biblical vocabulary: contentment

I’m not sure if this is anyone’s favorite word. I once attended a women’s retreat where the keynote was centered entirely around this concept, and I must admit it was some of the sharpest conviction I’ve ever experienced. To this day, it’s a word that inspires a little bit of a cringe in me, and it’s something I think most of us try not to think about too much. But what is it?

What is “contentment”? What does the Bible say it is?

This is our fourth lesson in the Biblical Vocabulary series. If you haven’t yet, pause for a moment to read up on faith, joy, and worship, because they’ll all play a role in our understanding of contentment.

What is contentment?

The dictionary definition of contentment is straightforward:

“The state of being satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else.”

Now you understand why this word stings the conscience a bit. I don’t know when I last met someone I could freely describe as “contented,” and I certainly don’t think I’ve ever met a contented version of myself.

For all secular intents and purposes, this definition of contentment is pretty good. But there’s one very important thing it’s missing if we want to develop a truly Biblical understanding of what it means to be content, so our next stop needs to be the Bible itself.

But I rejoiced greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.

Philippians 4:10-14

We all know at least one verse in this passage: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Without its context, this verse becomes a mantra for athletes and a slogan for bumper stickers, but it gains a whole new power when we realize this isn’t about what we can achieve, or reaching for the stars. It’s about what we can be satisfied with - even if we never touch the stars.

Notice Paul’s situation as he writes these words to the Philippians. They’ve sent him a gift, something to help sustain him as he continues in the work of ministry, and he rejoices in their care for him. But he does not need their care for him in order to be content. He doesn’t covet their resources; he’s not driven to steal or con his way to accessing them. If God provides through the Philippians, Paul rejoices - and if He does not, Paul is content. It’s nothing about Paul’s circumstances, relationships, or potential that give him this power and freedom; it’s Christ alone (which should sound familiar to you if you studied the definition of joy with us!).

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” I am satisfied because Christ is my satisfaction and sustenance.

The dictionary told us that to be content is to be “satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else.” The Bible tells us that the only way this state of being is possible, especially when we are truly “suffering need” as Paul said, is to be entirely dependent on Christ.

That’s the piece that our dictionary definition is missing.

We can be content even when we lack basic needs and wants because contentment is a theological acknowledgement statement that “God has done right.”

Contentment is born of surrender.

Biblical contentment is not just about being okay with it if we never get that new car or nicer house or better job. Like faith and joy and worship, true contentment is not a feeling; it is an action, a surrender, a way of living. We can be content even when we lack basic needs and wants because contentment is a theological acknowledgement statement that “God has done right.” It is rooted in the absolute dependence and surrender that can only come from trusting that God is who He says He is: good, sovereign, loving, personally invested in our lives, our provider.

“I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” That is, I have learned how to acknowledge, in every situation, that God has done right by me. Even in my times of need, I have more than I could possibly deserve. I have a relationship with the living God! And because of who He is, I can remain strong and satisfied in that truth, regardless of my circumstances.

There’s one more important thing I hope you see before we leave this discussion of contentment: Contentment can’t exist without an established foundation of faith (seeing things the way God says they are instead of how my eyes see them) and joy (the resolute assurance that God knows and cares about the details of my life). If my perspective is small and fearful, and I perceive God to be cold and distant, I will never be able to submit my heart to the truth that God has done right. I will always notice what I’m missing out on and become embittered toward God for seeming to not care about my needs. Eventually, this will lead me toward the three core sins of discontentment: covetousness, theft, and disregard for God’s Sabbath (see Exodus 16).

Faith, joy, and contentment are some of the key fruits of a life that is learning who God is and allowing His character to define reality. If you’re not there yet - maybe you don’t really know who God is, or you think you do but He doesn’t seem like someone who would inspire faith, joy, and contentment at all (you are not alone!) - I can only encourage you to spend time in His Word, where He reveals who He really is through the narratives, laws, poems, and prophecies of the Scriptures.

The Bible is a big book. If you need help tackling it or knowing where to begin, I’m leading a challenge to read through the Bible in 180 days again starting January 1 - I’d love to have you join us! You can learn more here.

your wait isn't wasted (an advent devotional)

Behold, the Lord, the God of hosts, will lop off the boughs with a terrible crash; those who are tall in stature will be cut down and those who are lofty will be abased. He will cut down the thickets of the forest with an iron axe, and Lebanon will fall by the Mighty One.

