I Am My Worst Enemy
Why are so many people so unhappy in so many different circumstances? Why are so many Christians, who supposedly have the joy, joy, joy, joy down in their hearts, so not joyful?
At first glance it would seem that circumstances are to blame. Can you blame a guy for being unhappy when he hasn’t had steady work for six months and he might lose his home? You wouldn’t think so, until you meet the six-figure Christian businessman who hates his job and is just hanging on until retirement. The twenty-something single woman doesn’t think she can be happy until she gets married and has children. But the thirty-something housewife with four kids can barely make it through the week without collapsing in a trembling heap of exhaustion. Circumstances aren’t to blame. There’s something much more sinister at work.
That something is my sinful, discontented heart. Jesus spelled it out in Mark 7:21–23 when he said, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” The problem is me. I am my own worst enemy. The raging, covetous, discontented desires come from within. They’re not the product of my circumstances, and the desires won’t be satisfied when circumstances change.
First it’s marriage. We dream about meeting that perfect someone—a person who likes long walks and French poetry and is kind toward animals and strangers alike. Or at least someone who is decent looking and doesn’t have a criminal record. Finally, after years of yearning, the wedding day arrives. But the idol factory doesn’t shut down after the wedding day. As soon as the marriage god is appeased, the factory belches forth the idol of a new house. Then it’s a new car, an end-of-year bonus, and a sweet retirement package. There’s no downtime, no coffee break, no union strike in the factory of our hearts. They are constantly churning, constantly stirring up discontentment, constantly producing new idols.
Then “catastrophe” strikes. The dream promotion is handed to someone else. A relationship never materializes. Our desires are thwarted, and we don’t get what we want. When we don’t get what we so desperately want, we throw the adult version of a temper tantrum. Our passions rage within us. We become angry at God and discontent with life. We grumble and complain, and happiness appears to be out of reach. We become a casualty of war.
Shutting Down The Factory
So is there any hope for raging discontents like me? Can the circus of discontentment in my heart ever be stopped? Thankfully, it can. In Philippians 4:11–12 the apostle Paul said, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”
These words should startle us and cause us to catch our breath. Paul says that he has learned to be content in every situation. Not just happy, comfortable, “why, yes, I will have another latte” situations. Every situation.
Paul could find contentment in any season and any circumstance. He knew how to be brought low, and few people were brought lower than Paul. He was thrown into filthy prisons, savagely beaten with rods, stoned within a breath of death, whipped until his back was a bloody, dripping mess, driven out of cities, betrayed by friends, and shipwrecked on multiple occasions. In the midst of all this, Paul found contentment. The difficulties faced by Paul make my life look like a Boy Scout campout.
Paul also knew how to be content in the midst of prosperity. Prosperity and contentment don’t always go together. In fact, they rarely do. Rich people are unhappy just like everyone else. Members of the yacht club need to learn contentment too.
In 1 Timothy 6:6 Paul says of contentment, “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment.” False teachers were invading Timothy’s church and telling people that if they were godly they would also be rich, that if they followed Jesus, they would get their Lexus chariot or Rolex sundial or whatever it was they wanted. But Paul won’t have any of that nonsense. He says that following Jesus isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. If you follow Jesus, you will have every spiritual need met. Forgiveness, adoption, spiritual strength, everything. And if we have all our spiritual needs met and are content with what we have, that is great gain. If we have every spiritual need met and are content with what we have, what more could we want? We have everything we need for joy. Following a Jesus genie who gives us whatever we want is not great gain. Contentment is great gain.
If you need any further motivation to pursue contentment, there you have it. Godliness + Contentment = Great Gain. I’m into gain. And when God himself, speaking through the Scriptures, says that something is great gain, we need to pay close attention.
Adapted from The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence, by Stephen Altrogge