing are handed back to us. Another amazing provision. Another overflow of riches. Again, no lack. Again, no need. We will truly have it all.
Because of that future grace, and through the present strength that Jesus supplies (Phil 4:13), the chase is over. By God’s grace, through faith in Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are able to finally reach out and grasp the elusive prize of contentment. When we cling to Jesus, we finally find the one who gives rest to our hearts.
Don’t Chase Contentment. Come to Jesus.
Remember, it seems universally true that our hearts are constantly chasing contentment. There is always one more tree, one more piece of fruit, one more dollar, one more promotion, one more book to read or article to write, one more … whatever. That’s the nature of discontentment. You never have enough. You always want more.
The secret to contentment is Jesus. Because when you come to Jesus, you get God and everything else. There is nothing more to want. You have it all. Perhaps it doesn’t feel like it now, but if you have eyes to see, then you’ll look to the heavens and see your Savior who has gone to prepare a place for you. And you’ll eagerly await that day when he returns to usher you into a heavenly city where moth and rust will never destroy.
In short, don’t chase contentment. Come to Jesus and contentment gets thrown in.