In a sinful world it’s natural to be discontented with the way that things isn’t it? What’s wrong with wanting things to be better and how they ought to be? But discontentment is more often focussed on our personal circumstances and what we think we deserve. People can get a wrong idea of contentment as though it is pretending that things are not as they are. But this isn’t true contentment. Being spiritually content involves a full view of what is worst in our situation but still submitting to God’s will in it. Why? Because we are able to compare present realities with greater realities in the eternal purpose of God for us. Discontentment is far easier than contentment, that’s why we need to be armed against it.
As Andrew Gray notes, the apostle Paul calls contentment in all kinds of circumstances a secret (literally, a mystery) which is not easily attained (Philippians 4:11). Previously we have considered why You Will Never Be Truly Content Without Godliness. We also need to know how to deal with discontentment when it arises and even seek to prevent it from rising.
1. What is Contentment?
The whole of time that has been, is or will yet be is only a single moment in comparison to eternity. What is our life, but a small part of that moment? Why then should someone anxiously complain about spending a part of a moment in enduring the most anxious and sad things that can befall them? What poor advantage is gained by discontentment and sorrow? It only renders a person more miserable. Heavenly-mindedness and contentment live and die together; they are two sweet companions, that always go together and cannot be divided.
Content literally means all-sufficient. Thus the words may be attractively rendered in this way, “I have learned in every state…to be all-sufficient. Proverbs 14:14 speaks in a similar way of how a godly man shall be satisfied from himself. There is a well-spring of everlasting consolation within the Christian, which makes them endure every anxious condition. “I have learned”, indicates the difficulty of attaining this mystery of divine contentment. Paul was once ignorant of this but now through the understanding and wisdom of God, he has full knowledge of it. “In every state”, indicates that no condition could put him wrong.
Contentment is a sweet and composed frame of spirit in relation to every anxious condition and circumstance we encounter. This grace and duty of contentment includes a holy delight and sweet serenity and calmness of spirit in every condition, even trials (James 1:2; Romans 5:3). It is clear that the Christian is required to be content (1 Timothy 6:8; Hebrews 13:5; James 4:7).
2. What Damage Results from Discontentment?
(a) It makes us unfit for spiritual activities
It is impossible for a Christian to praise or pray. Praise requires a composed frame of spirit (Psalm 58:7). In 1 Timothy 2:8 it is said that right prayer should be without wrath, not having any murmurings in the heart. Discontentment cuts off three ingredients of prayer: love, fervency, and faith. A discontented Christian cannot be burning with love but rather jealousy. Neither can a Christian exercise faith, because he has taken up so bad an opinion of God, that he cannot rest his confidence nor hope in Him. When people are poring over their present condition so much, they can be fervent about nothing except that being changed. It is certain, that nothing cuts the neck of prayer so much as discontent.
(b) It makes us open to temptation
Discontentment makes us altogether unable to resist temptations. It is impossible for a Christian to be a put sin to death when discontentment is being exercised. Prevailing sin, pride and all other lusts get great victory over such a person. A Christian may lose more by one hour’s discontentment under trials, than he can regain in many months. It is no wonder that temptations prevail because such a person is off their guard and their strength is gone.
(c) It makes us hardened
Discontentment results in lack of tenderness of spirit. Nothing cuts off spiritual sensitivity so much as discontentment. A discontented Christian does not act from the fear or love of the Almighty–the two great principles of tenderness of spirit. When they examined themselves they will find that anxiety and bitterness of spirit have made their hearts to die as a stone within them.
(d) It makes us undervalue God’s mercies
When a Christian meets with that which contradicts his preferences, he loses his esteem of everything previously bestowed on him. Jacob undervalues what he has in this way (Genesis 42:36). Nothing makes a Christian disrespect the most precious and excellent things of God more than discontent.
3. How Can We Overcome Discontentment?
(a) Through self-examination
Discontent comes from not exercising self-examination much. We are to be still and examine ourselves (Psalm 4:4). It is the best way to get submission and contentment in any condition. Self-examination has great influence on contentment because it considers accurately our own imperfections. Instead of complaining, we ask why should we complain (Lamentations 3:39)? Self-examination helps us understand the intention behind chastisement and its benefit. It helps us to submit patiently and adore the unsearchable wisdom of God towards us rather than fret against it (Proverbs 19:3).
(b) Through resolve
If we are resolved to bear and submit to any and every trial it has great benefit. When we are chastened we bless God because it is not worse with us. Afflictions often take us by surprise and so we faint in the day of adversity and prove our strength to be small (Proverbs 24:10).
(c) Through heavenly-mindedness
Paul had courage and constancy in affliction because he looked to the things that are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16 compared with verse 18). Drown the thoughts of your present misery in those precious depths of eternity. Behold so much in heaven that it might infinitely console and make up for all your losses here.
(d) Through looking to God
If we looked to God’s sovereignty and purpose in the trials we face we would be ashamed to dispute and murmur as much as we do. We would rather submit to Him (1 Samuel 3:18; Psalm 39:9; Isaiah 39:8). Do we dare to debate with the Almighty or force the supreme and absolute One to account for His ways?
(d) Through considering the brevity of time
Serious thoughts of the brevity of our life and of time will deal with discontentment. If someone knew they would only endure trials for an hour, or for ten days they might patiently submit. But it is not long before the small period of time between eternity past and eternity future will be swallowed up and there will be nothing but eternity.
(e) Through humility
Pride is the great predominant evil which brings contention (Proverbs 13:10). It is only by pride that we contend with God concerning His dealings with us. It is impossible for a Christian who is not humble to be content. Pride is one of the greatest opposites of being content in any condition.
Discontent involves murmuring and complaining against God. This prevents believing trust in God. It also prevents us benefiting from trials. Rather than being sanctified by them and sin being removed, discontentment only increases sin. We can overcome the spirit of discontentment as we focus faith on God and eternal realities. Contentment is learned through a painful and gradual process of experience and through dependence on God and His grace.