The High Cost of Discontent

Dictionary.com defines “discontent” as follows: “a restless desire or craving for something one does not have.” Case in point? Here’s a famous quote by Wallis Simpson that we all recognize: You can never be too rich or too thin” (quote source here). While I have personally given up on the “too rich” part (at this point in time I’d just like to be gainfully employed again), I have always struggled with the “too thin” part. The only time I can remember being “too thin” was when I was a tall, skinny kid. Once adolescence hit, it was all over but the shouting. Of course, “too thin” is defined by our culture (as in “never too thin”).

For those of us who live in the United States of America, we have been blessed to live in one of the most prosperous nations on the planet. Even our poverty level is far above any other poverty level found elsewhere in the world. Did you know that worldwide 3 billion people live on less than $2 (US dollars) a day and 1.4 billion people live on less than $1.25 (US dollars) a day (quote source here)? Yet the level of discontent found in our culture is staggering. We are always seeking after “more” and never content with what we have. If you have any doubt just ask yourself how often you buy a new car (or a new cell phone) or seek a job that pays more or find other ways to make more money so you can buy more “stuff.” And the “storage unit” business is booming because we never let go of anything–we just keep buying more and more and more.

The heart of the problem isn’t that we don’t have enough, it’s that we are not content with what we have (whether it’s a little or a lot). Today’s devotion titled, Be Content in Our Daily Bread hits this issue head on:

Be Content

“I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” ~Apostle Paul (in jail), Phil. 4:11

Read: Philippians 4:10-20

Contentment is hard to attain. Even the apostle Paul, a hero of the faith, had to learn to be content (Phil. 4:11). It was not a natural character trait for him.

For Paul to write that he was content in every situation is truly amazing. At the time of this writing, he was in jail in Rome. Charged with sedition, treason, and other serious crimes, he had appealed to the highest court: Caesar himself. Without other legal recourse and friends in high places, he had to wait for his case to be heard. It seems as is Paul had the right to be an impatient and unhappy person. Instead, he wrote to the Philippians to say that he had learned to be content.

How did he learn this? One step at a time until he could be satisfied even in uncomfortable environments. He learned to accept whatever came his way (v. 12) and to receive with thanks whatever help fellow Christians could give (v. 14-18). And most important, he recognized that God was supplying all he needed (v. 19).

Contentment is not natural for any of us. The competitive spirit in us drives us to compare, to complain, and to covet. Few of us are in a predicament such as Paul’s, but we all face difficulties in which we can learn to trust God and be content. ~C.P. Hia

O Lord, give me the grace to be
Content with what You give to me.
No, more than that, let me rejoice
In all You send, for it’s Your choice! ~Anon.

Contentment is not possessing everything
but giving thanks for everything you possess.

Contentment is not natural for any of us. My own circumstances–three and a half years of unemployment–attest to my own discontent on a regular basis. So how did Paul learn this very valuable lesson on contentment? “One step at a time until he could be satisfied even in uncomfortable environments” (quote from devotion). And how did he do this? Let’s look at Phil 4:12-13 to find out–“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him (Jesus Christ) who gives me strength.”

Paul didn’t do it in his own strength. He relied on Jesus Christ to give him the strength to not only endure but to be content in every situation that came his way. Every situation! He was put in prison several times (sometimes for several years); flogged and exposed to death again and again; 5 times he received 39 lashes from the Jews; 3 times he was beaten with rods; 3 times he was shipwrecked; and he was stoned once–the list goes on and on (see 2 Cor. 11:16-33). I dare say none of us have had to even remotely endure what Paul endured over his lifetime after his conversion on the Damascus Road.

I must admit it was humbling to read this this morning. I can’t tell you how very tired I am of trying to figure out how to get my life off of hold and move forward again. And I’ve wondered numerous times what is holding it up (e.g., circumstances beyond my control and unforeseen by me) as I’m doing everything I know to move forward with my life (for example, my trip to Atlanta in May and my trip to Houston a month ago). Still, I wait not knowing, not understanding, and trying not to be discontent in the midst of it all. After all, Isaiah 55:8-11 (MSG) is still in the Bible:

“’I don’t think the way you think.
    The way you work isn’t the way I work.’ God’s Decree.
For as the sky soars high above earth,
    so the way I work surpasses the way you work,
    and the way I think is beyond the way you think.
Just as rain and snow descend from the skies
    and don’t go back until they’ve watered the earth,
Doing their work of making things grow and blossom,
    producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry,
So will the words that come out of my mouth
    not come back empty-handed.
They’ll do the work I sent them to do,
    they’ll complete the assignment I gave them.”

My discontent has never been from a lack of material possessions (I don’t have much left after losing all of my furniture, over 1000 books, and other possessions when I left Houston to come back to Florida three years ago). Indeed, I have been extraordinarily grateful that I didn’t own a house or a condo when this long time of unemployment hit as I would have lost it in the process. And I’ve always been thankful for whatever God has allowed me to have during my lifetime as when I was employed I always made enough money to pay the bills and afford a few nice items (my favorite items are books, music, and technology). And I’ve never lived beyond my financial means, either.

My discontent comes mostly from not being able to understand why this long time of unemployment and stagnation doesn’t end (well, I do keep busy but I feel like someone put me “on hold” three and a half years ago and forgot all about me in the process). I feel trapped in a “prison of unemployment.”

As I read Paul’s accounts this morning I was reminded that in all of the ways he was wronged by others (by being thrown in prison, flogged, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked) he never lost sight of Who he served and Who he belonged to, and why it was all happening (to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ). Now, I’m not sure how that fits into my own “prison of unemployment” but it gave me great comfort this morning to know that even this prison of mine can in some way help to serve in my own very small attempt to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ (e.g., my blog posts, which have been written during the last year and three months of this long time of unemployment). Even if it only helps one person to get back on track in their Christian walk or to come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, it will be worth all that I have had to go through during these past three and a half years.

The only way any of us can break the cycle of discontent in our lives is to take our eyes completely off of ourselves, and, as Hebrews 12:2-3 (MSG) states, “Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!”

And as Hebrews 13:5 reminds us,  remember to . . .

Keep your lives free from the love of money
and be content with what you have,
because God has said,
“Never will I leave you

never will I forsake you.”

YouTube Video: “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” by Traffic (1971). This song is lengthy–11 min, 39 seconds–and it starts off very softly for the first 30 seconds or so, so be patient.

Photo credit here

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