Why do Christians experience discontentment and discouragement?
Consider the two parts of a Christian's salvation (see What is salvation?), summed up as follows:
1. Forgiveness of sin, resulting in peace with God now, and Heaven instead of Hell after earthly death.
2. Fullness of Life--inner peace, joy, restfulness, contentment, power to change, total fulfillment--by being filled and controlled by the Spirit of Christ.
All believers receive the first part immediately upon conversion. The second part--joy, peace, contentment, power--though fully available upon conversion, are not experienced unless the believer is abiding in Christ. Few believers experience fullness of life in Christ continually, and most experience it seldom. Why?
Think about the Christian life with respect to Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve had everything they needed. God created them with His Spirit in them. He provided all their needs. They had everything they needed for complete fulfillment.
Satan hated Adam and Eve. Satan had rebelled against God out of jealousy, so his jealousy probably intensified when he saw that God had lovingly created a being in His own image, filled with His Spirit. Therefore Satan longed to see Adam and Eve rebel against God, seeking independence of Him, just as he had done, so that they would die spiritually. God had told Adam and Eve:
Satan lied to Eve about the tree of the knowledge to good and evil, saying "in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God." They fell for it, picking from tree of the knowledge of good and evil in an attempt to live independent of God--in control, on their own--and to seek fulfillment apart from Him. You could think of "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" as "the tree of independence, self-sufficiency, and rebellion."
Adam and Eve did not die physically the same day that they ate of the tree; they died spiritually. Their spiritual death became immediately evident. They realized that they were naked. They were afraid of God and hid from Him.
Satan hates Christians just as much as he hated Adam and Eve, because we are indwelt by the Spirit of God. Thus Satan's strategy with Christians is much the same as it was with Adam and Eve: to entice us to rebel against God just like he did, seeking self-sufficiency, independence, power, control, and recognition; so that we do not experience the power and joy that is ours in Christ.
Satan is a liar and deceiver. He has no power over Christians, because Christ indwells us, but he tries to deceive us into seeking joy, contentment, and fulfillment from the world around us instead of from God. The world is the primary tool used by Satan to deceive Christians. The Bible indicates that, although God sovereignly rules over all, Satan has a temporary lease on the world--the world is his domain:
"I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me;
Satan longs to see Christians rebel against God by loving the world instead of Him. He accused Job of being content only because God had given him so much in the world and claimed Job would reject God if the blessings of the world were taken away. Satan even tempted Jesus with his world:
Thus these warnings for the Christian:
Old Testament warnings to the nation of Israel about idolatry are similar to New Testament warnings to Christians about loving the world, loving money, and seeking praise from other people. God chose the nation of Israel as His special people. God wanted to reveal His glory--His power, goodness, faithfulness, kindness, love--to all peoples through the nation of Israel. But most of the time, the leadership and people of Israel rejected the blessing of God. Instead of submitting to God, letting Him take care of them and be glorified through them, they wanted to be like the other nations, worshipping idols instead of, or along with, the one and only God. They wanted to be independent of God, with their earthly king in control. They were deceived into rebelling against God and living on their own, instead of acknowledging their dependence on God and basking in His blessings. The Bible indicates God's perspective:
What a picture! They chose to dig wells on their own instead of acknowledging their dependence on God, and letting Him to spring up a fountain of water for them. In Psalm 81, God seems frustrated that the people of Israel will not seek Him and let Him take care of them:
The reason that some Christians are discontent most of the time, and most Christians discontent some of the time, is that we seek "life" from the world instead of from Christ. God paid a dear price to bless us "with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ." We have been filled with "God's glory"--that is, the very life of Christ through the Holy Spirit:
We were designed to get our needs and wants met through Christ, but we often "pick from the tree" and "dig our own cisterns" by seeking life (fulfillment, joy, contentment, peace, self esteem, security) apart from God. This is rebellion, and the root of all sinful behavior--trusting in ourselves instead of Christ. This is why Paul wrote that "whatever is not from faith is sin" (Rom 14:23). When we seek life from the world instead of from Christ, we grieve God's heart--and feel discontent.
In the context of the New Testament, world does not merely mean things or actions that are evil or wrong in themselves. Loving the world can entail any discontentment related to our circumstances. Christ is able to give us complete contentment at all times no matter what the circumstances, but we are often deceived into thinking that, in order to be content, we need something other than Him, such as:
Most of the items on the above list are not bad things; many, in fact, are very good. But God wants us to learn to be content now through our fellowship with Him in Christ. If nagging desires, even desires for things that seem right and good, keep us from rejoicing right now, then we are not resting in the Lord.
Day by day, minute by minute, many Christians have no more joy and contentment than unbelievers, because we seek it from the same source: our circumstances (the world). If we seek life from the world instead of from Christ, we will "rejoice" only when things are going well, have "peace" (false peace) only when immediate struggles are gone, and give thanks only when God provides the things that we think we need--money, food, good health, etc. No wonder unbelievers are confused by Christians. We speak of peace and joy in knowing Jesus but they see us restless, frustrated and discontent. They hear us grumble and complain. And they watch us claw after the things of the world with as much energy as they.
