Our culture feeds us a constant bombardment of messages telling us that we need more. More money, more education, more success, a bigger house, a newer car, more stuff. Sometimes we are even told we need more in the context of family – we need a spouse if we are single, we need children if we are childless, we need a different spouse if times are difficult.
Personally, I’ve experienced other peoples’ expectations for more in my own life: people thought that I should be married when I was still single after college, or that I should have children when I had been married for several years but remained childless, or that my husband and I should not take a lower paying job even though we thought it would mean making more of a Kingdom impact. But more is not always God’s best for us.
Scripture paints a vastly different picture than that of our modern culture when it comes to what we need. We don’t need more of everything, and we don’t need to long for circumstances that are different from where we find ourselves. We need to be content with what we have in life, and we need to be content with our circumstances.
When we look at Jesus’ life on earth, we see the antithesis of what our culture impresses upon us. The gospels reveal that Jesus lived with very few, if any, material possessions. In fact, Jesus challenged a would-be follower with the truth that He did not even have a place to lay his head (Matthew 8:20). The point of Scripture does not seem to be that we should live as homeless people, but rather that we should be content with little.
Paul echoed this sentiment in Philippians 4:12 when he declared, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” This declaration is powerful. Being content in any and every situation is not our default attitude. Living in want is certainly not a status we seek, but both Jesus and Paul admonish us by their examples to be content even when we are living without.
Jesus also communicated the idea that family can be found in the people around us, even if we do not have biological family. When told that his mother and brothers were nearby, Jesus replied that His mother and brothers were those people who hear God’s Word and obey it. This response does not mean that Jesus did not appreciate or value Mary or her other children, but it does indicate that there is a significant bond between those who are followers of Christ.
Many times, the culture around us, and even the culture within the church, pushes us to be married with children. But we need to remember that this family scenario may not be what God has planned for every person. Certainly, God ordained marriage and family, but history reveals that God has used many people for His glory who were never married and never had children – including Jesus and the apostle Paul.
The point is that we should seek to be content in the place where God has us. Whether we have plenty or little. Whether we live alone or with a large family. Any situation has both challenges and joys. Likely our situation will change throughout our lifetimes, but as we face the ups and downs of life, we should seek to live out Paul’s admonition to be content in any and every situation. Trust God. Know that He will provide. Believe that His plan is best. Oftentimes, the best seasons of spiritual growth come when we find ourselves in circumstances that we would not have chosen. God is sovereignly and faithfully working in our lives at all times for our good and for His glory. Living with a heart of contentment is living like Jesus.