“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” ~Philippians 4:11-13
Discontentment is a seed of destruction that is easily stirred in the heart, even of those who have experienced overwhelming mercy and deliverance. Take, for instance, the people of Israel who were brought out of slavery from Egypt. The Lord provided for all of their needs, but grumbling and complaining were never far from their lips. The manna wasn’t good enough and water bursting forth from the rock was not sufficient to keep their gaze on the God who had been merciful to them. They focused so intensely on what they did not have that they seem to have forgotten the work done among them. Not only did they long for what they did not have, they also began to view their former slavery through rose colored glasses. “And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger (Ex 16:2-3).”
What’s at the root of Discontentment?
1. Ungratefulness and Entitlement
The first and primary root of discontentment is our attitude towards God. It is rooted both in our ungratefulness for what God has graciously done, and in an attitude of entitlement regarding what we think God should be doing. In actuality, it is an anti-Christian, anti-grace state of mind, where we deceive ourselves into believing that we’ve earned what we have, yet deserve more.
I have found that when I am discontent, it is not only my attitude towards God that is perverted, but also my attitude towards others in need. Discontentment reveals our self-exalting, self-gratifying tendencies. Think about it, when you are worried or anxious about what you do not have, are you the least bit concerned with the needs of your neighbor? It appears to be impossible to display Christian love to others while also exalting the self. Paul says, “do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourself. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus… (Phil 2:4-5)” Discontentment is opposed to humility and counting others more significant than yourself.
Medicine for the Discontent
So, how are we to make war against our discontentment? The medicine for the discontent is rejoicing. I do not mean to simply cheer up, but a process of renewing the mind. Again, Paul helps us here in Philippians when he writes, “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (4:8-9).” We rejoice and are made content by God’s grace when we think upon Christ, his person, work, and his transforming us in Spirit.
In other words, discontentment is not going to simply go away. I am not an advocate of sitting by and hoping you stop struggling with certain sins. I am a firm believer that putting to death the deeds of the flesh requires intense effort that is Spirit-filled and grace driven. I am encouraged by the words of Paul that are mentioned at the beginning of this post where he writes, “for I have learned in whatever situation to be content.” Contentment is not natural and must be learned. Yet, we are given greater hope still. We are not left to our own devices, for they only stir up more discontentment. We can do all things through him who strengthens us. Paul finds his contentment in the strength that Christ gives, not in his own ability and singing “hakuna matata.”
Therefore, Christian, when thoughts of discontentment arise in your heart and mind, turn your gaze to your Redeemer who bought you with his life and who is now at work in you. This requires effort, but effort that is rooted in Spirit that works in you. Rejoice, because he who began a good work in you will carry it to completion and he will supply all of your needs according to his riches and glory in Christ Jesus.