You Can’t Always Get What You Want

So, I’m sitting here wondering how the rest of you do it.

There is a theme in scripture that just gets me every time and I strive to obey it but I fail often. You can find it in Hebrews: 13:5-6 NIV: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?

How do you all do that?

Contentment eludes me.

If I’m honest, contentment even scares me a little. It almost seems un-American. To sit, even for an afternoon, perhaps a day of rest and be happy with what I have, neither striving for nor wanting more seems like an alternative lifestyle. Like it could lead to daisy chains or a second Woodstock. Like contentment could be a gateway drug to a world of games with no rules, contests where everybody wins or even Communism.

Right? I mean, what models are out there for this whole business of being content with what we have? I can’t think of anyone I know who fits that bill except maybe this one person who is heavily medicated and another who has so much – well, who wouldn’t be content?

Everyone I know seems to be striving. Everyone I run into wants just a little more.

Paul wrote to the church at Philippi that he had learned the secret of contentment. In Philippians 4:11-13 NIV he writes: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for 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. 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. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Man, I want that.

And now, I’m discontent that I don’t have it.

See how hard this is?

If I were to make a list of the everyday miracles of the Christian life, I would have to say that choosing contentment in America in the 21st century would rate in the top ten. It requires the supernatural intervention of a God who could overcome even death because I think discontentment is almost as powerful as death and tied pretty closely with lust and greed.

Think about the songs of our times. The Rolling Stones sing that you can’t always get what you want and that they can’t get no satisfaction. U2 sings that they still haven’t found what they’re looking for. This could be the theme song of my entire generation.

So, this week I’m meditating on contentment. Now, understand, I’m sitting in a house I don’t own with one kid in college and another right behind. I have a new haircut that just doesn’t work and the scale is not my friend. I’ve got unmet goals, unrealized dreams and unfinished to-do lists. And I know God is not done with me yet because there’s plenty of scaffolding still up on my soul.

And yet today He whispers to me to be content.

What is He thinking?

The Lord is my shepherd and I am truly looking to rest in green pastures and lie down beside cool waters but between that shepherd part and the restful grassland is that commitment that I shall not want.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

Be content with what you have.

I have learned the secret of being content.

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

It sounds impossible and yet it also sounds undeniably appealing – to be content with what I have. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

Doesn’t that sound as scandalous as taking a tropical vacation on a Tuesday in the middle of a deadline driven, demand-centered week? And doesn’t it sound just as inviting?

And now, suddenly these verses don’t sound so much like commands I have to obey. Now they sound more like invitations extended to me – a way out, a radical alternative, like an underground resistance movement, God at the grassroots level, an exit off the freeway to crazy, a way to live completely off grid, unplugged, acoustic.

Like the pastures and the cool waters.

Oh, yeah, I want that cool water living.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

Jesus is the secret password to contentment.

How about you? Are you ready to go off grid?

(There will be another post in the Reasons Not to Follow Jesus series but today I was thinking about contentment.)

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    The Conversation

  1. Mike W. says:

    “But if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need…”


  2. I think we can’t be content with what we have, until we are finding our contentment in Christ. Nothing else can truly satisfy, and when we’re content in him, we can live without lesser things. (This is something is still very much in the process of learning, but I’m sure it’s the only answer.)

  3. Excellent perspective, Karin! Sobering but effective. Love it!

  4. ooo – yeah!

    I teach a work out class to the tunes of the Rolling Stones. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard an entire room full of middle-aged women singing along with Mick Jagger! 🙂

  5. That’s the key, Betsy. Now, I just have to keep utilizing it!

  6. Great, great post. I am in constant need of reminding: REST, BE CONTENT, SIT STINKIN’ STILL.

    I forget and slide into that Martha mode. It is hard to be content when we’re trying to outwork the next guy. I love it that “Jesus” is our password. Thanks Lori. What a breath of fresh air.

  7. Maurie says:

    I have been a missionary at the end of the earth in northwest Haiti…I am a surgeon’s wife in a suburb in the US…It is easier to abound than to be abased, but you learn more and lean more when you are being abased!

  8. Cheri says:

    And discontentment rears its ugly head in so many areas – our physical person, our job, our family, our home, our finances…. you get my point.

    Great post!