Biblical Discontentment

In a previous post, “Test Everything… and Think!”, I addressed an all too common problem among Christianity—a lack of examining, testing, questioning, and confirming our beliefs, thoughts, actions, etc. However, I believe this idea of testing beliefs and manners of conduct is very much attached to the idea of what I will call “Biblical discontentment.”

Now, obviously I am not referring to being discontent with the circumstances that God gives us. In Philippians 4:13 Paul said that he could be content in all circumstances through the One strengthening him (cf. v.11-12). The type of discontentment I am referring to here is not contrary to the contentment Paul had in mind in these verses.

The three months before my wedding I rented a room from a nice couple I knew through school. In their kitchen they had a small decorative plate mounted on the wall with a prayer printed on it. This prayer does a very good job summarizing the correct perspective on contentment that I am trying to present in this article:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.[1]

This prayer is exactly what I am referring to when I talk about Biblical discontentment. This is not a discontentment about absolutely everything and anything, but those things which one can and ought to seek to change.

Many of us would do well to take to heart the words of the first and third lines of this poem. It does not take any practice to become a good complainer. We’re all naturals at it. However, my focus in this article is more that second line about pursuing change—having a healthy, Biblical discontentment.

Most people don’t enjoy being around those who complain about everything. In fact, I’m somewhat surprised that these “chronic complainers” even enjoy being around themselves. But at the same time can we not and do we not often fall into the opposite trap—using “contentment” as a nice cover up for laziness, for not pursuing the difficult task of seeking change in things such as actions, thoughts, beliefs, etc. that need it? This is the error of being personally apathetic towards “testing everything” (1 Thes 5:21) and being satisfied with things that a Christian ought not to be satisfied with.

A side branch of this error finds itself in the context of having authority figures. And this error of apathy can easily “go under the radar” due to being “spiritualized” in terminology. When this occurs the error might be disguised as “honoring one’s authority” by refusing even to question them at any point. Now, don’t get me wrong; one ought to respect his God-established authority even when one thinks or knows they are wrong. But this truth ought not to result in one handing his brain over to his human authority. Personally, I’m sure glad Martin Luther or any of the other reformers never did so (if you get my drift). There’s a fine balance between being respectful and being critical. Not all criticism is negative or disrespectful.[2] The two are not mutually exclusive. Thinking critical is different than having a critical mindset.

The next practical error of unbiblical contentment is closely related to this first error mentioned above. Instead of personally abstaining from the healthy practice of examining (the first error mentioned above), this facet of unbiblical contentment is characterized by frowning upon others who are engaged in Biblical discernment. This error likewise can be justified in its terminology (i.e., referring to these discerning individuals as “complainers”). Again, don’t get me wrong; there are without a doubt more complainers than “movers” in the world. But at the same time, many individuals who seek genuine improvement for God’s glory can easily be put down and discouraged. Maybe it is better to give these individuals the shadow of a doubt that they have well-meaning intentions before concluding they do not. And of course, their choice of words or actions may at times be poorly selected or unwise. (You could always help them improve in these areas, could you not?) Granted. But often I feel that the criticisms made of these “criticizers” are simply excuses for personally remaining lazily apathetic.

In summary, the point I am trying to address is that as children of God we ought to in one sense be realists (“And wisdom to know the difference”), but at the same time we must keep in mind God’s standard which is perfection (“Courage to change the things I can”). But all too often we use “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,” as a polite cover up for our own laziness. In many senses, we ought never to become content, that is, content with the sinfulness, imperfection, and spiritual immaturity all about us.

So, when’s the last time something has truly bothered you? When’s the last time something has bothered you so much it has made you want to do something about it, take action? When’s the last time you’ve actually taken action? It’s often a good thing to be bothered. Christians should not live a “feel good” life where nothing is questioned simply because they want to keep the status quo regardless of the fact that the status quo needs to be tested.

Yes, we should submit our issues to God, give them over to Him, and be content with the situations He puts us in (1 Pet 5:7). But a part of “giving them to God” is giving oneself to God–obeying God and being willing to be used by God for the purpose of change.

There is a balance that must be struck, and we must not err to either side.

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[1]“The Serenity Prayer” by Reinhold Niebuhr.

[2]In fact, an authority that values critical thinking will promote such positive criticism. Those institutions that regulate the voice of their subjects so as to eliminate any criticism ought to rethink their reasons for doing so. Are they afraid to be proven wrong? In other words, is their pride, personal preference, or status quo more valuable to them than truth? If a institution is not confident enough in its policy, practice, or belief than criticism of it might be very well fitting. If the institution is confident, than they ought to feel confident enough to open themselves up to criticism.

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