How to Balance Content and Discontent in the Christian Life

We need some of both.

Recently I woke up feeling discontent. It didn’t take me long to figure out why. Interestingly, last week my good friend and DJJ Board member Steve Foster recommended a book titled The Magic of Thinking BigIt’s a classic about how so many people are content with small things because they don’t think big. A great message, but the problem is it can have some unintended consequences, at least for people like me.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

I started reading the book not long before I went to bed. Consequently, I’m sure that the book and its theme was the root of my discontent:

  • Have I settled for less than the best?
  • Could I have done more if I’d just have thought bigger?
  • What can I do to shift my thinking to create bigger outcomes?
  • I’d better hurry up and get going or I’ll miss the bus!

So, after wakening with discontent, all this got me to thinking about what the Bible says: Is thinking big God honoring? Can discontent be godly, or does God want us to be perpetually content, no matter what?

Here’s my answer to these questions:

1. Discontent is godly when…

  • …we want to see God’s Kingdom expand and all people to hear the Gospel.

2,000 years after Jesus, there are still over 2 billion who have never heard the Gospel message of Jesus. Should we be satisfied? Emphatically no! It should bother us enough that we work to fulfill the Great Commission.

  • …we’re discontent with mediocrity in serving God or our employer.

As Christians, no matter if we’re serving God or an employer, we are duty-bound to do our best. If we work for money or as a volunteer, we should do our best, knowing that no matter what, we are serving the Lord.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24 ESV) 

  • …we’re being lazy.

God doesn’t approve of laziness. In fact, we should be discontent if lazy, as seen in this verse:

“A sluggard’s appetite is never filled, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.” (Proverbs 13:4 NIV)

2. Discontent is ungodly when…

Our discontent can certainly be ungodly.

The Apostle Paul penned some of my favorite words of Scripture when he wrote,

I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11b-13 NLT)

How do we know when discontent is ungodly? Let me suggest that happens when…

  • …we can’t be thankful for what we have

Scripture instructs, “In everything give thanks.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

If we cannot find reasons to be thankful in every situation, then we need to readjust our attitude. Note, this doesn’t mean to be thankful FOR every situation, but IN every situation.

  • …we can’t rest.

God created the Sabbath, instructing and requiring that His people observe the Sabbath and rest. It was not optional. It was one of the 10 Commandments:

Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11 NLT)

If we are so driven we never rest, we need to rethink our level of drivenness.

  • …we expect others to be perfect and aren’t content if they’re not.

This can certainly get us into trouble.

Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs.” (Proverbs 19:11 NLT)

  • …we are discontented about things we (and perhaps others) cannot change.

If we and no one else can change circumstances, it’s best to be content, rather than stewing or seething about something that cannot change.

3. What to do When Discontent Gets Out of Hand

There is no doubt that discontent can be ungodly. So what can we do if our discontentment gets out of hand?

Here’s what I plan to do:

  • Start counting your blessings.

It’s hard to complain when you’re being thankful.

The old hymn Count Your Blessings said it so well:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God has done.

  • Help those who have so much less.

Part of the problem with discontent is that the focus is on ourselves. Instead of focusing on “woe is me” it helps immensely to consider the problems of others, and do what we can to help them.

Helen Keller was born deaf and blind. Yet she learned to focus on others and is quoted as saying, “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”

  • Talk with a friend or your spouse.

For balance, it is so helpful to talk with someone who can give perspective.

In my case, I have a great, godly, wife who has a lot of common sense:

  1. When I feel like a failure, she reminds me of my successes.
  2. When I feel haughty, she lets me know I might not be the hotshot I think I am.
  • Back off on the motivation stuff.

I think I’ll read The Magic of Thinking Big when I need a new shot of motivation, but not as a steady daily diet. Why? I don’t think my personal system can handle it.

What helps you balance content and discontent? Your thoughts are welcome! Please leave your comment below.

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