Day 29 – Secret of Being Content
A common experience in the wilderness is discontentment. We feel discouraged, downcast, ready to throw in the towel, or even some level of depression. 1 Corinthians 10:10 encourages us “we must not grumble as some of them did and were destroyed by the destroyer.” This is an intense admonition to not let our discouragement move into discontentment. Why? What’s the problem with a little grumbling and complaining?
First, Paul cited the example of the Israelites when some of them were destroyed. The reference to a “destroyer” is not completely clear but is most likely a reference to angels who kept that generation from entering the land of promise. The words “destroyed” and “destroyer” demonstrate the seriousness of discontent. The numerous times the people grumbled and complained throughout their wilderness journey makes it clear that this was a consequence after a pattern had been established. God will not force us into the transformation the wilderness can provide, and neither will He magically transform our hearts without our participation and a process.
The challenge is we often desire the magic. We want a formula. We desire to know exactly how the process works so that we can manage it and master it. God, in His gracious fathering love, desires more for us than that. He desires that we learn to be dependent and trusting.
Second, discontentment fosters a way of being in which we are not able to see or receive how God is loving us and leading us. Discontentment also steals our ability to experience joy. Quite simply, it is a miserable state. We lose out on being able to see God’s love and presence because we are looking in the wrong place. A discontented heart has come to believe that happiness and joy is found in acquiring satisfaction rather than experiencing a satisfaction that is already ours in Christ.
The idea that we can acquire satisfaction is at the heart of a culture of discontent that has come to define most of western society. However, as we see in the people of Israel, discontent is not a modern phenomenon but there is an intensity and pervasiveness that has become the water in which we swim. Nothing is ever enough. Suffering is not supposed to happen. Undoubtedly, there is plenty in our world and in each of our lives that can lead toward discontentment. The challenge is that if we have the perspective that adding something or subtracting something from our lives will finally make us happy, we are missing the point. If we are always waiting for that next thing, saying “when I have this or that, then I’ll finally be content,” we will never arrive at that destination. The reality is that if you can’t be happy where you are, you will not be happy anywhere.
Psalm 16:11 provides an emphatic reorientation: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Being present to God … this is where we find joy. With Him is satisfaction and pleasure. The psalmist describes this as the path of life … it is the way. There are times when the path of life runs right through the wilderness, but it can still be a place of joy. This is true, not because we become okay with pain in and of itself or because we deny the pain and trials, but in spite them. Wilderness can become a place of joy because it is no longer the vicissitudes of life that function as our reference point. Now, it is the presence of God and abiding in Him that becomes the lens through which we look at life. This was particularly true for the Apostle Paul as he shared in Philippians 4:11-13 that he had learned the secret to being 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. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Again, it was not that he now had superhuman strength to endure all the tough things of life, but the joy of the Lord was strengthening him. Life in God’s presence had become the reference point. That was the secret. This is the path of life.
As we focus this week on the movement from discontentment to joy, we’ll see that joy is not something to gain or acquire but something that we begin to notice and therefore experience in God’s presence. God’s heart for us to depend upon Him and to trust Him is because everything for which we long is a fruit of trust and dependence. Joy is part of the fruit of entrusting ourselves to the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:25 makes clear “if we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” We “keep in step” as we step by step, or moment by moment, live in an awareness of and attentiveness to His presence. Earlier in this portion of Scripture, we read: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (v. 16) The implication is astounding: joyful people do not sin. When we experience joy in God’s presence, we are seeing Him as we depend upon Him. If we wallow in discontent, we are not seeing Him and we open ourselves to defining life on our own terms and creating our own path.
Questions for reflection: do you believe that joy can be found in the presence of God? Don’t rush too quickly past this question. Consider a specific circumstance in your life: what would it look like to see it through the lens of God’s presence?
Prayer: Lord, I acknowledge that discontentment and grumbling is sometimes where I settle in the midst of difficult things. I desire to live in Your joy and be at rest. Give me eyes to look at life through the lens of Your presence. Amen.