It's easy to become discontented with what we have, especially if we dwell on negative thoughts. There will always be someone wealthier, more successful, more beautiful, more popular, more intelligent, etc., than we are.
When we focus on what we don't have, we risk forgetting about those who have far less — the desperately poor, the homeless, the imprisoned, the abused, the disabled, and so on.
We can wear ourselves out making comparisons, feeling slighted and sowing more seeds of resentment along the way. We're tempted to blame God for our problems. We wonder why He won't just zap us what we need or want.
Discontentment yields a bitter fruit, one which ultimately consumes whoever plants it. By comparing the story of the Israelites to our own lives, we'll learn what discontentment can do to us. Finally, we'll offer guidelines on ways to find spiritual contentment.
DISCONTENTMENT HINDERS SPIRITUAL GROWTH
If we are angry against God and discontented with His will for us, our faith not only won't grow, it will wither. Eventually it could even die.
A classic case of a chronically discontented people can be found in the Books of Exodus, Numbers and other parts of the Old Testament. Although God had miraculously released the Israelites from 400 years of terribly cruel slavery in Egypt, they quickly forgot, devolving into perpetual grumbling against Him and the leaders He chose for them, Moses and Aaron (Exodus 15:24, Numbers 14:2-5). The Israelites' chronic complaining made them more miserable and ultimately exposed them to divine judgment.
The principles God demonstrated to the unhappy Israelites centuries ago are still relevant today. Nursing discontentment and blaming God for not having what you want will not further your cause.
DISCONTENTMENT RESULTS WHEN WE FOCUS ON WHAT WE LACK
God has no intention of ever abandoning His people; He just wants their trust. Moses frequently appealed to God on the Israelites' behalf because of their fickle faith and chronic complaining. God showed great patience for many years, providing for them in spite of their contentious, ungrateful and unfaithful behavior.
When no water was available for the Israelites' needs, the Lord produced it by directing Moses to strike a certain rock at Horeb with his staff (Exodus 17:6). On another occasion, God transformed bitter water into sweet water (Exodus 15:25). Food was abundant in the form of manna from heaven and quail (Exodus 16:13-14, Numbers 11-2, 4-6).
In spite of God's incredible patience and abundant provision, the Israelites still grumbled against Him and their leaders, accusing them of false motives, saying, "You have brought us out into this desert to starve." (Exodus 16:3). Are we guilty too, of insulting God with false declarations like these?
Accusing God of having a hidden agenda is one of the worst things we can do. Isaiah 45:9 warns us, "What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, 'Stop, you're doing it wrong!' Does the pot exclaim, 'How clumsy can you be?'"
We'll never know God's thoughts or perceive His ways (Isaiah 55:8-11), yet He knows everything about us (Psalm 139:2, Isaiah 37:28). He gets to decide what fits into His plans best. He sees the whole picture; we only see a few puzzle pieces.
God also does not want us to dwell on the temporal. Tying ourselves to earthly gain can prevent us from cherishing His plan for eternal joy. Jesus said, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
DISCONTENTMENT IS DIRECTED TOWARD GOD
Whenever the Israelites reached an obstacle that required faith in the Lord who had already proved His love numerous times, they forgot their blessings and launched into a litany of complaints. They could have encouraged each other by saying, "God has brought us this far; He must have a plan to take care of us the rest of the way." But they never did. Their immediate response was not only to question God's motives and to doubt His goodness and power; they dared to glorify their past lives as slaves in Egypt! (Exodus 16:3) They never let
themselves be content or just rest in Him.
It's important for us to consider how we react to difficulties. Do we angrily add them up as examples of ways God has let us down? Do we shake our fists at heaven and say, "Why did You let this happen to me? Give me what I want or I won't believe in You!"
Instead, we should say, "Lord, You have cared for me so far, I trust You to supply the wisdom and the resources I need for this situation. I am content to leave it in Your hands." Our attitudes make all the difference in the way we face our circumstances and the ultimate outcome.
NEED TEACHES US TO TRUST GOD MORE
God had a plan for the Israelites all along — just as He does for us (Jeremiah 29:11).
He knew they needed food and water. The water, manna and quail He provided contained all the nourishment they required. All they had to do was to go out every morning and pick the manna; in the evening the quail came to them (Exodus 16:3).
But the Israelites never seemed to learn. Their faith didn't grow with each demonstration of God's provision. They seemed determined to be discontent. They continued to accuse Moses, Aaron and God of dragging them out into the desert under false pretenses. They didn't heed Moses' rebuke: "Moses replied, 'Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?' (Exodus 17:2) "They said, 'Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?"' They were even almost ready to stone Moses (Exodus 17:3).
God patiently endured being peppered with all these insults, and still
provided for them.
DISCONTENTMENT DISTORTS THE PAST AND DESTROYS THE PRESENT AND FUTURE
Do you look back on the past and remember it as being much happier than it really was? Is there always one more thing you have to have before you can be happy? Discontentment slowly erodes one's peace, joy and spirit. It hollows us out, only to fill us with bitterness and despair.
Israel's dissatisfaction reached its zenith when God brought the people to Mount Sinai. He spoke in an audible voice that thundered from the mountain. Then he called Moses to come up the mountain and speak with Him. For forty days He gave Moses the Law His people were to live by and the plans for the tabernacle, where He would dwell among them (Exodus 34:28). Unfortunately, the people could not even wait for forty days.
"When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, 'Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him"' (Exodus 32:1).
The people did not consider how extraordinary it was for their leader to be literally talking to God in His presence. They were ready and willing to exchange God for a golden calf made from their own gold earrings, which Aaron (of all people!) melted down and fashioned for them (Exodus 32:2-4).
Naturally, God was infuriated with them for worshiping the golden calf instead of Him. He punished many of them with death. But when Moses interceded for the people, God forgave them, and they continued on their journey.
However, God's patience was steadily wearing thin. Each time discontentment erupted, the punishment was more severe. After listening to endless rants about the hardships of the Israelites' journey, God released fire to rage among them and consume part of the outskirts of the camp (Numbers 11:1).
The final insult came when they refused to enter the wonderful Promised Land that God was giving them as a gift. Ten of the twelve scouts who spied on Canaan discouraged the Israelites from obeying God and taking possession of the land. They reported seeing huge, dangerous 'giants' (called Nephilim) there, once again overlooking the many obstacles God had already removed from their path and accusing Him of bringing them there to die.
They said, "We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes and we looked the same to them…If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword?...We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt" (Numbers 13:33b, 14:1-4).
DISCONTENTMENT LEADS TO REBELLION, RESULTING IN JUDGMENT
After years of seeing God miraculously meet their every need, the Israelites learned God's true purpose for their lives — but they still
rejected it. They forgot the agony of slavery and foolishly yearned to be back in Egypt when the "land flowing with milk and honey" (Deuteronomy 26:9; Jeremiah 11:5) was right in front of them. Perhaps one reason this happened was because they were still slaves at heart — slaves to their desires.
Their perpetual dissatisfaction and constant complaining led to rebellion and rejection of God's wonderful gift. The Promised Land is a metaphor for salvation and eternal life. By rejecting God over and over, they had used up all their chances. God was finished with them.
Moses pleaded with God once more to forgive them. The Lord responded, "I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times — not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it" (Numbers 14:20-23).
Anyone who treats God in a like manner can expect the same outcome.
(Note: Joshua, Caleb, the Levites, and all those under 20 years of age were the only ones allowed to enter the Promised Land. There is some question among Bible scholars about the elderly, the handicapped and women over 20. You can read more about it here
DISCONTENTMENT PREVENTS US FROM RECEIVING GOD'S BEST
The generation of Israelites who were denied entrance to the Promised Land wandered in circles for another 40 years without anticipating anything but God's dissatisfaction with them and ultimately, death. The people's dissatisfaction with God's purpose for them, their disdain of His bountiful provision, their disregard of His mighty power, and their distrust of His great love brought them to a point of no return. They were alive, but they looked at a bleak future that led nowhere but to the grave (Numbers 14-26-35). God gave them what they dared to accuse Him of: a Divine sentence in which they ultimately dropped dead in the desert (Numbers 14:28-29).
Why should we study this ancient story? Maybe you've already noticed that it bears a striking resemblance to our own emotional behavior. Discontent lurks in each person's heart. If it existed in Eden, it exists everywhere. That's why God tells us we need to carefully study Israel's experiences with God.
As Paul wrote, "Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did…We should not test the LORD, as some of them did — and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did — and were killed by the destroying angel" (I Corinthians 10:6-10).
