Pastor, Has This Ever Been You?
It’s Sunday afternoon, shortly after you just preached your heart out to your church. Sipping on a cup of coffee, you begin thinking about the small crowd that was gathered. In fact, it was noticeably smaller than usual. As you begin to think about some of the disappointing conversations over the last six months, you become more restless. Attempting to stave off the discouragement, you grab your phone and skim the news and your social media timeline. Within minutes you read of the church across town adding a second service and baptizing new Christians. Your heart sinks. You quietly grumble to yourself, coveting their blessing while complaining about your own difficult season.
We are often tempted to find contentment in our circumstances: If things were only going better, then I would be happy. I’d be content if the church was growing, people were getting baptized, and my ministry was affirmed.
But this is a faulty way to think about contentment. As pastors we should know better, but we easily forget it. The Bible tells us to be content (Heb. 13:5). Is there any indication in the Scriptures that we needn’t be content if our circumstances are difficult? Of course not. While we may be tempted to remedy our grumbling with a new set of circumstances, we must remember that this is far short of the biblical solution. God wants us to be content even amid our toiling in the hard patches.
God wants us to be content even amid our toiling in the hard patches.
Let’s remember the Lord Jesus himself. He was the most content man who ever lived; and yet, he was mistreated at every turn. His circumstances, if we are honest, were quite difficult every single day. Then we remember the Apostle Paul. Here is a guy who was publicly stripped, beaten with rods by a mob, and then thrown in prison. Later that night, while in prison, he leads a hymn sing and prayer meeting! (Acts 16:22–25) We would all agree that these are really bad circumstances, yet Paul (and Silas) seems to be content. Does this challenge you a bit when you think about your ministry?
How do we go from complaining to contentment? The Apostle helps us further:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11–13)
Paul shows us here that contentment, rather than being tied to our circumstances, actually transcends them. If he is in a season of abundance, he is content. If he is in a slim season, he remains content. How can he say this? Notice the source of his contentment: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Paul is content in the midst of changing and admittedly difficult circumstances because he is content in a God who is unchanging and eternally glorious.
This is particularly helpful when tempted to ministerial pride or coveting. If things are going well for us or for others we should rejoice in God being made much of. Contentment in God reveals itself by rejoicing in the expansion of his fame—whether in our church or the church across town.
When we remember that it is the same God who served up our circumstances through his providence that calls us to be content in him, then we can rest in him. It is natural for us to complain and desire a change of circumstances. However, it is supernatural to be able to joyfully rest in God when things are not going the way we want them to.
Pastor, are you content? Let your changing circumstances drive you to the unchanging God to rest and rejoice in him.
- Discontentment Says Something about You, Not Your Circumstances (Philip Graham Ryken)
- Contentment Is a Choice (Lydia Brownback)
- The Key to Contentment (Paul David Tripp)