My friend was sick with frustration. You could see it all over her face and hear it in her voice as she talked about unmet expectations at her church.
“You’re never satisfied,” remarked her husband. Unlike his wife, he was happy with their full-gospel church, and he felt fulfilled in the ways he was serving there. Everything was in place—a beautiful new building, committees ready for action, outreach efforts underway.
But for my friend and others at her church, there was still a deep sense of dissatisfaction. It wasn’t a rumbling, like complaining, but more a gnawing hunger for something more: the life-changing presence of the Holy Spirit.
I identified with my friend’s feelings; I had experienced them myself. Perhaps you have too. It may not be your church that leaves your spirit wanting; it may be your job. Or perhaps your marriage is missing something. Maybe your whole life feels empty!
Deep inside, you know there must be more, but your hope is drained when well-meaning friends try to offer biblical counsel, telling you to let go of your lofty expectations and learn to be content with what you’ve got.
But is this counsel truly biblical? My understanding is that it is not. Scripture does not declare all dissatisfaction to be a product of the flesh. Although we often use the words satisfaction and contentment interchangeably, they don’t mean the same thing, and confusing the two may alter the course of our lives.
Satisfaction vs. Contentment
In English, to be satisfied means to have your fill of what you desire, expect or need. Similarly, in the original Bible languages, numerous words translated satisfy imply a completion and a filling.
Contentment, on the other hand, refers to a sense of gladly accepting what is offered to you, knowing that more could be had, such as politely accepting a salad when you really wanted a steak. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines it as being “happy with one’s lot.”
Sadly, some people believe the biblical charge of contentment is a mandate to relinquish all their unmet desires. But if we abandon every expectation for increase, we may do more than smother our hopes and dreams. We may immobilize God’s perfect will in our lives by settling for less than what He has ordained for us to have and do.
Interestingly, most Scriptures that refer to contentment pertain to material wealth, not spiritual fulfillment. Consider the oft-quoted passage in 1 Timothy 6:6-7: “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it” (NIV). Paul is referring here to the riches of this world and exhorting believers to value eternal things more.
Again, Paul writes, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty” (Phil. 4:11-12). Here he is discussing the support he has received from the Philippian church, pronouncing his reliance upon God for even his essential physical needs.
“Keep your lives free from the love of money,” we are told in Hebrews 13:5, “and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'”
God’s Word does command us to be content with our means. But when it comes to eternal matters of the heart—our walks with God, relationships with others, finding meaning in life—God wants us to be filled to overflowing. When Scripture refers to our being satisfied, it’s often in the context of hunger and thirst of the soul. “Blessed are you who hunger now,” says Jesus, “‘for you will be satisfied'” (Luke 6:21).
One summer day, our family went to the beach. While my husband went off to study a book under the shade, I waded along the shoreline with our 2-year-old daughter, Olivia, who was reluctant to go into water beyond her knees. As a mother, I was happy to play with her in the sand, watching her waddle around in the gentle waves. I was content!
The day grew hotter and hotter, though, and after a while the sizzling sun began to beat down on our heads. Eventually, splashing along the shore was no longer enough for me. Wading up to my knees wasn’t invigorating. I felt as if I were melting, and I needed something more!
The deeper water was calling to me, and I was no longer content to do the “Mommy thing.” I simply had to satisfy my body’s need to cool off! As soon as my husband joined us and took over the responsibility of watching Olivia, I dove in deeper for a real swim. How refreshing that was! How satisfying!
I might have been content to cool off in an air-conditioned building rather than in the water, but leaving the beach without going into the water would not have satisfied me. I would have felt as if I had missed something wonderful.