How can you match godly contentment with a desire to see the gospel take hold and grow? Adrian Reynolds reflects on a missing virtue.
I have just finished reading a new book on contentment by Erik Raymond (Chasing Contentment, Crossway). I must confess; I’m a bit of a sucker for contentment books – there is a deep irony in there, I know.
My need to read such things stems from an inherent temptation to be discontent with my circumstances.
I am convinced that discontent is the root behind much of our respectable sin. In other words: it’s not just me.
Erik’s book is a class act. It’s not long, and I particularly appreciated the way he set contentment in a wider context of the nature of God, creation and the Fall. Erik draws heavily on two Puritan greats – Thomas Watson and Jeremiah Burroughs, whose works on contentment also shaped my other favourite on this subject – a 2012 volume published by P&R: The Secret of Contentment by William Barcley.
Reflecting on this subject once again got me thinking about what pastoral contentment looks like. In other words, when you take this important theme and apply it to pastors, what applications need to be embraced? I thought of four.
Pastoral contentment is being content with the place God has called me to serve. This includes both the geographical location and the church, in particular.
It’s easy today to read posts and tweets from people who seem to be in much more desirable places. There are a few occasions when I’ve been offered roles in more spectacular places than the one I’m serving in and it’s easy to have your head turned.
Of course, there is sometimes a right time to move on. But notwithstanding this truth, we need a deeper sense of calm about the place we are called to serve now.
Pastoral contentment is about being content with the people God has given to us.
Again, this is a broad category. It may be the elders he has called us to serve alongside or the members of the church itself. Too many of us, and I’ve often succumbed to this sin, think to ourselves ‘If only I had…’ In other words, a different kind of elder would transform meetings; a more professional sound team would enhance worship; and so on.
We must temper this against the proper desire to grow in godliness and gifting. We want to see churches mature and contentment doesn’t mean being satisfied with where we are. But we can quickly give in to the sinful temptation.
Pastoral contentment is about being content with the role God has given us. This is particularly the case for guys starting out in ministry. It would be so much better (and a use of the talents God has given me) we assume, were we the senior pastor instead of the guy that’s in post. And if someone dares to give us a role in church which we feel is beneath us… well, enough said!
Pastoral contentment is about being content with the gifts God has given us. We need to eagerly seek the greater gifts, says Paul to the Corinthians. Amen to that. Pastors should want to grow in both godliness and gifting (see 1 Timothy 4).
I always want to be a better preacher, for example. But God has not gifted me to do everything equally well and rather than despise or envy those who are more gifted in certain areas, I need to be content in what he has made me to be and rejoice in what God has graciously given them.
Contentment vs Godly Ambition
How, though, do we embrace contentment without giving up on godly ambition?
It would be easy to be so laid back about our circumstances that we never pursue what God’s word encourages us to do. There is an ungodly kind of contentment which never seeks personal growth, is never open to the leading of the Spirit and assumes that lack of gospel fruit is a necessary mark of faithfulness.
We already know the answer: God’s word does not let us off the hook.
A careful reading of Scripture reveals clearly to us the matters which we must be relentlessly pursuing whilst also showing us areas of our life where we must be content. There is never any substitute for aligning ourselves with the Scriptures as we seek to pursue contentment which honours our all-sufficient and all-sovereign God.