Processing Discontentment

Were there none who were discontented with what they have, the world would never reach anything better. –Florence Nightingale, humanitarian and writer

By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. Hebrews 11:9-10 (NASB)

It is an unfortunate reality; some people will always be dissatisfied regardless of how hard we try to please them. Malcontent is the word I would use to describe these folks. Whether we speak of the configuration of the parking lot, the color of the church carpeting, or the tone of the pastor, some people will always find something to complain about. They also have a history of bouncing from church to church, wreaking havoc in whatever unfortunate fellowship they happen to land.

Dissatisfied with the Church

I can’t pinpoint a specific time or incident, but one day the realization began to dawn on me that not all who are discontent are malcontent, that some of the most dissatisfied people in our world are those who care the most as they passionately search for God’s kingdom. Perhaps these folks should be looking elsewhere, although it seems to me that a church is as good a place as any to be seeking out the dynamics of God’s kingdom rule.

It appears that the number of people who are discontent with the Western church—for reasons both good and bad—is at an all-time high. And with trends differing from the past, many of these people have quit bouncing from church to church; they no longer participate in any local expression of the body of Christ. Instead, they seek to pursue God through personal interaction, religious broadcasting, or online sources. And while I certainly understand their frustration, regardless of their motives, the trends are less than healthy.

How Do We Process Discontentment?

The truth is that life in this broken world rarely provides all that we hope for—even when our desires fully honor God. While many aspects of our negative circumstances may be beyond our control, it does fall upon us to decide how we will respond to those unfavorable situations. I believe, then, the question at hand is, “How do we process discontentment?”

No particular formula will fit our needs, for every person and every set of circumstances is different. There are, however, three virtues that have universal application for any situation.

Virtues to Cultivate

The first virtue is faith. In spite of his adverse circumstances and the delay in seeing God’s promise fulfilled, Abraham never became a cynical complainer. He lived by an enduring faith, which pleased God to no end.

No matter how dark a situation appears, frustration and despair serve no beneficial purposes. The truly Christian course of action is to look with objective honesty at any negative circumstance, and to believe that our God is willing and able to work powerfully—regardless of any human shortcomings. I have been in some very dark ministry situations which, I freely admit, I did not handle as well as I should have. And yet, somehow, through it all, God brought favorable changes to each of those situations.

Second, love is essential no matter what we encounter. We all agree that love is powerful. We all desire to be loved. We all recognize that love is integral to the Christian faith. But when it comes to actually loving those who neglect or mistreat us, well, for some strange reason we feel justified to respond with bitter contempt. Such reactions serve as a powerful commentary on our human waywardness. Love, my friends, is never optional, and a hardened heart is certain to lead to a parched spirit.

Wisdom, our third virtue, is what enables us to effectively apply faith and love in any given situation. Without wisdom, our attempts at faith may amount to little more than ill-timed presumption, and our love can be dangerously misdirected.

How Will You Process Your Discontentment?

Are you discontent? You may have just cause. Perhaps our gracious God has put eternity in your heart and given you the discernment to identify false or imperfect representations of His kingdom.

But what will you do with what you see? Will you throw your hands in the air in disgust, or will you pray in faith? Will you become hard and cynical, or will you be a vessel of God’s love? Will you resign yourself to doing nothing, or will you honor your King and help to redeem a world that will always be less than perfect?

As Florence Nightingale so wisely stated, “Were there none who were discontented with what they have, the world would never reach anything better.”



This post is drawn from Chapter Forty-Nine of Bob’s devotional: Champions in the Wilderness—Fifty-Two Devotions to Guide and Strengthen Emerging Overcomers