Isaiah 10:33-34

It’s the beginning of the Advent season, and maybe you’re wondering if I missed the memo, or opened up my Bible to the wrong chapter. I admit: these don’t sound like Advent verses.

A wrathful, axe-wielding God is not the God I often reflect on in the days leading up to His greatest and most sacrificial gift.

No, I’m far quicker to open my Bible to the joyous prophecies, the most obvious reminders of God’s love and grace and faithfulness. And indeed, when I set out to write this Advent devotional, I intended to start here instead:

Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

Isaiah 11:1-2

However, I couldn’t fully quiet the nagging voice of my inner Bible scholar, reciting to me the first three rules of excellent Biblical study: Context, context, and context. Chapter 11 of Isaiah begins with the word then – an adverb meaning “next” or “after that,” which begs us to ask the question, “After what?”

And our search for the answer leads us backward, to the end of Isaiah chapter 10, with those verses that don’t really sound like Advent verses.


If you find yourself in a painful season of waiting rather than a joyful one this Advent season, I hope you’ll read the rest of this post over at Living Free Indeed! (click here)

I was honored to share what God has been teaching me on Dani’s website. She has created some excellent Biblical resources that I hope you’ll check out.

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Hallie Liening

Hallie grew up on a small farm in rural eastern Washington. At 18, she moved across the country to go to Bible school, and then married the Boy Next Door at 20. Now 22, she is a graduate of Great Commission Bible Institute with a Certificate in Biblical Studies and resides in Olympia with her husband and her two cats. She survives the claustrophobia of living near the city by making frequent trips back home to visit her family and her horse, writing sentimental blog posts about the countryside, and by filling her house with photographs of Mt. Adams sunsets.

my thanksgiving offering

At the beginning of this year, I wrote here that my goal for 2018 was to live in a state of thanksgiving, such that none of God’s grace to me would go unnoticed, and none of the days He gave to me would go half-lived.

I did not know that task would be so difficult, but at the same time so life-giving.

I had no idea what I would be asked to endure.

How does one bring a grain offering to the Lord when there are no grits of new growth, no early ripened things, no fresh heads of grain and no unleavened bread to offer? What do I bring Him when my hands are empty and the year is famine?

But there is an element of the grain offering (also known as the thanksgiving offering) that doesn’t depend on my situation or the state of my harvest. It doesn’t need the rains to come at the right time and it doesn’t rest on whether I’m faithful and honest enough to see it and bring it before God. It’s something entirely outside of my control - something I didn’t grow or earn or create.

Every grain offering of yours, moreover, you shall season with salt, so that the salt of the covenant of your God shall not be lacking from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.

Leviticus 2:13

Even when I come to the altar with nothing, there’s still something in my hands. There is still something to offer back to God with a heart of thanksgiving.

Salt.

“The salt of the covenant of your God.”

In ancient Hebrew culture, salt symbolized loyalty, faithfulness, and commitment. Even today in Arab cultures there is a saying when a friendship, marriage, or contract is sealed: “There is salt between us.” And when God chose to enter into relationship with the people of Israel, and later with His Church through Jesus, He made a covenant with us.

The salt sprinkled over the grain offering is a reminder that He is faithful to that covenant, to His Word, to His character.

It is nothing of my own, nothing I cultivated, nothing I deserve. But even when everything else is dead and empty, I have this to thank God for - the salt of His covenant with me, the reality of His everlasting faithfulness to me, and the love that will never let me go.

When my circumstances are not what I hoped or planned or expected, God is still who He said He is, still where He said He would be, and still doing what He said He would do.

If this year has taught me anything, it’s that there is never an excuse to not give thanks. Things are never bad enough to negate the goodness of God. Living for Him is never “too hard” - not in light of what He suffered for me.

O come, let us sing for joy to the Lord,
Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving,
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.
For the Lord is a great God
And a great King above all gods,
In whose hand are the depths of the earth,
The peaks of the mountains are His also.
The sea is His, for it was He who made it,
And His hands formed the dry land.

Psalm 95:1-5

When my circumstances are not what I hoped or planned or expected, God is still who He said He is, still where He said He would be, and still doing what He said He would do.