Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Dilemma of Discontentment


There are times in our lives when we just are not happy in whatever situation we are in.  Maybe we are unhappy in our jobs, or in our house, or in our geographical location, our marriages, or even in our churches.  We are told to be thankful for everything, but sometimes we have a hard time finding what exactly it is we are to be thankful for.  Sometimes we just are not content and we just do not know what to do.  I am in a situation like that now, and so this message is just as much for me as for anyone else. 
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NKJV
It is the will of God that we rejoice and give thanks no matter what situation we are in, so if that is not the case, there is a problem.  That problem is either a problem with our heart or it is a problem with the situation we are in.  Note that in between rejoicing and thankfulness there is the call to prayer.  I do not think this is a random order.  Sometimes our failure to find joy and thankfulness is due to our failure to pray or our prayers are asking the wrong thing. I will get more into this a little later, but first I want to talk about the two options for our problems.

As I said, if we are unhappy the problem is either in our heart or in our circumstance.  Sometimes this is an easy question.  For example, if you are unhappy in your marriage then you know the problem is not the circumstance, but your heart.  God hates divorce and our marriage is a picture of our relationship with Jesus Christ.  God never desires for a marriage to end and so we can conclude that the problem has to be our heart as God would not want us to change our circumstance.  On the other hand, if the circumstance is some sort of sinful endeavor or involvement, then our unhappiness stems from our circumstance.  There is no situation where God would desire us to sin and so we can conclude that if we are unhappy in our sin (and we should be unhappy in our sin), that we must repent of our sin and change that circumstance. 

Sometimes, though, the answer is not so cut and dry.  Sometimes the circumstance leads to no clear conclusion as to whether it is your heart or the circumstance.  For example, what if you are unhappy in your job.  First of all, we should all be thankful that we have a job.  The economy is rough right now.  But even in those cases where we are thankful, sometimes we are entirely unhappy in what we are doing.  So in situations like this, we must ask ourselves whether our heart or whether our circumstance needs to change.  There is no easy answer. 

Sometimes our present unhappiness is a matter of the heart.  We are in whatever place God wants us to be in, but we are not finding any joy there.  We wonder where the rejoicing is and we struggle to find what to be thankful for, and we look for a way to escape.  Before we make that escape, we need to pray to make sure that is what we are really called to do.  Sometimes there is a good amount of self popping up and instead of denying it, we elevate it.  Sometimes the problem with rejoicing is because we have not fully submitted ourselves to the Lord.   In those cases, we have our own desires for how things should be and instead of submitting to what God wants we live in want of those former desires.  This is why the first step before any kind of submission to God or following Jesus is to deny ourselves.  If we do not deny ourselves, we will never seek joy in following the Lord.  Our own desires must be replaced by His desires for our lives.  That is the only way we will be able to rejoice when He takes us places and has us do things we never would have though we would ever even want to do.  This is how those who live in some of the worst poverty still have joy.  This is how people who work hard jobs still have the joy of the Lord in their lives.  This is how Paul was able to rejoice even while being imprisoned.  They submitted their will to God and were sure that they were right where God had called them to be. 

On the other hand, maybe there is no problem with our heart at all and our unhappiness and restlessness is a result of not being where God wants us to be.  That is also a very real possibility.  This is because if we are truly and completely submitted to the Lord, we will not be happy if we are where He has not called us to be.  We will be restless, frustrated, and probably really feel like we belong elsewhere.  Sometimes we get set in our routines and resist any kind of change and the only way for God to get our attention is to let that restlessness and frustration well up inside of us.  What holds us back in these situations is fear of making the wrong decision with the thinking that if you remain, you have the safety of avoiding the unknown.  It takes some faith to leave a job, a home, or any other kind of long-term circumstance, but it is a faith we must have.  We think there is no safety net, but we forget that God is our safety net. 

Sadly there are times when we are unhappy and we simply can not change our circumstances.  Maybe we were born in a certain place or we only have a certain amount of money.  If you are unhappy in a circumstance you can not change, then you have no choice but to ask God to either change your heart or your circumstance.  But first you must ask God to help you realize and take comfort that it is entirely in His hands.  It may not seem like it, but in many ways this is the best kind of circumstance because you can only rely on the Lord. You do not have to worry about making a wrong decision or taking a huge step in faith, you only need to take in faith that God knows your circumstance and has made it so for a reason.  Whether it is a disease, injury, nation, home, job, or even prison, if you are in a circumstance that is beyond your control you need to take comfort that it is entirely in God's control.  If God does not want you in that circumstance, He will make a way to change it.  It may ultimately require some steps of faith, but in situations like this those steps are usually pretty clear. 

So what do we do when we are unsure of what to do?  What do we do when we do not know if our hearts or our circumstances need to change?  The answer is prayer.  As I said in the beginning, there is a real good reason why pray without ceasing is mentioned in between the call to always rejoice and the call to give thanks in everything.  It is only by prayer that we can discern the course of action that the Lord wants us to take.  Sometimes we are not even sure what to pray for.  That is not a bad thing, in fact it is probably a good thing.  So many times when we come to God in prayer, we come to Him with a bias.  We think we want our circumstance to change and so our prayer is to change that circumstance.  Sometimes we like where we are and so we ask God to take away the restlessness that we have.  Sometimes we even know what course change we want the Lord to make.  How many inside and outside the church do not like their jobs and so pray to win the lottery?  If we are unsure then the best place to be is unsure.  What I mean is that do not say we are unsure then have a plan we want God to follow.  I know even in my own circumstance, I do not know with any surety exactly what the Lord wants.  And so my prayer to God is to show me when and how to change or to give me the joy and gratitude to be where I am.  My only goal is submission to what God wants in my life and the peace that comes from being in His will.  Whatever that is and wherever that will or will not take me is not as important as being in God's will.  That is where the peace is for a child of God. 

And so when we find ourselves in a place where we are unhappy and it us unclear on what we should do, the answer is that we pray.  If you do not know what to pray for then all the better because when we don't know the Holy Spirit makes intercession for us.  How amazing is that?  That is completely resting in  the arms of God and allowing Him to choose not only our prayer but how to answer it.  Perhaps we should all just admit we are unsure because it is only when we allow the Holy Spirit to make that intercession for us that we can truly be surrendered to the will of God.  That should always be our goal because the one circumstance in life we can be sure we are supposed to be in is to be completely surrendered to Him. If you remain in that circumstance, all the rest of life's circumstances will work themselves out.  That is the example of our Lord as He prayed in the garden preparing for the cross, and one we must make the guiding principle of our lives.
And He was withdrawn from them about a stone's throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done."  Luke 22:41-42 NKJV 

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