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I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.Philippians 4:12-13 NIV
The idea of being content in any and every situation has been heavily on my mind lately.
As we enter the tenth month of a global pandemic, I’ve been wondering how folks in the Bible found contentment in some of the craziest circumstances. Paul was imprisoned and isolated (among many other trials – see 2 Corinthians 6:4-10 and 2 Corinthians 11:23-28), yet his relationship with God made him joyful, content, and strong.
To be content is to be satisfied with your possessions, status, or situation, which seems like a tall order this year. How can you be content when you don’t have the services or support you need? When life is unfair? When stress bears down on you? When you’re alone?
How do you handle these situations (and many others) faithfully, without succumbing to anger, bitterness, and unbelief?
This is a question that reaches far beyond 2020 into our post-pandemic life. Life won’t always go the way we want. And if I’m honest with myself, even when life does go the way I want, I can find ways to be discontent. It’s not like I was always super content in my pre-pandemic life — with date nights, gatherings, and dinner parties aplenty.
One of the biggest lessons I’m learning this year is that my relationship with God can satisfy my soul. This is actually very freeing because everything else in life comes and goes. If I can learn to build a relationship with God that satisfies me, I can learn to be content in any and every situation.
Let’s look at seven ways we can turn to God to find contentment and satisfaction.
Listen to your soul, not your circumstances
When I feel an ache of discontentment inside me, my first instinct is usually to try to change something in my circumstances to find relief.
But one of the biggest keys to contentment is learning to look beyond my circumstances and listen to my soul:
My soul is dry and thirsts for You, True God, as a deer thirsts for water. I long for the True God who lives. When can I stand before Him and feel His comfort?Psalm 42:1-2 – VOICE
Our soul thirsts for God and his comfort, just like our body thirsts for water. Sometimes, our feelings of discontent come from a spiritual void that needs to be filled by our relationship with God and the comfort he brings. No amount of circumstantial change will do it.
This was the case for me (Margo) when I was in college. I was never content and kept thinking that a new boyfriend, a new friend, a new activity (maybe even a new semester) would create the contentment I was longing for.
But none of those things changed what I felt inside. The truth was that my soul was dry, and I was thirsty for confidence, acceptance, and a sense that I mattered. I started praying consistently for God to help me find him and to show me how to fill that void I felt. Even though I was a religious person and had been going to church my whole life, I still felt empty and didn’t know how to be content spiritually.
At the same time, it just so happened that the head nurse at my nursing school had been praying to meet a nursing student who was searching for God. I was the answer to her prayer. She and a few other Christian friends taught me how to build a relationship with God by sharing scriptures and their lives with me.
As I studied the Bible, I learned that only God could fill the void I felt inside me. I couldn’t fill it myself through my social life, my career, or my academic achievements.
There have been many times since then when I feel dry and thirsty, but it is so comforting to know I can turn to God in any situation and he will fill me on the inside.
- What circumstances do you tend to want to change when you feel discontent? Your spouse? Your job? Your friends?
- What do you think are some signs that your soul is thirsty?
Leave selfishness behind
Look at that man, bloated by self-importance— full of himself but soul-empty. But the person in right standing before God through loyal and steady believing is fully alive, really alive.Habakkuk 2:4 MSG
Self-importance means having an exaggerated sense of one’s own value or importance. Sometimes, the way I try to find satisfaction or contentment is by filling my mind with myself — my feelings, my problems, and my desires.
One of the dangers of filling our minds with our own wants and needs is that we don’t have room to think about or have faith in God (Psalm 10:4). We become full of self but “soul-empty.”
Freedom means that we become so completely free of self-indulgence that we become servants of one another, expressing love in all we do.Galatians 5:13 TPT
One decision we can make to turn to God and find contentment is to turn away from self-indulgence. I often feel much more content and grateful for my own life when I stop thinking about myself and instead think about how I can make a difference in the lives of people around me.
Loving and serving others can mean a lot of things, and small decisions to love can actually make a significant impact on others. Texting people to see how they’re doing, sending scriptures, or just making a phone call can go a long way toward brightening someone’s day and helping us feel content at the same time.
