I once heard an advertisement on the radio. It went like this (you’ll have to imagine the broad Aussie accent):
|I want the kids to go to good
schools. I want great holidays in exotic places. I want a comfortable
retirement for me and the missus. And you know what? I’m making it
I must admit I tuned out at that point, but my guess is he was advertising some kind of investment portfolio.
Do you hear what this guy is saying? He’s convinced he needs three things to be happy:
- : the kind to be found in good schools and good careers
- : exotic holidays and unique experiences
- : enough superannuation to guarantee a comfortable retirement.
Money, he thinks, is the key to all these things.
The problem is that, like most of us, he’s looking for contentment in all the wrong places. He’s like God’s people in these words from Jeremiah:
|Has a nation ever changed its
(Yet they are not gods at all.)
But my people have exchanged
their glorious God
for worthless idols.
Be appalled at this, you heavens,
and shudder with great horror,”
declares the LORD.
“My people have committed two
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold
It’s one of the saddest passages in the Bible. God’s people, made to love, worship and delight in him, have done two stupid and evil things. They have turned away from God, “the spring of living water”, and they have turned aside to idols, “broken cisterns that cannot hold water”. They’re like the greedy wealth-seekers in our last post, out for what they can get, but coming up empty-handed.
Discontent is nothing less than idolatry. It shows we depend on other things for the satisfaction, security and significance that can only come ultimately from God. It’s deserting our glorious God for worthless idols. Even the heavens are appalled at this! They “shudder with great horror”. Yet we do it every day and don’t think twice about it.
Next time discontent creeps into our lives, it might help to remember we’re committing idolatry. Or, to put it another way, we’re committing adultery, sleeping around behind God’s back, looking for joy in the arms of other lovers. The appropriate response isn’t to shrug our shoulders as if it’s no big deal. It’s mourning and repentance:
|You adulterous people, don’t you
know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone
who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. … Wash your
hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn
and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble
yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 3:4, 8b-10)
Seeking contentment in other things besides God is a great evil. It should disgust us.
But looking for contentment apart from God isn’t just : it also leaves us , because idols can never deliver what they promise. They are leaky wells, always running out of water.
My guess is that Jesus had Jeremiah in mind when he talked to the woman at the well (I wonder if it’s no coincidence that she was at a well). She was seeking contentment in broken relationship after broken relationship – relationships that never delivered what they promised, like leaky wells. But Jesus says, “Ask me and I will give you living water” – water that never fails (John 4:10 cf 7:37-39).
It makes sense. The people and things around us can’t make us content. Relationships fail. Achievements fade. Experiences disappoint. What we need is something or someone above these things that they can’t touch, that never runs out or changes. And there’s only one Someone like that.
Leaky wells. Living water. I know which one I want.
The question at the heart of contentment is this: We have a choice. We can look for them in people and things that can’t deliver what they promise. Or we can look for them in Jesus, who gives us living water that never fails.
In the next instalment of this series (which will recommence in June), I’m going to take each of these in turn – satisfaction, security, and significance – and look at what the Bible has to say about them. We’ll start with satisfaction.
1. How seriously do you take discontent when you see it in your life? Does it disgust you? Do you react with mourning and repentance? How would seeing it as idolatry and adultery change your perspective?
2. How have the things you look to for contentment left you empty? Are you looking for contentment in leaky wells or living water?
 I found this mnemonic in Sophie de Witt, , an excellent book on contentment.
Photo: Sugeesh at ml.wikipedia