Discontent vs. Satisfaction

On the face of it, most of us would choose satisfaction over discontent. It’s so much more comfortable. But that’s only as long as we leave the issue as an abstraction. Once we ask what it is we’re discontent or satisfied with, the picture changes entirely.

Have you noticed it’s mighty hot outside? After spending a few days in California and experiencing highs in the mid 70’s I’m especially aware of our heat wave. When we lived in California we were satisfied with not having an air conditioner. We only needed it 3 or 4 days a year. Here in Texas we’d die without one. If our AC goes out even for a short time we rapidly become discontent. I bet most of you are the same way.

Consider another area: education. I’ve known quite a few students over the years who are satisfied with their level of education. “Who needs high school?” they ask each day. Or, “Who needs a degree?” Most of us know that getting more education – whether “more” means finishing high school or getting a college degree is a great good for us. How much easier would educator’s jobs be if they had students who were discontent with ignorance, who were hungry to learn?

What about church life? One of my jobs as pastor – one of the hardest – is to create and manage discontent. Does that sound strange? Let me give you some examples.

  • We have a goal of bringing our average attendance over 200. This goal is rooted in discontent. We are not content to have only a small portion of the body in church any given Sunday. We’re not content to not be reaching our community.
  • Less than a quarter of our membership is in a small group or study group each week. I’m not satisfied with that. I want to see every member hungry for God – hungry enough to not be satisfied with their current relationship.
  • I’m not content to just have people attending Sunday School. Over the years I’ve known people who have been in Sunday School longer than I’ve been alive. Yet they protest that they’re ignorant and don’t know much about the bible. They don’t know how to pray. They don’t know how to lead their children or friends to Christ. I’m not satisfied with classes whose only product is fellowship (though fellowship is a good thing) or adding knowledge to one’s brain.

Do you get the idea? Creating discontent is one thing. Managing it is another. We need healthy discontent – discontent that leads to action, not to despair or defeat. Hebrews 12 tells us that for the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross. We endure the hard work of moving from discontent to satisfaction, not settling for mediocrity, because we follow the example of Jesus.

What’s the difference between healthy dissatisfaction and negativism? We’ve all been around negative people and know how draining they can be. Someone who is dissatisfied in a healthy way has the following characteristics:

  • Their dissatisfaction is rooted in what God wants, not what they want. They know that if God gets what He wants it will likely cost them more, not less. They know they must apply themselves to be part of the solution, not just stand at a distance and lob criticism.
  • Their dissatisfaction is exercised in love. At the same time they urge the Body on to fulfill its mission of holiness and outreach, they seek to build up the Body and each member.
  • Their lives are oriented toward joy – knowing the blessings God has in store for those who patiently endure.
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