Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Appropriate Discontentment?

Perhaps you have heard the oft-quoted verse from Paul's letter to the Philippians, "Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content." (Phil. 4:11) And when you hear this verse, what specifically comes to your mind? Are we supposed to be content when we see ourselves constantly struggling with a particular sin? Or are we supposed to remain content when a family member is ill or dying? What about when we desire something good, like marriage or children, and are yet un-married and without children? I have been reflecting on the concept of "holy" or "spiritual discontentment" and would like to share my thoughts with you.

Again, what exactly is discontentment and how can we define it as either right or wrong? Well, the first thing we must do is measure of heart motives behind the discontentment we are facing, up against the Word. Earlier in the letter to the Philippians, Paul tells them to "Rejoice in the Lord always..." (v.4), and in his first letter to the Thessalonians he says, "Rejoice always...give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." (5:16, 18) So here we have two examples of the kind of constant rejoicing and thanksgiving that we as Christians must maintain in all circumstances. But what about some of the examples that I sited above? Well, John Piper sheds some helpful light on this area of "holy discontentment" in regards to spiritual leadership. As I purused an article written by him some years ago, he talks about a spiritual leader's optimism and zeal for change in accordance with their seeking of the Lord. A spiritual leader sees necessary and good changes to be made, and instead of being "content" in the current situation (or stagnant) he decides to move forward and do something about it! His motivation for fueling change can be called some sort of 'discontentment'.

I think about this type of discontentment in regards to sanctification as well. If we are honest with ourselves, none of us are as "spiritual" or "holy" as we would desire to be - and that's a good thing! A yearning for deeper fellowship or intimacy with God, greater knowledge of His Word, more of a sensitivity to one's own sin, and an increasing desire to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ - these are all good and necessary things in regards to our sanctification. We see ourselves in the mirror of the Word, and realize that we are not measuring up when it comes to evangelism, we are falling short in our discipleship efforts, and we lack zeal and endurance in prayer: we are discontent with our lives in ways that we should be. I have often felt this way. However, my holy discontentment can turn sour when I turn inwardly, and in self-pity, focus on what I am not, rather than who Christ is. Like I said, the longing to be more conformed to Christ's image is a good thing, but an attitude of self-pity, self-condemnation, or "woe is me" are not. We need to check our hearts and make sure that when those thoughts and attitudes begin to surface, that we are taking our longings to the Father who knows our desires and wants us to bring them to His throne of grace. After all His desire is for us to be conformed to the image of His Son.

Lastly, I want to address discontentment in circumstances vs. sanctification. We have talked about the latter in the previous paragraph, so let me address the former for a moment using an example from my own life. Some months ago after beginning my first full-time job [where I am still working now] I began to have this slight feeling of discontentment in where I was at. Not that I wanted a different job necessarily, but it was a dissatisfaction with my current occupation: a career woman, so to speak. Deep down the desire for motherhood began to form, along with all of its fears and hesitations. In light of that desire, I began asking God for clarity and discernment about what the timing of being a mother versus remaining faithful in my workplace, and what that would look like. Chance and I began praying about starting a family, and finally decided to move forward with that. Now you see? God used that discontentment with my current situation to spark a change in the direction that Chance and I were moving with our lives. But I would warn you to use much caution when evalutating this type of discontentment with circumstances - for there is a time for everything. God may not be calling you to change your life circumstances at all but to remain right where you are and to learn contentment in the midst of adversity or struggle. Always evaluate your heart in light of God's commandments and be sure to take your discontentment to the Lord in prayer - He is faithful and He will help you to know what He is trying to teach you through it.

Are you struggling with discerning some discontentment in your life? Please share your thoughts and concerns, I'd love to hear them!

1 comment:

  1. Kathryn! I miss seeing your beautiful face and having your sweet spirit around. I'm just joining the blogging world, so this is the first time I have been on yours, but thanks so much for your thoughts! I love Philippians and contentment is such a hard thing to grasp sometimes. I hope all is going well in KY and married life =) I am looking to go to seminary somewhere in a year or so-I would love to go now but the Lord has given me peace for where I am at! I'm going to go explore the rest of your blog now! haha