Learn that ONLY God can meet all your needs
Such God-denying people are never content with what they have or who they are; their greed drives them relentlessly.Job 20:20 MSG
I don’t always realize that when I am discontent with my relationship with God, my circumstances or my life, I become more bitter, demanding, and mistrustful in my relationships. I have seen this more than ever during the pandemic. Nothing is ever good enough or will make me feel secure or happy. I have learned to describe this as becoming a “black hole.”
When my husband Scott and I were newly married (about 28 years ago!), I imagined every day would be fun, exciting, and he would meet my every need. Although we’ve had many fun and exciting times together, I’ve come to realize that it’s not ‘fun’ to live with someone who is desperate to have all their needs met by you.
One particular evening, we got together with some friends to help us. Scott and I were sitting on opposite sides of the room because we were so mad at each other. My friend said to Scott, ‘Do you feel like Margo is a black hole?’ and without hesitating, Scott replied, ‘YES!’
Learning how to let God meet my needs for love, attention, and intimacy – before I try to get Scott or anyone else to meet them – has been a lifelong process. But it’s changed my marriage and my relationships when I recognize when I’m being a “black hole,” and I need to spend more time talking to and listening to God to satisfy my soul.
O God, my God! How I search for you! How I thirst for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water. How I long to find you! For your love and kindness are better to me than life itself. How I praise you! At last I shall be fully satisfied; I will praise you with great joy.Psalm 63:1,3,5 TLB
Each of us has a choice to make about how we will satisfy the thirst we feel inside. If you look to your spouse, a friend, to money, or to attention, you’ll likely turn into an emotional black hole because none of these will be enough. But our relationship with God and his kindness and love are big enough to fully satisfy.
God never gets overwhelmed by our emotions. He understands us more than anyone (Psalm 139) so he knows how to meet our needs and satisfy us more than we even know how.
- Where have you been turning to satisfy your spiritual thirst?
Look to God’s Word each morning
Filling our emotional void and satisfying our soul is God’s specialty:
Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives.Psalm 90:14 – NLT
It’s incredible to me how God’s Word can describe what I feel.
Every morning, when I wake up, my soul has a need for unfailing love. I need forgiveness for the ways I’ve fallen short. I need to know God is looking out for me and cares about the details of my life (Psalm 37:23). I need to know God loves me and listens to my prayers. I need to know God is working through everything for my good (Romans 8:28).
God’s Word can address and meet our deepest needs and desires. We will never be content unless God’s Word influences us more than our fears and emotions.
Spending quality quiet time with God each morning in which I focus and listen to his Word really makes a difference in my contentment. I find myself less angry when things don’t go my way because I trust and have faith that God is moving and has my back.
My salvation and my significance depend ultimately on God; the core of my strength, my shelter, is in the True God. Have faith in Him in all circumstances, dear people. Open up your heart to Him; the True God shelters us in His arms.Psalm 62:8 Voice
This scripture teaches me that my salvation, significance, strength, and shelter are found in my relationship with God, not in people or circumstances which are ever-changing and outside of my control.
Opening up my heart to God in prayer each morning also helps me be content and have faith in all situations. It’s all too easy for me to keep my prayers superficial and routine, choosing not to pray about more challenging areas of unbelief or weakness in my life. But when I do that, I miss out on the peace that comes from knowing God is sheltering and strengthening me.
- Does your relationship with God leave you satisfied in the morning?
Learn that God is enough
In Acts 8, Simon the Sorcerer struggled to be content in his relationship with God. As a sorcerer, he got a lot of attention and respect for his seemingly-miraculous abilities.
But when Philip came along and preached the Good News about Jesus, people were more impressed with Philip’s message than with Simon’s magic. Simon lost some of the attention and praise he relied on (Acts 8:4-13). Then, later on in the story, Simon tried to buy Peter and John’s spiritual abilities with money:
Simon watched all this closely. He saw the Holy Spirit coming to the people when the apostles laid hands on them. So he came to Peter and John and offered them money.
Simon: I want to purchase this ability to confer the Holy Spirit on people through the laying on of my hands.
Peter: You aren’t even close to being ready for this kind of ministry; your heart is not right with God. You need to turn from your past, and you need to pray that the Lord will forgive the evil intent of your heart. I can see deep bitterness has poisoned you, and wickedness has locked you in chains.Acts 8:18-19,21-23 VOICE
What Simon needed was his heart healed from the bitter envy that was poisoning him. He didn’t need the attention, approval, and abilities of other people. Simon had not learned yet that God was enough for him.
