This article is part of the Help! series.
A Sequence of Balloon Pops
After driving ten hours, the family pulls into their place of lodging. Eager to begin their much-anticipated summer vacation, they hurriedly unpack and start exploring. The Mom and Dad, exhausted from the long drive, collapse upon the couch and sigh. They made it. But the moment of bliss is interrupted by children arguing. After resolving the situation, Dad went to freshen up but found the water leaking in the bathroom. Discouraged (and a bit frustrated), he throws up his hands. The balloon of such promise got popped by the unsuspecting pin of life.
This discouragement only serves to create more thirst for fulfillment. As one balloon after another pops, we crave personal contentment all the more. The one who longed for years for a spouse becomes critical and annoyed with his wife, complaining about her imperfections. The one who tirelessly worked through college and graduate school to move up the corporate ladder finds herself searching for identity when she doesn’t meet her own professional standards. The athlete who wakes up early, meticulously adheres to her diet, and sacrifices relationships to train, is restless even after excelling beyond her peers.
As Herman Bavinck writes, man “is as a hungry man who dreams that he is eating, and when he awakes finds that his soul is empty; and he is like a thirsty man who dreams he is drinking, and when he awakes finds he is isn’t and that his soul has an appetite (Isa. 29:8).”1 Or, as Tom Brady, the greatest player in NFL history said when asked which Super Bowl ring is his favorite, “The next one.” This is the shared narrative of human experiences: our excitement to experience things in this world—whether success or failures—often fails to meet our expectations.
The Seeds of Discontent
This restlessness breeds more discontent. We are like a bee in a summer garden, bouncing from one thing to the next, looking for fulfillment and rest. These shared experiences of discontentment reveal that we have Paul's words to the Philippians inside out. We read this: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” (Phil. 4:11); but, if we are honest, we sometimes feel as though we are living this: “I have learned in whatever situation I am in to be discontent.”
Too often, we are discontent. We remain unsatisfied. This conclusion, made famous by Augustine, says that we were created by God and for God and that we cannot find rest until we find rest in him. In other words, we were created to find our rest, joy, satisfaction, and delight primarily in the Creator, not the creation. This is the blessing of creation: we were meant to find our satisfaction in God. But our experience affirms the curse. Our GPS is broken. We seek satisfaction in what God has made instead of God himself. The creation simply can’t bear the freight of your contentment. Inverting the Creator and creature distinction is not only bad theology; it’s also a recipe for a lifetime of discontentment.
Here are three things to remember when seeking to cultivate contentment.
1. Begin with God.
If God is the source of contentment, then we must begin with him. As Christians, we have to remember who God is. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, much of our grumbling reveals what we believe about God.
Remember that God is sovereign and will work all things together for your good (Ps. 115:3; Rom. 8:28). Remember that every day—and all of its challenges and blessings—comes to you from the counsel of omniscience. God’s wisdom is unsearchable (Rom. 11:33–36).
Remember that God is working to restore all things. His power and plan are above our pay grade. Like in the case of Joseph, what others meant for evil God means for good (Gen. 50:20). If our circumstances are not according to our preferences, then we must submit our preferences to God’s wisdom. I remind myself regularly not to interpret God’s character in light of my circumstances but instead to interpret my circumstances in light of God's character.
Remember that God is working to restore all things.
2. Review biblical promises.
Sometimes I catch myself grumbling about things that God has never promised. This is an illuminating discovery. God has never promised an easy path. He doesn’t promise financial wealth, lots of friends, physical beauty or strength, or professional success. But he does promise to be with his people, look after them, and when they close their eyes in death to bring them to glory (Heb. 13:5–6; John 11:25–26).
3. Evaluate your position honestly.
If you are having a hard time being content, make a list of everything you have that you don’t deserve, and then make a list of everything you deserve that you don’t have. When you and I realize how kind and gracious God has been with us, we’re able to see things in a proper perspective. Do you remember when you were first converted? Mercy and love flowed down from heaven through the words of the gospel. You were forgiven and accepted. What glorious truth!
God has taken care of your most pressing problem, and he has taken care of it powerfully and permanently. We have been shown tremendous mercy. We have cried with the sinner in the temple, “God be merciful to me, the sinner!”; and God has answered with infinite mercy. When we remember that our ultimate and most pressing need is fully met in him, it is very difficult to complain. As I’ve heard Mark Dever quip, “Anything less than hell is dancing time for Christians!” Amen. May we never forget it.
Contentment is something that we, as Christians, must regularly work to cultivate. By not working on our contentment, we are working on our discontentment. Prioritize today to grow in your contentment in God through Jesus Christ.
- Herman Bavinck, The Wonderful Works of God (Glenside, PA: Westminster Seminary Press, 2019), 7.
Erik Raymond is the author of Chasing Contentment: Trusting God in a Discontented Age
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