Anxiety is a fearful uncertainty over the future, whether short-term (as in my plane trips) or long-term, such as might result from a job loss. Frustration is usually the result of some immediate event that has blocked my plans or desires. Discontentment, the subject of this chapter, most often arises from ongoing and unchanging circumstances that we can do nothing about.
Before we get into the subject, however, I want to acknowledge that there is a place for legitimate discontentment. All of us should, to some degree, be discontent with our spiritual growth. If we are not, we will stop growing. There is also what we might call a prophetic discontentment with injustice and other evils in society that is coupled with a desire to see positive change. The subject of this chapter is a sinful discontentment that negatively affects our relationship with God.
Actually, the most frequent warnings in Scripture against discontentment concern money and possessions, but in this chapter, I want to address what is perhaps a more common form of discontentment among committed Christians, an attitude that may be triggered by unchanging circumstances that are trials to our faith.
Here are some examples of such unchanging circumstances:
- An unfulfilling or low-paying job
- Singleness well into midlife or beyond
- Inability to bear children
- An unhappy marriage
- Physical disabilities
- Continual poor health
I’m sure there are other painful circumstances I haven’t included in this list. But whatever they are, the truths of this chapter will apply to them all.
In addition to the really painful circumstances of life, the cause of our discontentment may even be trivial at times. I am not good at administrative details, so having to constantly deal with them can become an emotional leak for me and thus a temptation to be discontent. Obviously, the necessity of having to handle administrative details is trivial compared to any of the areas I’ve listed above. But I mention it to point out that however good our overall circumstances may be, there is often some small thing over which we can become discontent.
It’s not that I am unacquainted with some of those more difficult areas. I was almost thirty-four when I got married, so I know something of the loneliness of single adult life. And even after marriage I struggled with discontentment at our son’s soccer or basketball games because I was at least ten years older than the other parents around me. And then there are the physical disabilities. All my life I have had both a visual and a hearing disability, neither of which is treatable. I can remember the feeling of rejection as I was growing up when, because of my visual disability, I could not play baseball like the other boys. Still today, even as an older adult, those lifetime disabilities often make life inconvenient, if not difficult.
I don’t intend that last paragraph to sound like a pity party. And I readily recognize that the circumstances I deal with are minor indeed compared to what many believers experience. But I do want you to know that if you struggle with discontentment, I’m right there with you. Your circumstances may be much more difficult than any I’ve ever experienced, but the truth is, it is our response to our circumstances rather than the degree of difficulty that determines whether or not we are discontent.
Whatever situation tempts us to be discontent, and however severe it may be, we need to recognize that discontentment is sin. That statement may surprise many readers. We are so used to responding to difficult circumstances with anxiety, frustration, or discontentment that we consider them normal reactions to the varying vicissitudes of life. But if we tend to think this way, that just points out to us the subtleness and acceptability of these sins. When we fail to recognize these responses to our circumstances as sin, we are responding no differently from unbelievers who never factor God into their situations. We are back to our ungodliness as the root cause of our sins.
Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2007), 17–19.
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