Friday, September 4, 2015

Dealing with Discontentment

During our college days, Melissa and I became close friends with another young couple on campus. It was before they were married, and we would have them over in our tiny apartment from time to time. These friends had been dating for some time and were recently engaged. They were talking about getting married after they were both done with school -- it was a ways down the road. 

One night when Melissa was at work, they swung by to hang out for a bit. We hadn't been specifically talking about the timing of their wedding that evening; we were just hanging out as friends. At some point, though, they started asking questions about how everything had been for me and Melissa as we got adjusted to one another in marriage. It was obvious that they often thought about it all. I could tell they were ready to be married and the wait was killing them.

So then they asked me for counsel as to when they should be married. The first reaction in my mind was, "How on earth am I qualified to coach them on this?!"

I told them to turn to 1 Timothy 6 with me. 

But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.

Then I asked, "Are you guys content?"

They looked at each other. No real response.

"If it's possible for you guys to be truly content while unmarried, do what you're doing. If you're discontent, something needs to change."

They listened to that advice and were married a few months later on December 29. It was cool to be a part of that.

Although I was completely caught off-guard by the question, and I was certainly unprepared, I think God spoke wisdom through me in that moment. What I just shared was really the extent of our conversation about marriage that night, but they still reference it today. It was a light bulb moment.

So, considering the discontentment that creeps into our hearts, let us be clear that it's never okay -- we all recognize that already, I'm sure. When we're unsatisfied with resting in God's sovereignty, we're sinning. We know that He is in control and that He is the One who allows things in and out of our lives. Being upset with that is sinful. Discontentment hinders godliness according to 1 Timothy 6; we can't be holy while maintaining a perpetual state of displeasure with the Holy One.

The big idea is that something needs to change. For some reason, most of us (myself, at least) believe that we can just think about a situation differently or change our attitude toward the source of discontent and all will be well. It's as easy as that right?

Actually, our thinking typically isn't what needs to be changed.

The real change in response to this sin happens when our actions are adapted to foster contentment. Obviously, the actions need to be godly, and most of the time this is an issue of stewardship.

This is what repentance is, by the way. It's a change of mind that leads to a change of lifestyle. Once the Christian recognizes his state of discontentment as sinful, his desire should be for godliness. Thus, his change of mind should lead to a change of action. This requires putting selfish desires away, putting God first, and living like that's the case.  

Consider the couple referenced at the beginning. They were a young Christian couple struggling with the same things most Christian couples struggle with: purity, balancing eagerness and patience, an unknown future, etc. They were discontent because they weren't married, although they knew they were going to tie the knot eventually. They knew God had put them together; their hearts were already bound to each other in Christ. 

But this was the the real amplifier: the discontentment grew because there was no reason for them to put off the wedding date. At the time, it just seemed right to them to wait -- but God was urging them on. And that circumstance brought about a critical moment for them. 

The critical moment occurs when decisions are made to foster contentment in accordance with godliness. 

This requires a person asking himself, "What is God wanting me to do?" This question often gets spun as some mysterious, unknowable, yet unavoidable complexity of life. It's really not that difficult. If situations are bathed in prayer and God's wisdom is called upon, the Christian simply needs to make a decision and ask God to bless it. 

Sitting and stewing over a seemingly unfavorable situation accomplishes nothing but sin. There are simple, biblical steps that can be followed in order to make a change in the fight against discontentment. 
  • Ask God for understanding
  • Get wise counsel from His people
  • Pull the trigger -- make a decision confidently
  • Trust the Lord as the first step is taken
  • Keep on trusting Him; be committed 
After that, until God clearly brings about the next move, He desires faithfulness from each of His children to what He's called them to do in that moment. It's a daily radical decision, made right wherever the Christian may be. The situation might be as mundane as not watching a certain TV show or as massive as moving to Africa. 

Note: The object that brings about discontent is less of a concern to God than it is to us. To Him, a 35-year old griping about the stock market is the same as a 5-year old whining over a cookie.

Here's another example. Perhaps you want to change jobs. You're dissatisfied with the position you're in and it seems as though it's impossible for you to be content with the current situation. You know it's not right to be discontent, so you need to do something about it. What are you two choices? You can (a) stay at your job or (b) find a new one.

Step one: Pray. Step two: Get wise counsel. Step three: Choose between one of the two options. Step four: Trust God -- He led you to this. Step five: Live with the decision and invite others to hold you accountable.

If you were to choose to stay at your place of work, there are likely some adaptations that would have to take place. If you were to find a new job, much would be changed in your life requiring even more adaptations. Both choices produce actions that fight discontentment.

This may sound very elementary; however, we all have areas where we're discontent and we're doing nothing about it. Think about it. Do you want to know your Bible better? Do you wish you were in better shape? What about money? Hobbies? Family? We all have decisions to make to fight discontentment.  

In summary, the Christian's thinking typically doesn't need to be changed. He or she is likely already aware that not trusting God is wrong. He or she would probably rather be free from the burden of discontentment. The thinking toward discontentment is correct. But real change comes about by way of action.

If you're discontent, you need to do something about it -- there's no other way to get the doubt, anger, frustration, and depression out of your head. Ask God for forgiveness and call on Him to give you wisdom about the situation. Ask godly men and women to give you counsel and direction (and don't forget to listen to them). Decide what you need to do in order to deal with the source of discontentment; modify your life to be godly. Trust the Lord as the modifications are applied, even though it may be a painful process. Commit yourself to doing what you've said you would do. God has you right where He wants you.

Just like every other sin struggle, you need accountability. Tell at least one person everything about your situation. Let them them know the details of your decision to fight this discontentment. Ask them to follow up with you regularly. 

Discontentment is not God's will for you. Ask Him for forgiveness; repent; trust His sovereign will for you.

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