There is a widespread belief in the church that to be a Christian somehow satisfies our every desire. As one camp song has it, “I’m inright, outright, upright, downright happy all day long.” What complete nonsense! Augustine emphasized, “The whole life of the good Christian is a holy longing. What you desire ardently, as yet you do not see.” So, “let us long because we are to be filled ... That is our life, to be exercised by longing.” There’s the mystery again. Longing leads to fullness somewhere down the road. Meanwhile, being content is not the same thing as being full.

Paul said he had “learned the secret of being content” (Phil. 4:12), and many Christians assume he no longer experienced the thirst of his soul. But earlier in the same epistle, the old saint said that he had not obtained his soul’s desire, or “already been made perfect.” Quite the contrary. He described himself as pressing on, “straining toward what is ahead” (3:12–14). These are not the words of a man who no longer experienced longing because he had arrived. They are the account of a man propelled on his life quest by his desire.

Contentment is not freedom from desire, but freedom of desire. Being content is not pretending that everything is the way you wish it would be; it is not acting as though you have no wishes. Rather, it is no longer being ruled by your desires.

 

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