The Dangers of Discontent

   I carry with me a device which enables me to:
access the internet
listen to music
fail at Angry Birds
tell time
take pictures
store information in a “cloud”
contact people immediately by sending words through the air
locate myself through GPS
monitor my heart rate
track the stock market
do root canals.
phone other people (weird, right? A phone does that too...)

It’s cracked; sometimes it gets all quirky.  And I just can’t stand it when it takes 10 seconds to obey my commands. Even worse, my smartphone is exposing a really shallow part of my nature. I am easily discontented.

I have a family income that puts me in the top 5% -10% of the world's population (as do most of you reading this, I might add), but I am discontent.  I wish the rooms of my house were larger, the siding was new, the deck was covered, and I had a pool.

I drive comfortable internal combustion machine further in a day than people used to travel in a decade, and I am discontent: it costs sooo much to fix, and the wipers leave a streak, and could sure use better gas mileage and racing stripes, even that would look odd on a minivan.

I am discontent with all these things. Meanwhile, this slow spiritual poison silently kills my attitude, my view of others, and my contentment with the life God has given me.

Discontent with people is even worse than discontent with things, because things don't bear God’s image. When my discontent begins to involve other people, it makes me a jerk.
I resent other people who don’t deserve my resentment.
I take my issues and project them on to someone else.
I resent good health in others when I feel sick.
I resent people who eat whatever they want because I can't.
I  resent those who are more popular or prominent, because if people only knew how smart, cool, and funny I really was!
I resent people whose babies sleep through the night, and whose dog does not jump their fence.

   And somehow in my mind, the idea that I don’t have what I deserve is somehow connected to the people around me who clearly have more than they deserve. They have more money, a nicer house, better friends, more influence and authority, longer vacations, a better vehicle, and a dog that does not want to play fetch at 3:00 in the morning. I deserve that! I might even deserve a better spouse (but none of us have thought that, right?) Or worse: I deserve Tom's house, and Bob's paycheck, and Bill's wife.  That's when life really starts to get ugly.

James has some things to say about resentment and discontent.  At the end of chapter 3 and moving into chapter 4 he notes, “Wherever there is envy and selfish ambition, there is disorder, instability and all kinds of evil practices... Do you want to know why you have so many fights and quarrels in your community?  They come from your desires that battle within you.  You want what you don't have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can't get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them.”

My paraphrase: Do you want to know why you have so many jerks in your community?  Because they are jealous, discontent, selfish, and self-centered. Here's how the thinking works:

Other people get more attention? – “It can’t be because they have something worth paying attention too.  If people only knew what I have to offer.  So, I’ll butt in, dominate the conversation and get the attention I deserve. ”
Other people have more money/things? – “ I’ll overcharge that person – they have way too much already.  Maybe I’ll occupy something….”
Other people are with the person you like?  - “They clearly do not know what they are missing here.  If I can get them to dislike their current flame, then I will be set.”

The discontented are not motivated to change something within themselves and grow in their own character, skill, or integrity. They just try to take it from others in unjust and selfish ways.

Discontent will destroy your friendship with others, your relationship with God, and your ability to appreciate that blessings God has given you.  On the other hand, those who find contentment in their lives discover the beauty of life steeped in gratitude.

Theologies of Poverty and Prosperity

"Every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and has given him power to use it, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God." - Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 5:19

There is a great conversation in “Fiddler on the Roof” where Perchik is talking with his future Jewish father-in-law, Tevye.  Perchik, as a good Marxist, thinks economic inequality is the cause of all social ills.  His outspoken opinion leads to the following conversation:

“Money is a curse from God.” -Perchik
“May He smite me with it, and may I never recover.” - Tevye

     That line always makes me laugh, but it's actually not the best theology.  Solomon wrote, “Two things I ask: Keep deception and lies far from me,  give me neither poverty nor riches. Feed me my portion, that I do not become full, deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” Don’t let me be in want and steal, and profane the name of God" (Proverbs 30:7-8).
     Solomon, who is legendary for his wealth, learned a lesson that is hard for those of us without his money to grasp:  money is not the answer.  In fact, money can make us forget the One who brings us true wealth.  On the the other hand, poverty's not that desirable either, because our temporary lack can make us bitter toward the One who is apparently not interested in our wealth at all.  That middle ground of wealth is one of provision without excess; needs without hardship.

     The New Testament does not focus as much on the connection between physical abundance and God's blessing.  In fact, the New Testament clearly establishes that any situation in life can be a blessing. At the beginning of the book of James (perhaps the first epistle written to the early church), we read that wealth and poverty can both be a trial - and a blessing:  "Let the poor who lead a humble life rejoice when they are raised to a higher position; but the rich should rejoice in being brought to a  lower position of humility.  It is a good reminder that riches will pass away like flowers in a field.   The sun rises with his scorching heat and dries everything up, so that flowers drop their petals and the beauty of their appearance perishes.  In the same way rich with all their prosperity will fade away." (James 1:9-11)

 Point #1: If you’re poor and you get rich, awesome.

    I think we instinctively agree with this.  Any time we overcome a trial and come out the other side, that’s awesome.  It doesn’t have to just be money.  It could be working through a difficult situation in your marriage, or having a season where you and your kids find peace; maybe you are finally pain-free, or you reach a point where the lingering effects of your past addictions or sins fade more then ever before. Those are all good things.
    If you were once poor, but are now rich, that’s reason to rejoice.

Point #2: If your rich and you become poor, that’s awesome too.  It’s a great reminder that money is a bad savior.
    This is not so instinctively correct.  Is James serious?  Losing ground is a blessing?  Well, yes.   This falls under the “consider it all joy” category at the beginning of James.  It reminds us that we cannot worship the wrong things.

Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that is "finding his place in it," while really it is finding its place in him.  -  C. S. Lewis

    Rough spots in marriage can sometimes be a blessing. Maybe we will start looking to God instead of our spouse to “complete us.”  Pain can sometimes be a blessing – maybe it makes us seek medical help we need, or it reminds us that our bodies are temporary things, and we shouldn’t worship health and beauty either.  In the same way, if you were once rich but you are now poor, you have reason to rejoice.

Wealth is a thing God can give or not give.  A Theology of Poverty (everybody who follows Christ should be poor since money is so bad) is no more biblical than a Theology of Prosperity (everybody who follows Christ should be rich because money is so good).  Neither one sees the message of scripture in its entirety.