When God doesn’t give us what we want

My new apartment gets sun-soaked around four in the afternoon every day, which makes the plants by the window very happy. I’m settling in here. I’ve made meals, done laundry, and mopped the floors, and last Sunday night, I hung paintings on the walls. Above my workspace, I put a print that reminds me to “consider the lilies”; above a bookshelf and the couch, I hung two separate prints of the line “It is well with my soul.” 

People decorate their walls for lots of reasons. My decorations are reminders. These frames, in particular, hang in prominent places because they remind me daily to be content. My apartment is a good gift and I am grateful for it. My job is a good gift and I am grateful for it. But it’s striking how easily my eyes glaze over these good gifts and linger on the good gifts that God has given to others but not to me. I forget that God clothes even the lilies of the field, and my eyes stray from the cross and the wellness in which it anchors my soul. 

We have all been given good gifts, and we all have unmet desires for other good gifts. Those desires are not wrong. The problem comes when our desire for the gifts corrodes our desire for the Giver, when we start to believe that the Giver must not love us because His gifts don’t match our expectations.

Paul says he’s learned the secret of contentment in all circumstances–and it turns out that the secret is the often-quoted verse you’ve probably seen painted on the wall of a locker room or two:

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Philippians 4:11-13 (ESV)

Writing about contentment with worldly possessions, the author of Hebrews says, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5 ESV). Both writers are urging readers who are faced with hardship and envy and discontent to look up. The secret of contentment with our gifts is to know the Giver. 

Contentment doesn’t mean that we shove down our emotions or ignore our longings. God puts your tears in His bottle (Psalm 56:8) and calls you to cast your cares on Him (1 Peter 5:7). Contentment is bringing those emotions and desires before God, asking Him to fulfill them, and trusting that His no’s are just as much of a good gift as His yes’s. He made you who you are and put you where you are because of His goodness, not in spite of it.

I’m going to tell you something that I need to hear every day, tough-love as it sounds: So your life isn’t what you thought or wanted it to be. So now what? Get to know the Giver who doesn’t give like the world gives. Read His word. Pray to Him, even when it’s hard. Ask Him for good gifts, and lament to Him about your hurt, and trust Him with all of it. The more you get to know Him, the more you’ll find that He’s good. And if He’s good, you can look your life square in the eye and say, “If this is where He wants me, then this is where I’m going to be. If this is what He wants to give me, then I am here with open hands.” 

Even if we had all the good things we long for, they couldn’t bring us true joy unless we knew the Giver. We can mourn their absence or loss and pray for them to come into our lives—we are allowed to ask our Father for good gifts (Matthew 7:11)! But the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need, is that Christ strengthens us to do all things. He will never leave us or forsake us. He is by our side, strengthening our hands, steadying our steps, taking the wounds that we deserve, and guiding us home. And that is the best gift of all.


“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

John 14:27 ESV

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