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How can we fight against discontentment?

Trusting in God’s promises and providence in 2020

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December 24, 2020

I have found that many pastoral counseling issues can be diagnosed with one, all too common malady: many people wish they were someone else. They want someone else’s job, money, home, car, spouse, family, or circumstances. They long for easier lives. They believe if they just had (fill in the blank) they would have purpose and meaning in life (Luke 12:15). Their ultimate desire is endemic to all human beings—a story without interruptions and a life without pain. They want to live in this fallen world without the frustrations and restraints that are inevitable because of sin’s presence and power. 

But life isn’t like the movies—even Christian movies. Fantasies of the never-ending romance, relative comfort, money without work, happiness without effort, fellowship without vulnerability, and peace without Christ are ultimately impossible in this world. 

The Bible enters our minds in disruptive boldness. It states that our desires are at war within us (James 4:1) because we want things and never receive them because we ask wrongly to spend them on sinful pleasures (James 4:3). Discontentment drives us insane—so insane that we act irrationally (Gen. 3). This is largely why people look at pornography, leave their spouses, and rage against their parents until families are destroyed and jobs are lost. 

Discontentment drives us insane, and 2020 has taught us that discontentment drives division—racial tension, epidemiological confusion, economic downturn, political chaos. From public affairs to public platforms, the desires “at war within” are bubbling over into quarrels and fights—on social media, in the church, within homes, among friends, and at work. What are we to do?

Seeing as God sees

Satiating the perverted desires of discontentment never comes by indulging them (Matt. 5:27-30). Learning to look at life biblically requires trusting God’s promises and his providences in making us more like Jesus. Lose either of these lenses (promise or providence), and life quickly grows dark—especially during a pandemic. Balancing God’s promises with the providences he has chosen and the life he has given can become an experience of gratitude with greater dependence on the Lord Jesus. 

Balancing God’s promises with the providences he has chosen and the life he has given can become an experience of gratitude with greater dependence on the Lord Jesus. 

Contentment is far more about seeing as God sees than our attempts to escape from hard circumstances. Exposing our misplaced affections and desires when life seems to be crumbling and redirecting our hearts toward satisfaction in the care God has promised to provide for all his children is the path forward for believers derailed by discontent. 

The beginning of the end for Satan and sin has already come through the baby born in Bethlehem (Luke 2:4-7; cf. Gen 3:15). The humility of Jesus to condescend from heaven’s throne to a cattle stall thundered in the heavens and made the reconciliation of God and man possible (Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 1:21-22). Jesus alone has provided the only way of hope for sinners trapped by their own desires to rule in the place of God by his death, resurrection, and ascension. With such a Savior, who ever lives now to intercede for sinners and see them home to himself, life is focused on the theme of heaven itself—Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.

The ground of these theological truths must be worked into our minds precisely at the moment we find ourselves drifting into sinful desires. To be sure, all desires are not sinful, but when we find the thoughts of our hearts wandering toward discontentment, that is a warning we are thinking the exact opposite of what the Bible prescribes as the proper attitude for walking in a manner that is worthy of the calling we have received as sons and daughters of God. 

Rejecting the false promises of discontentment

Remembering the Bible’s proper paths for our affections can quickly give us a course correction before we find ourselves in the ditch of discontentment. When our circumstances and trials seem larger than our God to the point we start wishing we were someone else with a life somewhere else, we cannot obtain spiritual equilibrium until we reject the false promise(s) discontent provides. 

Discontentment never solves anything. Instead, it is a gateway sin leading to all sorts of accusations about God’s character and care (or lack thereof) for his children. Proper focus on God’s providence in our moment of trial will stabilize us and cause us to remember that no matter what happens, we are not at the mercy of a tyrant who arbitrarily acts without concern for us. We have a Savior who has poured out his life unto death for us. No matter the trial—no matter how long this pandemic persists—that fact is the sure foundation for our life in this fallen world. 

Brothers and sisters, no matter what pain is present in your heart at this very moment, you can be sure life will not always be as it is today. God is moving you forward in ways that will cause you to grow in your trust that he is working all things after the counsel of his will for your good and his glory. Resting in his promises is the ground for a life stabilized by the gospel. And rejecting the mirage of discontentment while embracing the gospel is the path of peace.

Raymond Johnson

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