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The Test of Contentment

In the last week, I bet you’ve heard (or said) something like, “I am so over this, and I’m ready for life to go back to normal.”  While there’s plenty to disagree about these days, that’s one thing we all agree on: we’re ready for COVID-19 to become a thing of the past. 

Some of our discontentment is probably good and godly discontentment. For example, there are things God wants us to do that are extremely hard to do with life as we know it. Obviously going to church and fellowshipping with other Christians isn’t super easy. It’s hard to serve in the church, it’s hard to evangelize and disciple people. It’s difficult to meet people’s needs… along with plenty of other good things that are on pause.

Not to mention, no one’s content with a virus lurking around, potentially putting people  in danger. And no one likes the harm it’s causing society on all types of levels. There’s plenty not to like. 

Dealing with Dissatisfaction

Biblically speaking, there is certainly a time to be unhappy with the circumstances. 

Just thinking of a few examples, we know the Apostle Paul didn’t like being separated from God’s people. You might even say he was “discontent” — he longed to be with his brothers and sisters in Christ even when he couldn’t (Romans 1:11, 2 Timothy 1:4, 1 Thessalonians 3:6). Paul also shows a sense of discontentment with his “thorn in the flesh” as he begs God to take it away (2 Corinthians 12:8). Even Jesus weeping at the death of his friend shows there’s a type of godly angst against life as we know it (John 11:35). 

All that to say, there are times to not like (or really not like) a situation.

And yet, we still need to be able to say with Paul, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11). Furthermore, when we don’t like the situation we’re in, we still need to do life “without grumbling” (Philippians 2:14). And of course, we are supposed to keep embodying the fruits of the Spirit like joy, peace, and patience (Galatians 5:22).

So we can be discontent on one level…but on another level we need to refrain from complaining, and we need to always remain joyful, patient, and content regardless of the situation. That’s a fine line we must walk as Christians!

That Fine Line

How do we live in the midst of imperfect, messy, difficult times, recognize the bad in it, yet still remain content in all the right ways?

Well, it’s not easy; but I think one of the best ways to do this is to think clearly about what it is we don’t like. It’s helpful to recognize that some of our dissatisfaction is good and appropriate. But in all likelihood, we also carry around some negative feelings spurred on by selfishness (or even arrogance) — and that’s helpful to recognize as well.

Appropriate Dissatisfaction:

Good and appropriate dissatisfaction was seen in the previously mentioned examples of Jesus and Paul. I say that because they were both bothered by circumstances that didn’t line up with God’s good design for humanity, and thus it made sense to not like it. For example, God designed us for fellowship, so it makes sense that Paul dislikes a break in fellowship. And weakness, sickness, and death are all results of the fall, so it makes sense that Paul or Jesus (or we), would dislike their destructive presence. 

So the things that bother you that relate to life not being the way God intended it to be…those make sense to be discontent with. I imagine a few of the things that bother you today fit in that category.

But, sometimes our  discontentment is not as godly. And that’s what we need to work harder to detect.

When Discontentment is Not Godly:

There’s  two obvious ways to detect discontentment gone wrong.

First, if what we don’t like about life causes us to sin,  there’s a problem. Even if our original complaint was a godly one, if we are not responding to it right, there’s something wrong in our hearts. So let the red flags fly when we complain, have a bad attitude, talk disrespectfully about others, arrogantly act like everyone should listen to our opinion,  or have any other sinful response to life.

Second, we know something is off when we examine our discontentment and it revolves around our own experiences and emotions. Basically, when we realize we are getting worked up for selfish reasons. Maybe we don’t like being inconvenienced or cooped up. Or we don’t like when people (or leaders) don’t do things how we want them to. We don’t like that life isn’t going how we want or how we planned.

This kind of dissatisfaction is not God-honoring, it’s just us focusing on ourselves.

Pass Your Contentment Test 

All in all, the reality is God has placed us here for such a time as this, and we need to humbly embrace this trial as the one God chose for us. That means this is an opportunity to get sanctified (not respond sinfully or selfishly).

No we don’t have to be happy (or “content”) with things that are not good from God’s vantage point (and the Coronavirus pandemic brings a whole lot of “not good”).  But we must somehow learn godly contentment amidst the bad.

So let’s walk that fine line, let’s keep a pure heart. Let’s maintain that joy, peace, and patience, and let’s refrain from complaining. Let’s show that though we don’t like this present situation, we are able to be content!

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