I don’t know if there is a subtler foe of the gospel-oriented life than unholy discontentment. I throw in that “unholy” qualifier because there are times when God stirs up discontentment in our hearts. I know people like to think God is a gentleman who won’t interfere with our personal decision-making, but the truth is that sometimes he graciously pesters us about a specific issue until we respond in obedience. He may want us to pursue a different vocation for the sake of the Kingdom, pull back from a toxic relationship that is hindering our growth and usefulness, or leave the comfort of our first world culture and go live amongst an unreached people group. There are times when the Holy Spirit creates restlessness in our souls, gently (but persistently) nudging us to hop aboard the will-of-God train. I have experienced this kind of holy discontentment on a few occasions in my journey with Jesus.
However, what I experience more often is a fleshly, distracting, mission-abating kind of discontentment. You know, the kind that entails you moping around and obsessing about all the things or experiences you don’t have but so desperately desire. It seems like every six months or so, I begin to feel like my life is lacking and that I need to implement some circumstantial change or newness into it in order to be fulfilled. Switching vocations, moving to a different city, making more money, getting a new gadget, going to a different church, making new friends, or pursuing a new relationship status are just a few of the things I tend to entertain. None of these things are inherently bad, but when my compulsive pondering on them (and sometimes impulsive pursuit of them) is driven purely by fleshly restlessness—well, that’s obviously bad. I become so obsessed with thinking about the changes I could make or the things I could get that Jesus and his Kingdom almost completely fall off my radar.
This unholy discontentment wages more vicious war on my resolve to live a gospel-oriented life than any other sin struggle I experience. And maybe I am being presumptuous, but I have a difficult time believing I am the only Christian who struggles with this mess. I think it’s a spiritual virus we’re all constantly battling. Some of us may try to satisfy our discontentment by shifting around our circumstances (like me). Some of us may try to numb it by turning to food or alcohol or sex (I do that, too). Some of us may do all of the above (guilty)! We all experience this inner-thirst of discontentment and try to satisfy it with all the wrong things. We sip from the many cups this world offers, only to be repeatedly reminded that they don’t contain the satisfying substance we really desire. We indulge, manipulate our circumstances, and buy new things, yet we continue to find ourselves dissatisfied, fidgety, and bored.
So what are we to do? I think most Christians understand that discontentment is birthed and nurtured in a heart that isn’t satisfied in God. So, obviously, the best way to go about fighting it is to seek to be satisfied in God, right? Right. Quite obvious. But why are so few of us successful in that fight? I know there are a lot of valid answers to that question, but I think a huge reason is many of us don’t know what “seeking to be satisfied in God” looks like. Contemporary Christian culture is jam-packed with fantastic sounding ideas, but the problem is most of us don’t know how to pull those magnificent ideas down from the clouds and apply them in our everyday lives. We hear that we should find our deepest joy in God, and we respond to that with a thousand “amens!”—and then quickly realize we have no idea how to do that.
So, what does it actually look like to seek satisfaction in God? Some might say we should open our Bibles and seek to see the all-satisfying God it reveals. And they’re right; we should. The Holy Spirit cultivates fresh joy in our hearts as we shift our eyes away from the world and gaze upon God in his written word. Positioning ourselves under the Holy Spirit’s power in prayerful Bible-reading brightens our vision of Christ and ushers us into an eternity-oriented state of mind.
But is this all a pursuit of satisfaction in God entails? Some may object, saying, “I do that, though. I read the Bible constantly. I pray every day. And I still find myself struggling to be content in Christ!” I hear you—this is also my experience. I stay in the Scriptures and prioritize prayer. I don’t do these things perfectly by any means, but they are a part of my daily life. And I praise God for giving me grace to seek him via these glorious means because doing so is such a huge part of cultivating contentment in God! However, reading and praying isn’t everything. If it were, would I continue to find myself wrestling so regularly and intensely with discontentment?
Something the Lord began to teach me a few years ago—and evidently something I have been slow to learn—is that there is a deep well of spiritual satisfaction found in living in the will of God. A private pursuit of him or “quiet time” is part of his will for our lives, sure. But it’s not the whole sum. We weren’t spiritually resurrected just so we could sit in our bedrooms and read our Bibles. We were cleansed of our sins and endowed with the Holy Spirit that we might give the totality of our lives over to God’s purposes!
I find it to be no coincidence that the seasons I am most discontent are also the seasons I am just barely participating in the ministry of my church, loving my siblings in Christ poorly, and not grabbing hold of the plentiful opportunities God is continually giving me to engage unbelievers with the grace and truth of the gospel. And on the flipside, the seasons I am most content in God are the seasons I am most fully giving myself over to his will for my life! I’ve found nothing more effective in shutting down the unholy discontentment than giving my time and energy to the ministry of the local church, my spiritual siblings, and those who have yet to enter into the joy of salvation.
If Christ’s “food” was to do the will of God and accomplish his work (John 4:34), wouldn’t we do well to feast upon the same things? If discontentment is plaguing your heart today, I challenge you—as I also challenge myself—to put your hands to the plow of God’s purposes for your life. Find ways to participate in the ministry of your church. Find ways to love on your brothers and sisters in Christ. Find ways to engage the lost with the gospel. I guarantee you that if you will toss idleness aside and submerge yourself in the ministry and mission of the gospel, a God-centered satisfaction will invade your soul and mercilessly crush that unholy discontentment.