The Danger of Discontent
Each year, Northeast Ohio (where I live and minister) is consistently ranked in the top five “gloomiest” areas in the United States. All you have to do is look outside in December and January, and you’ll understand what I mean. We average just 168 days of sunshine per year (that’s less than half of the whole calendar) ... the U.S. average is 205. We typically see about 64.5 inches of snow annually, and an average about 41 inches of rainfall. Perhaps because I was raised here, I confess “gloomy” weather doesn’t bother me as much as it does others. However, as a Pastor I have noticed that in the doldrums of winter, I find myself having more conversations with people about issues relating to depression and discouragement, then I do say in June and July. Regardless if one deals with “Seasonal Affective Disorder”(a.k.a feeling SAD) or not, everyone can relate to experiencing seasons in their lives where they feel down, disheartened, and even discontent. Maybe its because of a particular sin, committed by us or to us, or maybe its an external circumstance and situation we are facing that is especially trying and difficult, all people (believers included) are prone to struggle with a lack of what Paul learned: contentment. The Apostle writes to the church in Philippi, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content.” (Philippians 4:11)
I’m growing more convinced of the regular necessity for all Christians to make an active and conscientious pursuit of what the great Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs called, “The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.” Not only for its own spiritual benefit, but because of the danger of living without it. As our spiritual forebears, the Puritans have thankfully written and preached extensively on this subject. And we are the richer for it. But I want to cite, or quote, an entire chapter (stay with me, its not as long as you might think-just three paragraphs) from another great spiritual treasure, Thomas Watson’s “The Art of Divine Contentment”. Wherever you may be today with the Lord, I trust this passage will be as beneficial and encouraging to you as it has been to me in my life and ministry. It's worth our meditation and reflection:
“ Christian contentment shows us how a Christian may come to lead a comfortable life, even a heaven upon earth, be the times what they will. The comfort of life does not consist in having much. It is Christ’s maxim: ‘Man’s life consists not in the abundance of things he does possess’ (Luke 12:15) but in being contented. Is not the bee as well contented with feeding on the dew or sucking from a flower as the ox that grazes on the mountains? Contentment lies within a man, in the heart, and the way to be comfortable is not by having our barns filled, but our mind quiet.
‘The contended man,’ said Seneca, ‘is the happy man.’ Discontent is a fretting humor which dries the brain, wastes the spirits, and corrodes and eats out the comfort of life. Discontent makes a man so he does not enjoy what he possesses. A drop or two of vinegar will sour a whole glass of wine. Let a man have the affluence and confluence of worldly comforts, yet a drop or two of discontentment will embitter and poison all. Comfort depends on contentment. Jacob went halting (faltering) when the sinew upon the hollow of his thigh shrank. In the same way, when the sinew of contentment begins to shrink, we go halting in our comforts.
Contentment is as necessary to keep the life comfortable as oil is necessary to keep the lamp burning. The clouds of discontent often drop the showers of tears. Would we have comfort in our lives? We may have it if we will. A Christian may carve out what condition he will for himself. Why do you complain of your troubles? It is not trouble that troubles, but discontent. It is not the water outside the ship, but the water that gets within the leak which drowns it. It is not outward affliction that can make the life of a Christian sad; a contended mind would sail above these waters. But when there is a leak of discontent open and trouble gets into the heart, then it is disquieted and sinks. Do, therefore, as the mariners: pump the water out and stop the spiritual leak in your soul, and no trouble can hurt you.” p.26-27
( Bold is my emphasis)
Amen. This gold mine of divine contentment is available to any and all who would pursue it in Jesus Christ. Come what may in this life, an earthly existence that the scripture calls a vanishing mist (James 4:14). For when we truly recognize that in Christ and Christ alone we have “unsearchable riches” (Ephesians 3:8), we are able to say alongside Job that “the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21b)
All of this is not to discount or even contradict the biblical and healthy place of lament in the life of a Christian. For more on that grace and practice, I'd heartily recommend Harold Senkbeil's little book, "Christ and Calamity: Grace & Gratitude in the Darkest Valley". But discontent seeks to sour, as Watson suggests, the sweetness of all that God is and has chosen to give in our lives. We begin to resent what we've been given, and covet what we haven't. Either way, discontent can easily lead to questioning the goodness of God internally and outright rebellion externally in seeking to manipulate cirucmstances to attain what we falsely believe we deserve.
Instead, its is my prayer that we as Christians may be equiped by the Spirit to replenish the oil of gladness and contentment in the lampstands of our souls by mimicking the Psalmist who says to "cast your burden on the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never permit the righteous to be moved." (Psalm 55:22)