A lot of us are feeling discontent this year. As I think about it, the feeling of discontentment, as common as it is to our human experience, is actually intimately connected to who we are as people created in the image of God. The reason we are discontent, at bottom, is because we live in a world that is not as it’s supposed to be. We were created for glory—for rich relationships, rewarding work, and intimacy with God—but since Genesis 3, the world as we know it does not give us those things – at least, never as much as or in the way we want.
This year we are probably more prone to discontentment than ever. Maybe you are alone, struggling through lockdown with little or no companionship. Perhaps you gaze wistfully at the reverse-image wall of your apartment or house through your zoom webcam, longing for a better place to call home. Perhaps work has taken an unexpected turn—or there’s no work at all. For these reasons and more, we feel like what we have is not enough.
When we poke under the surface a little more, however, darker thoughts emerge. For we who believe in a loving and merciful God, “I don’t have what I want” quickly turns into “God isn’t giving me what I need.” We harbor hard thoughts of God, acknowledged consciously or not, and begin to accuse him of holding out on us.
Happily, the cure for discontented souls is the same as the cure for most everything else that ills us: repentance and faith. However, where discontentment is concerned, a couple of other steps actually help to fill out the process.
First, be thankful. Taking honest stock of all the rich and beautiful things that God has given us can often help get us unstuck, and move us to the place where we can repent and turn to him properly. The Apostle Paul writes, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Spend some time dwelling not on what you’re missing, but on what God graciously and freely has already given you – and watch how your thoughts begin to turn around.
Next, repent. Bring those hard, ugly thoughts of God into the light, and reject them for the lies they are. James writes, “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:2-3). Not all desires are wrong, but many are, and many good desires get twisted by our never-ending obsession with ourselves. Give it all to Jesus. Receive afresh His forgiveness and cleansing (see 1 John 1:9-10).
Third, acknowledge (or believe) that God actually has already given you everything you need in Him! One of the most encouraging verses in the Bible to me is Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Look to the cross—the place where God once and for all proved His love for you. If He gave you Jesus, can’t you trust Him to give you everything else you need, and for the things he hasn’t given you, to believe that it’s for your good somehow? Replace those hard thoughts of God with true ones based on His good and gracious character.
Finally, rejoice! With a new-found appreciation for what God has given you, and a heart that thinks rightly about God and His ways, enjoy the freedom of walking humbly with Him, casting your cares on Him because he cares for you (See 1 Peter 5:6–7; Philippians 4:4–7).
If you’re anything like me, this little regimen can work wonders. Your situation may not change, but your perspective can, quickly—and the freedom this brings is worth more in the long run than any of the things you hope God might give you but hasn’t yet.
My friend, I pray that God encourages you by lifting you out of the discontentment and into the glorious freedom of the children of God.