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?