Being Content with Life’s Portion
“The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” (Psalms 16:5-6)
Recently I have been spending time with a couple who are preparing to be missionaries in Africa, for a least two years. As I observe them speaking to people about their work, I have many memories of my furloughs and talks over the years. One thing, in particular, stands out about missionary work—it has an intense focus on ministry with little attention to the nuances of life that otherwise take up so much time. Now that I am retired, shopping, staying in touch with people, and other ordinary activities take up a much higher percentage of my time. One life is not better than the other, but one leads to contentment more effectively.
When the Israelites arrived in Canaan under Joshua’s leadership, they were missionaries who work was to evict all the pagan nations from the land. When the fighting was over, however, the Levites did not settle into “normal” life but continued to serve the Lord with singular focus and did not receive any land for personal ownership. “The Lord said to Aaron, ‘You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel.’” (Numbers 18:20) “The Levites do not need an allocation of tribal land because their service in the presence of the Lord, and the tithe of the people of Israel, is their more-than-sufficient inheritance.” (1) Let’s consider what the Levites did not have. They had no share in Canaan, the Promised Land, no parcels of land on which to build an estate, as other tribes had, no fields to grow crops or vineyards for self-sustenance, and not spoil from Israel’s enemies. They were given cities, leased houses and fields devoted to the Lord, and work at or in service to the tabernacle. For the Levites, contentment was in work and their lack of possessions, which limited their worldly responsibilities. We often forget that contentment is most easily achieved by having less, not more possessions and worldly entrapments, and increased even more by satisfying service to others and God.
Psalm 16 draws on the Levite’s experience to help us find contentment with our “portion” in this life. We usually think of a portion of food rather than land; we surely don’t think of God as our ration. The poetry may be a little difficult at first, but stepping back from the language makes it easier to understand David’s meaning. God has given him all that he has in this life, including his vocation and leadership. God holds in his hand all of David’s circumstances, has blessed him with pleasantness, and has given David an eternal inheritance as God’s chosen one. Everything that is of value to David is from the Lord and is beneficial and beautiful. David is content, knowing that God is his greatest possession. In the words of Matthew Henry, “Heaven is an inheritance; we must take that for our home, our rest, our everlasting good, and look upon this world to be no more ours, than the country through which is our road to our Father’s house.” (2)
In Psalm 73 David wrote, “Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward, you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (vs. 23-26). We’re not all called to live like missionaries or Levites, but most of us would be content with less of something. And, as believers, Christ is our most valuable possession. Do our lifestyles reflect these truths?
(1) ESV Bible Study Notes, Numbers 18:20 note, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
(2) Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, Psalm 16:5-6, https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-concise/