DISCONTENTMENT IS A SIN
The temptation to sin usually begins with discontentment about what we are, who we are, what we have or what we don't have. How much grief would be avoided if we were satisfied with our income? If we didn't crave more and more of the things money can buy, would we enslave ourselves to creditors? "Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income" (Ecclesiastes 5:10).
Discontentment can manifest itself in all kinds of ungodly thoughts, attitudes and actions. An ungrateful, discontented spirit is an open door to demonic intrusion and influence, causing us to turn our backs on God and take matters into our own hands.
This kind of rebellion doesn't have to happen. God is faithful, and we don't have to yield to the temptation to be discontented with our families, salaries, jobs, or life in general. Temptation is not a sin, but yielding to it is.
"Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life" (Philippians 2:14-16a).
GODLINESS WITH CONTENTMENT EQUALS GREAT GAIN (I Timothy 6:6)
The verse above continues with, "For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that" (I Timothy 6:7-8).
The Greek word for "content" is also translated as "sufficient" or "enough". We don't want to admit it, but we really can live with just the bare necessities — food, clothing, and shelter. In fact, in many parts of the world, people are relieved to have that and can't imagine having anything more.
But our greatest and most priceless asset is the heavenly Father who will not abandon us. He knows what we need, and He has promised to supply it. What He wants most from us is simple, childlike trust. That's not always easy for us because it doesn't come naturally.
CONTENTMENT MUST BE LEARNED
The apostle Paul learned
to be content. His physical circumstances did not determine his attitude or control his emotions. He wrote, "I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:11-13).
The secret of being content is trusting that Jesus will supply what is sufficient for our needs and will equip us to fulfill His plan for us.
In another familiar passage, Paul pleaded with God three times to remove a physical infirmity that plagued him, but God did not: "Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness!' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me" (2 Corinthians 12:8-9). Sometimes God uses afflictions to help us grow spiritually.
WE CAN BE CONTENT BECAUSE GOD'S PRESENCE IS CONSTANT AND HIS RESOURCES ARE INFINITE
God's Word tells us to be content and satisfied with our material resources and physical condition because the Lord is with us: "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5).
Health, money, people and possessions will always let us down. God won't. He promises never to forget, neglect, or abandon us. We are precious to Him.
THE FEAR OF THE LORD BRINGS PEACE
"The fear of the LORD leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble" (Proverbs 19:23). Fear of the Lord
means a loving reverence for God, and that includes submission to His Lordship and His Word.
To be "untouched by trouble" doesn't mean we won't have problems. This is a fallen world, and trouble and suffering are part of life here on earth. What this phrase does mean is that trouble will never touch the inner core of our being, where the Spirit dwells. Trials will give us endurance and maturity, but should not devastate our faith. We can be content, even in our trials, because God is sufficient.
If discontentment pervades one's spirit, gratitude to God for His faithfulness is the solution. Revering God, trusting Him and being content in all circumstances will free our spirits. As the saying goes, we should count our blessings.
In John 6, Jesus feeds 5000 people with 5 barley loaves and two fish. The next day, the people sought Him out again — but it wasn't because of the miracle they had witnessed, or because they wanted to worship Him. It was because they wanted a free meal (6:26). Jesus knew this:
"Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On Him God the Father has placed His seal of approval." Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent." So they asked Him, "What miraculous sign then will You give that we may see it and believe You? What will you do?" (John 6:27-30)
These people missed the point of having a Savior entirely, just as the Israelites did. God's purposes aren't focused on providing whatever we want, or only providing what we need — or creating a magic show. If God just handed us whatever we wanted, what kind of relationship would we have with Him? Without having to develop the patience to wait and see what God planned for us, the relationship would be superficial and based on the temporal — that which decays and is ultimately destroyed. A close, personal, spiritual
relationship with God is priceless.
Even if we have wandered in our own wilderness for 40 years or more before beginning to understand what it means to commit to Christ and what it means to pursue the eternal rather than the spiritual, we must not let regret hinder our further spiritual development. We can
learn to rest in Christ and ultimately be content in all circumstances, because only God can fill the emptiness inside of all of us.
…be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.' So we may boldly say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?' (Hebrews 13:5-6)
A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. (Proverbs 14:30)