Paul was a spiritual giant, no doubt about it. I struggled for the longest time with his teaching in Phil 4:11-12, “I have learned to be content…” I thought to myself:

“I want to be content, but I’m not. I’m always driving to the next, going after new territory and desire to extend our Kingdom reach.”

I wrestled because that drive always felt normal, healthy and even God-designed.

Some years ago now, I believe the Holy Spirit gave me a fresh insight on the matter. I’ve been practicing it for years, so now I teach it when I have an opportunity.

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The desire within a leader to move the ball down the field, to see the church grow and realize (more) lives changed is normal and healthy. That is God’s purpose and plan. God never intended that the church should retreat. Lack of inner contentment comes when God and I are out of sync. The problem is not my drive for new territory, it is when I think things should be bigger and move faster than God does. I’m in the game and give it 110%, but then rest in the results knowing I may be in charge, but God is in control.

I can sum up this idea in one simple phrase. “I’m always content, but never satisfied.” On a personal level, this really works for me, and I’ve now seen hundreds of leaders catch on to this practice as well. Let’s take a closer look so you can see that it’s more than just semantics.

Contentment is internal.

I have learned that nothing external brings lasting peace and contentment. It doesn’t matter how big the church is, how many people are in small groups, or if someone ever reads a blog post, because for a leader it’s never enough, and we’re never done. Contentment comes from a quiet confidence that God is with me, He loves me, and I’m living the life He has for me. From there, that contentment extends into my family life, leadership, and relationships with others. But it all starts from something deeply internal and personal with God.

Satisfied is external.

If personal inner contentment is something you possess, “never enough, and never done” is normal and good. Think about the opposite. You would never say, “Well, my church has reached enough people and I’m fine with all of our ministries as they are!” No way. Leaders lead! That inherently means taking new territory.

However, if you lack personal contentment, never being satisfied can become your worst nightmare because eventually that will spill over into your family and church. You will attempt to get that missing contentment from them, or through them, rather than with God. When you and I are content in our relationship with Christ, meaning He is enough, then we are freed up to lead in a healthy and God-pleasing way. It is then okay to not be satisfied with the current status of our churches and press on to higher ground.

This understanding of “always content but never satisfied” has helped me make sense of what previously seemed contradictory. I hope it helps you too.