The Blessing of Godly Discontentment

As I meditated on this devotion this morning, I felt content and confessed of not being discontented enough with this life.We can enjoy eating good food, watching and playing sporting events, enjoying our children and friends, playing with our dogs on a cool summer’s morning, births, weddings, and much more. I was happily walking my dog by the river when I learned that the husband of a very close friend of mine had died. On the way home from our walk, a driver had on his right turn signal, so I turned onto the road. But the driver didn’t turn and pulled up close behind me. However, then the driver had to quickly switch lanes, to avoid a left highway u-turn, with his right turn signal still blinking. I was then in the throws of discontentment with this world, human nature, and its corruption—with wars, illness, death, floods, droughts, famines, hurricanes—and all the rest, including my sinful inclinations. Because of our sin, we must learn when to be content and when to be discontent for the best life here in Christ. We know that all our earthly pleasures evaporate over time and that the delights of God are eternal. We know that our worldly pleasures and joys are nothing compared to the contentment we have in Christ. But, we have so much trouble living out our holy discontentment to find our true fulfillment in God’s presence, provisions, and promises.

The Vanity of This World

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon opens and closes with this statement: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2; 12:8) “Literally the word [vanity] means ‘vapor’ and conjures up a picture of something fleeting, ephemeral, and elusive, with different nuances to be ascertained from each context. When applied to human undertakings or the pleasures and joys of earthly life, it indicates that ‘the present form of this world is passing away’ (1 Cor. 7:31); applied to the darker realities of living in a fallen world (e.g., death), it expresses frustration, anger, or sorrow; applied to the Preacher’s search for understanding of all things, it indicates something that remained incomprehensible or inscrutable to him.” (1) Even our human wisdom and intelligence are like vapor that diffuses into the air as human philosophies of life come and go. Every scientific advancement will be nothing but smoke when death arrives at the door. But the delights of God are eternal, found in saving faith in Jesus Christ. On the other side of Solomon’s lamentation is David’s proclamation: “They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.” (Psalms 36:8) “They” refers to “the children of mankind [who] take refuge in the shadow of your wings” (v.7). “David does not use the word satisfaction, but this is what he means when he speaks of the righteous feasting on the ‘abundance’ of God’s house…These verses describe a present and continuous enjoyment of God’s bounties.” (2) Having a holy dissatisfaction with our earthly pleasures is entirely biblical, and helps us appreciate God’s spiritual feasts, and see his hand in our daily providences.

Learning Contentment Through Sanctification

Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians when he had been a Christian for many years. “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be 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.” (Philippians 4:11-13). “It may be said of one who is contented in a Christian way that he is the most contented man in the world, and yet the most unsatisfied man in the world; these two together must needs be mysterious…A man who has learned the art of contentment is the most contented with any low condition that he has in the world, and yet he cannot be satisfied with the enjoyment of all the world…if God should give unto him Kingdoms and Empires, all the world to rule…he would not be satisfied with that…he has a heart quieted under God’s disposal, if he gives him but bread and water. Though he is contented with God in a little, yet those things that would content other men will not content him…When Luther was sent great gifts by Dukes and Princes, he refused them, and he says, ‘I did vehemently protest…’tis not that which will content me’…a gracious heart says, “Lord, do with me what you will for my passage through this world; I will be content with that, but I cannot be content with all the world for my portion.”’ A contented man, though he is most contented with the least things in the world, yet he is the most dissatisfied man that lives in the world.” (4)

Learning Contentment Through Biblical Math

“For a Christian to find true contentment, he must begin to see life and reality in a new way. Contentment is the result of some ‘new math’—adding and subtracting not according to the predominant worldly paradigm but according to biblical teaching…The world and the sinful heart say, ‘If you want true happiness, you need to add things and reduce burdens.’ [Or], sometimes the world says, ‘If you want to find happiness, you must subtract things and live more simply.’ But neither of these approaches is biblical. Scripture teaches a different formula…If we want to learn contentment, we must learn God’s new math…First, contentment comes by addition—namely, not getting rid of the burden of our situation but adding a new one. This seems like a strange proposition. Why would we want to add another burden to our current burden? In fact, our desire is typically to want to be rid of our burdens altogether…In particular, Christians should in a sense bear the burden of their sin. Our sin should grieve us. We should be overwhelmed by its horror and by the fact that every sin is an offense against a holy God…What is the most difficult situation that we face in our lives?…the most troublesome situation of life, according to Scripture, is to be in a state that is displeasing to God. What we should seek to avoid at all costs is not affliction or want. Rather, it is disobedience to God in willful sin. If this is true, then the burden of our sin puts all other burdens in proper perspective…To find contentment we must [also] subtract from desires so that our desires and our circumstances are even and equal. This is the reason that so many who have less than others are content in their circumstances. Having little does not itself produce contentment. Rather, they are content because God has fashioned their hearts to their circumstances.” (5)

Godly Discontent + Eternal Contentment = Transformation and True Communion

When we achieve a holy dissatisfaction with earthly pleasures, we are transformed to desire and rejoice in God’s eternal presence and delights. “The contented Christian is the most contented person in the world; yet he is also the most unsatisfied. He longs to know Christ, to have more intimate knowledge of him, to be conformed to his image, to share in his work. This side of glory, the Christian will never attain what he desires. He will always want more…When God comes and transforms the heart of a sinner, so that he can by faith know God, God gives to him a desire and a longing after himself. The things of this world do not satisfy him. The most glorious riches, the deepest relationships, and the most peaceful landscapes in the world pale in comparison to true communion with the living God. And this communion is what the Christian seeks. He pursues until his thirst is quenched.” (6) Living in a state of spiritual contentment means that when we engage with the world we will frequently be spiritually disappointed. If Jesus wept at Lazarus’s tomb, shouldn’t we also grieve? But God’s presence and promises lift our spirits. My phone conversation with my friend, about her husband’s soul’s peace in Christ encouraged us both. “Jesus was the most contented man who ever lived… We are to feed on the Lamb of God by faith. We are to feast on God as we seek his glory, primarily found in the revelation of himself in his Word. We are to taste and see that he is good as we worship and have fellowship with him.” (7). “Being rooted and grounded in love, may [you] have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Related Scripture: Psalm 16:11; 27:4; 42:1-2; Isaiah 25:6-9; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10; Philippians 4:8-9; 1 Timothy 6:6-8; Hebrews 13:5-6.


1. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Introduction to Ecclesiastes, Ecc. 1:2, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

2. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 36:8, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

3. Barcley, William, The Secret of Contentment, page 68, Kindle Edition, P & R Publishing, 2010.

4. Burroughs, Jeremiah, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Kindle Version, 2010.

5. Barcley, The Secret of Contentment, pp. 97-104.

6. Ibid., p. 69

7. Ibid., pp. 165-167

May 19, 2022FUTURE Possible Outline

1. God’s Blessedness—Father, Son,

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