by Burk Parsons
God has put eternity in our hearts. He has inscribed heaven on our souls. He created us to long for a perfect world and to desire what is supremely ideal. We want to be fully and finally free from the suffering and misery of this world, and ultimately from our sin—not only the conviction and sadness our sin brings us, but also the hurt and pain it brings to those closest to us. As redeemed but fallen creatures in this fallen world, we desperately want to be done with sin and its consequences. We want to be less proud, less impatient, less sad, less worried, less burdened, and we want to be more holy, more repentant, more prayerful, more at peace, and more content. We are, as Martin Luther taught, simul justus et peccator, “at the same time just and sinful.” In Christ, God has declared us righteous, though we still strive each day to mortify our sin in the flesh. But there is a day coming when we will no longer struggle, when our faith shall be sight, when we shall see Christ Jesus face-to-face, when we will no longer desire, no longer need, no longer lack contentment.
But now we look through a glass darkly as we eagerly await the glorious dwelling places Christ is preparing for us in the new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13). Although we will always long for heaven, God calls us to be content in whatever situation we find ourselves by His sovereign providence (Phil.4:11). He calls us to keep our lives free from the love of money and to be content with what we have. God not only tells us to be content but also graciously gives us the reason to be content by reminding us of His promise: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). This is the foundation for true and lasting contentment. It is precisely because the Lord is our Shepherd that we shall not want. But if He is not your Shepherd, expect no contentment. True contentment is not circumstantial, it is relational. It is not based on what happens to us; rather, it is based on who has taken hold of us—the One who dwells within us. If our contentment is based merely on what we have, we will always desire more, but when it is based on who we are in Christ, we will first and foremost desire to know Him more. For if we are to find contentment in all things, we must seek contentment in the only One who can fulfill all our desires—Jesus Christ.
United to Christ, we grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ and thus grow more and more desirous of what Christ wants and less and less desirous of what Christ hates. When we grow in grace, the Holy Spirit doesn’t put an end to our desires. On the contrary, He renews our minds and transforms our desires to conform to God’s desires for us. In essence, contentment is wanting what God wants for us, and what He wants for us is Him. This is why the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever (WSC 1). We most glorify God when we most enjoy what He has created us to desire—Himself.
Dr. Burk Parsons is copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow, vice president of publishing for Ligonier Ministries, and editor of Tabletalk magazine. He is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and director of the Church Planting Fellowship.