One of the most beautiful statements of contentment came from the mouth of the Shunammite woman. You remember the story in 2 Kings 4. The itinerant prophet Elisha passed through Shunem occasionally, and this wealthy woman and her husband hosted him at their table. His frequent visits motivated this woman to suggest to her husband that they add a small but comfortable room to their home where he could stay; so they did. He had a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp. Elisha was so blessed that he told his servant, Gehazi, to ask her what they could do for her. Her simple but profoundly contented answer:
I dwell among my own people. (1 Kings 4:13)
In our day of unparalleled mobility, we would do well to recover her expression of contentment.
Notice that she didn’t need to go anywhere to be fulfilled. She didn’t even need travel to make her happy. She didn’t ask for a seven day luxury cruise, a vacation adventure, or a trip to see the king. She didn’t need things to satisfy her. That was amazing because we soon learn in the story that she was barren and had no children.
Notice too that the word “dwell” is not passive. It’s a verb, an activity to be performed. By self-definition, it can only be done where you live. The Shunammite woman was alive with activity! She kept her home with her husband. She also counted her home as something larger than her immediate family and house. She knew she was part of God’s people and was contented to live in Israel and serve whomever she could around her.
Service is at the heart of true dwelling. The essence of what God reveals about this lady is that she served Elisha, which also tells us something of her love for and commitment to God’s word. To dwell, in this biblical sense, is to live locally with a heart of service for your neighbors and to see such service as among the greatest callings on earth. We’re not really dwelling until we’re looking out for the stability and well-being of our community through hospitality, investment in the people and places around us, and a vision for the multiplication of God’s word in our midst.
This woman knew what God had already promised, she borrowed his language, and she wanted to be like him. In Exodus 29:45, through the tent of meeting and the altar where he would serve by providing the sacrifice, God promised, “I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God.” That promise was ultimately fulfilled in Christ.
Jesus came and dwelt among us (John 1:14), even though his own people did not receive him (John 1:11-12). Though they did not, what did he do? He served by sacrificing his own life on the cross. Consequently, when Jesus comes again, and all things are fulfilled, we will see the reality of what John heard declared in Revelation 21:3, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
We understand God’s commitment to dwell among his people, and we should commit ourselves to emulate him and contentedly dwell among our own. Does this condemn travel, promote ethnocentrism, or stand against missions? No. It actually enables grateful travel, promotes love for the strangers, and produces the missionaries with an unshakable sense of personal identity combined with global vision.
“I dwell among my own people.” Take it from the lips of the Shunammite woman. Make it your own creed of contentment.