Alice Trebus

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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.


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.


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."


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.


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.


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.

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Photo credit: timlav; Creative Commons

See Also

"God in the Hard Times" by Rebekah Largent
"Celebrating Life in the Midst of Illness" by Gwen Sellers
"Cast Them" by Lauren A. Birago
"Loss and Restoration" by Kersley Fitzgerald
"Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?" by S. Michael Houdmann

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Published 3-3-2014