It’s not just contentment that is godly. Discontent can be godly too. In fact, true godliness is always discontented.
There are many things in this life that should make us deeply dissatisfied. We should be dissatisfied with sin. We should be dissatisfied when friends and family don’t know Jesus. We should be dissatisfied when brothers and sisters in Christ drift away from God. The difference between ungodly and godly discontent is that the first is centred on us and our needs, and the second is motivated by love for Christ and others.
It’s also okay to be dissatisfied with suffering. Christian contentment doesn’t mean feeling nothing. It’s not stoicism. Paul, the New Testament author who wrote the most about contentment, describes times when he was “distressed”, when he experienced “sorrow on sorrow”, when he “despaired of life itself” (1 Cor 2:3; 2 Cor 1:8; 2:4; 6:4; Phil 2:27). He’s not ashamed of these feelings; he just assumes them to be true.
In fact, when Paul talks about suffering, he doesn’t even use the word “contentment”. He uses the expression “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor 6:10). It’s a bit stronger than contentment, isn’t it? It’s real grief and real joy, all wrapped up together. That’s what Christian contentment looks like. We feel pain, loss and grief, but at the same time we rejoice in Jesus and in eternity. It’s a paradox we are likely to become familiar with when we suffer, as long as we keep looking to God and walking with him.
The Bible is full of grief and pain. Just think about the Psalms: one third of them are songs of lament, where the psalmists pour out their pain and longing to God. Or read Romans 8:18-30, which talks about the groaning of creation, Christians, and even God’s Spirit as we wait for the day of glory. Or remember Jesus, who wept at the death of his friend Lazarus, who prayed with anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane, and who cried out on the cross in the words of a psalm of lament, “Why have you forsaken me?” (John 11:35; Matt 26:36-46, 27:46 cf. Psalm 22:1). The perfect man was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).
We are supposed to be discontent with this life. We are supposed to long for eternity. If we are content with this life – if we don’t long for the next – there is something wrong with our faith. We are exiles and strangers who yearn for our true home (Heb 11:13-16). We sigh because we long to be clothed in our heavenly dwelling (2 Cor 5:1-5). We weep because this world isn’t yet restored to the way it is meant to be. We groan with longing in this age of suffering as we wait for the age of glory. (Rom 8:18-23)
How does this fit with the Bible’s call to be content? You may have noticed that the key New Testament passages on contentment we’ve looked at are about being content with what we have (Phil 4:10-13; 1 Tim 6:3-10; Heb 13:5-6). We are not to long for God to give us more than he has seen fit to give us. We are to learn to rest in his loving, wise provision for us. We count all else loss compared to knowing him (Phil 3:4-10). When we suffer, we commit ourselves to him and choose him as our highest joy (Psalm 4:7; 73:25; Hab 3:17-18). Everything else can be taken away, but Jesus can never be taken away. And so, at the deepest level, our contentment can never be touched or stolen from us.
Are you content? I hope so. I hope you are deeply content because you trust God to provide for you, and because you know the love of Jesus and the hope of eternity. Are you discontent? I hope so. I hope you are deeply discontent with this life; that you haven’t stored up your treasure here; that you long for eternity.
And so we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:20).
1. Are you discontent? Do you mourn over your sin, friends and family who don’t know Jesus, brothers and sisters in Christ who fall away from God? Do you weep with those who weep? Have you learnt to cry out to God when you suffer? Pray that God will help you to be filled with godly discontent.
2. Do you long for eternity? Are you happy in this life, wanting to taste the good things of this world, or are you dissatisfied, yearning for heaven? Where is your treasure? Does your heart cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus”? Pray that God will help you to be filled with godly longing.