We become bitter and discontent when we stop believing that God is enough and he has us exactly where he wants us.
- Do you believe God is enough for you? Even if you don’t have the attention, approval, or abilities of other people?
- Do you see any areas in which you’ve become bitter about not having what you want? How do you think your bitterness is affecting your heart and your faith?
Love the praise of God more than the praise of people
 For they loved human praise more than the praise of God.John 12:43 NLT
“I do not accept praise from human beings. But I know you. I know that you do not have love for God in your hearts. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me.
But if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. You accept praise from one another. But you do not seek the praise that comes from the only God. So how can you believe?John 5:41-44 NIRV
Living for the praise of other people is a shortcut to contentment. It will never last. It’s also something God takes very seriously because people-pleasing damages our faith and the faith of people around us:
- We can’t love God when we are people-pleasing (John 5:41)
- We can’t believe in God when we are people-pleasing (John 5:44)
- We can’t become who we’re meant to be when we are people-pleasing (John 12:43, Galatians 1:10)
- We can’t help other people have a relationship with God when we are people-pleasing (Matthew 23:1-15).
I usually start looking for people’s praise and attention for contentment when other life areas feel difficult or challenging.
One of those times when my boys were younger, we were trying to figure out how to meet their different special needs. Instead of turning to God to get direction, faith, and comfort, I would skip prayers and indulge in bitterness. I stopped believing my marriage, parenting, leadership, or my faith and confidence could ever change.
My desire for attention and approval became what I turned to for happiness and confidence. The problem is, living like this is not only addicting but extremely damaging. It damaged my faith because it required a lot of work, a lot of worry, and a lot of stress. It also affected others because some people began thinking more about what I thought of them than God. They would turn to me before they turned to God.
I’ve learned from these experiences that God can make me confident and at peace when I’m content with the praise and love he can give, like the psalmist describes in Psalm 131:
LORD, I have given up my pride and turned away from my arrogance. I am not concerned with great matters or with subjects too difficult for me.  Instead, I am content and at peace. As a child lies quietly in its mother’s arms, so my heart is quiet within me.Psalm 131:1-2 GNT
Long for God above everything else
For all my wanting, I don’t have anyone but You in heaven. There is nothing on earth that I desire other than You. I admit how broken I am in body and spirit, but God is my strength, and He will be mine forever.
It will happen: whoever shuns You will be silenced forever; You will bring an end to all who refuse to be true to You. But the closer I am to You, my God, the better because life with You is good.
O Lord, the Eternal, You keep me safe— I will tell everyone what You have done.Psalm 73:25-28 VOICE
Life throws us a lot of things we can’t control. But we can control our priorities and what we live for.
When the psalmist says in Psalm 73 that there is nothing he desires on earth other than God, I think he’s saying that he’s making a choice, deciding he wants God above everything else.
While it’s not a bad thing to pursue a career, make money, or get a pat on the back, we’ll be discontent if we’re living for those things to satisfy our spiritual needs.
If you, like me, wonder how to get to a place where you confidently feel like you long for God above everything else, here are some practical steps to take to get there:
- Admit what pulls your heart away from God. What do you desire more than being close to God? What or who do you look to in meeting your needs for love, security, or confidence? Be honest with yourself and remember that admitting truth is freeing (John 8:31-32).
- Adjust your priorities. Are you giving God your best each day? What would you need to change in your day or in your life to give God first place? Maybe you need to change your morning schedule so you can spend quality time with God first thing. Or maybe you need to change the way you handle your life responsibilities so you can stop and pray throughout your day.
- Acknowledge who God is. The Psalmist in Psalm 73 acknowledges that God is his strength and that “life with God is good.” It helps our hearts and our faith to acknowledge the good things God does and how he takes care of us. When you pray each day, take time to thank God for answered prayers and ways he has taken care of you.
The Scriptures tell us that life with God is good, and ultimately choosing to be close to God is what will help us with being content in even the craziest circumstances.
- Can you honestly say that there is nothing on earth you desire other than God? Why or why not?
- How do you think your life would change if you decided you wanted God more than anything else on earth?