A few weeks ago I wrote this blog post on pursuing the desires of your heart. I encouraged readers to ask God for big things and to expect Him to act on their behalf whether it is through answered prayer or a change of heart. In the process of praying over my list of desires I have imagined the possibilities of how God is going to surprise me with His answer. I have imagined meeting new people who introduce new opportunities. I have imagined big events and life changing steps. But in dreaming big, I failed to see one possibility that could arise from presenting my desires to God. What if He wants everything to stay just like it is? What if he looks at my list and nothing I desire lines up with His will and He doesn’t have anything bigger and better to give me in exchange? What if He gives me nothing more than I already have and His desire for me right now is to find contentment in what He has given me?
What if for every single desire on my list God’s answer is a big, obvious “no” or “not right now” or “I want you to stay just where you are” or “keep doing what you’re doing”…and what if it’s not even presented in some giant, miraculous life changing, burning bush kind of moment? What I want is for my life to take a huge swerve toward the magnificent but what if God is asking me to keep driving for hundreds of miles in the same direction on the same two lane road? We all want to give a hearty amen to the idea of asking God for big things but can we still affirm His ways when nothing of significance happens?
The answer to having joy when the desires of your heart are not fulfilled is to find contentment. So that you can say as Paul, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content”. It often means not getting what you want and in our “have it your way” culture it is not an attribute that is widely pursued. We may have good jobs, but we are told we could have a great one. We may have loving families but we are told that we could have perfect ones. We may live in a nice house but we are told it can always be improved. According to the world, our lives could always be better. If your list of desires has started to sound too much like our discontented culture…if your list has made you unhappy with the life God has given you…then you have missed the point of making the list.
If you find yourself holding too tightly to your list you may have developed some wrong ideas about what contentment means. You may find it hard to seek contentment because it sounds like too much work with little to no return. Even in Christian circles where contentment is celebrated, it is still surrounded by many misconceptions. It may help to point out what contentment is not. Being content is not:
- Settling for less. It is trusting God more. Being content with what you have may not look like your idea of the best for you but in His sovereignty and wisdom God always knows what is perfect for His children. Trust that he knows what he is doing.
- God’s worst for you. It is ultimately His best. It may be hard and it may be frustrating but God is truly for you, not against you in the things he chooses to give you. He may be shaping your character which is far more important than getting what you want in the moment.
- Based on circumstances. It is based on how we think about them. The situation you find yourself in will never be exactly how you want it and if you don’t decide to be content in all things you will be chasing the perfect life around for the rest of your existence. If you find yourself saying “if I only had this” or “if only that would happen” or “if only this would go away” then you are probably battling discontentment and you should evaluate your motives behind your desires.
- A joy killer. It is a joy giver. Joy does not belong exclusively to those who get everything they want. In fact, those are the people who tend to be the most unhappy because they are always searching for the next thing that will bring them fulfillment. When I think about the most joyful people I know it is those that in plenty and in want have chosen to be content.
Here are some ideas for developing more contentment in your own life:
- Be faithful. Don’t wish for another role so much that you neglect the one you have or you fail to see the one that God wants you to step into. The problem may not be that you don’t know what God wants you to do next…it may be that you just don’t like what he is asking of you. You may want to lead a great revolutionary ministry but the next step may be to volunteer in the nursery. You may want to write a best-selling book but the next step might be to write a blog post that no one will read. You may want to get married but the next step might be to watch your married friends’ kids so that they can have a date night. You may want to find a job outside the home but your next step might be to change another diaper.
- Be thankful. Don’t complain. God has blessed all of us more than we ever deserve. Even if you are in a dead-end job…even if you feel underappreciated…even if you are lonely…even if you are chronically ill…God sent His Son to die for you and offered you salvation despite the fact that we are all terrible sinners. That in itself is enough to be thankful for but God chooses to bless us beyond that. Make it a habit to find something to be thankful for everyday.
- Be trusting. Don’t assume that God is punishing you or testing you. Remember that God’s plan is always perfect even if it doesn’t make us happy. Ultimately it is not His goal is not our happiness anyway…it is our holiness.
- Be obedient. Don’t try to leap ahead on the path you have been given. Take the next step in front of you. This is the way I think about it…I can see what I want in front of me but I am separated from it by a huge chasm. It is way too far for me to jump. God has prepared a path for me to follow that leads in another direction…one that is manageable one step at a time. I am not guaranteed that this path will lead to the thing that I want but it will lead somewhere and it is better than trying to leap over an insurmountable distance. But I know he is trustworthy and I know he has my best interest in mind and I know it is fruitless to jump or even to keep standing still staring across the chasm so I follow Him into the unknown. I can’t be guaranteed that my next step will lead to what I want but it will lead somewhere and that somewhere is part of God’s plan because it is all He has given me to do so far.
Being content does not cancel out the desires of your heart. It does not eliminate the need to ask God and seek Him. But it does offer an opportunity to hand your desires over and trust God with the outcome. It gives you a more peaceful avenue to follow as you run hard after what God places in front of you. So, keep pursuing your desires, keep seeking God but in order to remain at peace while you do it, find contentment in each step along the way.