So what should you do? You probably agree that true contentment can come only from Christ, and sincerely want to be content. Should you simply try harder to be content with your present circumstances? No. Trying real hard to be content won't work, no matter how much you grit your teeth, squint your eyes, or clinch your fists.
First, realize--and stand firm in your belief-- that it is indeed God's will for you to be content and filled with His joy:
"These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.
John 16:33"These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world."
John 14:27"Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.
Psa 107:9 For He has satisfied the thirsty soul, And the hungry soul He has filled with what is good.
1 Tim 6:6-8 But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. 7 For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. 8 If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.
Heb 13:5 Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, "I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,"
John 17:13"But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves.
Rom 14:17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
2 Cor 8:1,2 Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, 2 that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality.
Gal 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness
1 Pet 1:8 and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,
1 John 1:3,4 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. (NKJV)
John 10:10" I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
John 6:35 Jesus said to them,"I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.
God would not command us to be content, rejoice always, give thanks in everything, and let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts if doing so were impossible. Believe, then, that God will enable us to live in His will by the power of Christ in us. Jesus not only provides the joy and contentment, He gives us the power to experience it. Paul made it clear that the secret to being content in all circumstances is to trust Christ who strengthens us:
Note that these two verses mention no human effort to attain joy. It is provided by the Spirit of Christ:
While Jesus was on earth, His joy was in communing with the Father, continually in His presence. He never became ruffled by difficulties or criticism. Whether receiving praise or persecution, His joy was constant and unwavering, because it was rooted in His fellowship with the Father:
"My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.
John 5:30"I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
John 6:38"For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
John 14:10"Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.
John 17:4"I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.
1 Pet 2:23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously
Jesus said that He wants us to experience the same joy in communing with the Father that He experienced while on earth:
Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10 "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love. 11 "These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.
We can experience the same joy that Jesus had while He was on earth, communing with the Father just as He did. Joy comes from being in the presence of the Father continually, which is possible through Christ. The only requirement is to choose to believe it.
It is easier to believe--in general--that joy comes from knowing Jesus, than it is to believe it moment by moment. In the thick of a day’s difficulties, we are unconsciously deceived into believing that we cannot have joy, peace, and inner rest until the bills are paid, a relationship is fixed, a project is finished, or our direction is settled. Be aware that crafty Satan won't try to get you to renounce your faith in Christ; he knows you would not do it. Satan only wants to capture you at the very moment--to lure you into worry, fear, or want with respect to the present circumstances. He works minute by minute.
Satan knows, for example, that the Christian will not agree that joy comes from money. Never! So he tries to trick us into worry, want, or fear over the financial difficulties of the moment. Therefore, instead of basking at every moment in the peace and rest we have in Christ, we end up trying to generate peace and rest by removing the current tribulations, even though Jesus said that we would have tribulation. The futile effort to have peace and joy through making better circumstances, not only keeps us from the real joy in Christ, but also keeps our eyes on ourselves instead of others. As long as we are consumed with our own circumstances, we are unavailable to others. Christ cannot love others through our lives if our minds are consumed with our difficulties.
Jesus made it clear that the inner peace He gives is not the same "peace" that comes from good circumstances in the world. The primary difference is that the world's peace is dependent upon the elimination of problems and difficulties, but the peace given by Jesus endures tribulation and stays constant in the midst of all circumstances, everyday, every moment, because the peace comes from Him--it's His peace--thus subject to nothing. God cares about our problems, but He wants us to experience the joy of His presence now, whenever now is, instead of being tricked into slavery to the problems of the moment. There will be problems; Jesus said so. But, indeed, He has overcome the world, and we, in Him, are overcomers with Him:
"These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world."
John 14:27"Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.
1 John 4:4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.
1 John 5:4,5 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith. 5 Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
Don't attempt to gain control of your life by concerning yourself over whether you'll have joy and contentment tomorrow, next week, or next year. Just trust God for the moment. Choose to abide in Christ now.
Take God at His word. Believe that you can have joy in His presence. Believe it especially when joy seems out of reach. Don’t wait until you feel the joy. Just choose to believe it. Say that you believe it. Thank God for it. God will do the rest. The verses listed above can be turned into prayers:
Ask God to open your eyes. Ask for yourself and others that God would open your eyes to see what you have now in Christ. Use Paul's prayers for the Ephesians as a guide:
When Jesus said,"I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst" (John 6:35), He was not talking about food and water; He was addressing the emptiness—the want and discontentment—that we have in our hearts. Praise Jesus! Thank Him for victory over the never-ending chase.
God wants to turn your heart right-side-up and fill it with His Spirit. He wants to fill your heart with the joy of Christ. But He wants to do more than simply fill it to the top and stop—He wants to keep pouring, so that His joy and love will not only fill you, but flow from you onto other people, so that they also can come to know and experience the joy and love of Christ. Say Yes to God: