“And when the people complained, it displeased the Lord” (Numbers 11:1)
Introduction We continue our series on the Disciplines of Life by looking this month at the Discipline of Discontentment. As we have pointed out in previous articles in this series, these are called “disciplines” because they are not acquired without deliberate effort. Discipline is “training that corrects molds or perfects the mental faculties or moral character” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 360). The Pilgrim’s Progress is a religious allegory written by English author John Bunyan, and published in two parts in 1678 and 1684. The work is a symbolic vision of the good man’s pilgrimage through life. At one time second only to the Bible in popularity, The Pilgrim’s Progress is the most famous Christian allegory still in print. It was first published in the reign of Charles II and was largely written while its Puritan author was imprisoned for offenses against the Conventicle Act of 1593 (which prohibited the conducting of religious services outside the bailiwick of the Church of England). (Patricia Bauer, Assistant Editor, Encyclopedia Britannica) ( https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Pilgrims-Progress) V. Raymond Edman begins his chapter on discontentment by looking at an excerpt from this work by Bunyan. He says, “Bunyan paints a colorful portrait of contentment in his description of the shepherd boy in the Valley of Humiliation, ‘Now as they were going along and talking they espied a boy feeding his father’s sheep. The boy was in very mean clothes, but of a very fresh and well-favored countenance; and as he sat by himself he sang: ‘Hark,’ said Mr. Great-hart, ‘to what the shepherd’s boy saith.’ So they hearkened, and he said: ‘He that is down need fear no fall; He that is low, no pride; He that is humble, ever shall Have God to be his guide. I am content with what I have, Little be it or much; And, Lord, contentment still I crave, Because Thou savest such. Fullness to such a burden is, That go on pilgrimage; Here little, and hereafter bliss Is best from age to age!’ ‘Then said their guide, ‘Do you hear him? I will dare to say that this boy lives a merrier life, and wears more of that herb called heart’s-ease in his bosom, than he that is clad in silk and velvet.’” “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 st Timothy 6:6) is the divine commentary on this wholesome and healthful attitude of the soul. On the contrary, the danger of discontentment is written large in the Scriptures. Is it fair to infer that godliness without contentment can be great loss?”(pp. 173-174). There are many things in this world that might tend to create discontentment in us, especially in this time where we are so concerned about the COVID pandemic, political and social unrest, and the approaching election. Let’s take a look at some reasons why discontentment is a discipline that the Christian should monitor and control. Discontentment Disregards the Divine Presence Promised to the Lord’s Own. Consider God’s relationship with Moses and the Children of Israel. He led them by a pillar of cloud during the day and by a pillar of fire at night (Ex. 13:21-22). He defended them with this same pillar (Ex. 14:19-20). He showed them where to pitch their tents & when they should journey (Num. 9:15-23). The Lord had made a strong promise to Moses (Ex. 33:12-23). Throughout the long wilderness journey, Moses “kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible” (Heb. 11:27, NLT). But the Children of Israel complained (Num. 11:1). They forgot God who had done great things in Egypt (Ps. 106:21). Consider the promises made by Solomon in his Proverbs, to those who seek the wisdom of God: “5Then you will discern the fear of the Lord And discover the knowledge of God. 6 For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding. 7 He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, 8 Guarding the paths of justice, And He preserves the way of His godly ones. 9 Then you will discern righteousness and justice And equity and every good course. 10 For wisdom will enter your heart And knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; 11 Discretion will guard you, Understanding will watch over you, 12 To deliver you from the way of evil…” (Proverbs 2:5-12, NASB) Consider what we find In New Testament times. Jesus promises to always be with us (Mt. 28:18-20). Jesus promises to send His Spirit to the apostles (Jn. 14:15-17). When we consider all that Scripture has to say about how He is always with His people, discontentment disregards those statements of affirmation. As Edman concludes, “Sweet, wonderful, gracious Presence of the Lord! With us by His Spirit, whom we disregard when we are discontent!” (Edman, p. 175). Discontentment Despises the Promises of God. Moses reminds the Children of Israel that they had been led out of Egypt by the powerful hand of God to the land promised to their fathers. “3 Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by [c]a powerful hand the Lord brought you out from this place. And nothing leavened shall be eaten. 4 On this day in the month of Abib, you are about to go forth. 5 It shall be when the Lord brings you to the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, which He swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, that you shall [d]observe this rite in this month” (Exodus 13:3-5). But dissatisfaction gripped their spirit: “Then they despised the pleasant land; They did not believe in His word, 25 But grumbled in their tents; They did not listen to the voice of the Lord” (Psalms 106:23-24). Their memories selectively only remember the good parts of their time spent in Egyptian bondage “4 The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? 5 We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, 6 but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna” (Numbers 11:4-6). We need to be careful, lest we express discontent during troubled times. We need to maintain a positive disposition and emulate the Apostle Paul’s attitude: “I have learned to be (Philippians 4:11-13). content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” Discontentment Discounts the Provision God Makes for Us. Daily bread, received in the form of manna was initially much appreciated: 4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction…. 14 When the layer of dew evaporated, behold, on the surface of the wilderness there was a fine flake-like thing, fine as the frost on the ground. 15 When the sons of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded, ‘Gather of it every man as much as he should eat; you shall take an omer apiece according to the number of persons each of you has in his tent.’” 17 The sons of Israel did so, and some gathered much and some little. 18 When they measured it with an omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no lack; every man gathered as much as he should eat” (Exodus 16:4, 14-18). But eventually they tired of the manna and greedily desired meat: 4 The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? 5 We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, 6 but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.” (Numbers 11:4-6) We must be careful lest our taste for the Word of God become less appealing to us as did the taste of the manna change from the taste of honey to the taste of fresh oil (Numbers 11:8). Discontentment Displeases God (Numbers 11:1). Though Scripture tells us that the Lord “delights in blessing his servant with peace” (Psalms 35:27) and that He “satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things” (Psalm 107:9), it is possible to be a disappointment to God by not believing Him. For faith is a very important characteristic that He looks for in His children (Hebrews 11:6). Of Israel it is said, “The people refused to enter the pleasant land, for they wouldn’t believe his promise to care for them. Instead, they grumbled in their tents and refused to obey the Lord” (Psalms 106:24-25). Unbelief among His own people in Nazareth caused Jesus to marvel and limited his opportunity to do mighty works in their presence! “Then Jesus told them, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.” And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their unbelief” (Mark 6:4-6, NLT). What about us? We have the Lord’s assurances of His presence, promises and provisions but do we displease Him by our lack of faith when we face a little inconvenience in our lives? Discontentment May Be a Natural Part of Our Disposition, but Contentment Can Become a Major Characteristic of Our Christian Life. The Apostle Paul serves as an excellent example, for he said, “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13, NLT). “Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. 7 After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. 8 So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content” (2Timothy 6:6-8). Conclusion
“The discipline of discontentment is to turn from a complaining spirit, and the criticism that corrodes, from the dissatisfaction that displeases God, to a thankful attitude and a ‘merry heart that doeth good like medicine (Proverbs 17:22), to the faith and praise that bring pleasure to the heart of the Almighty” (Edman, p. 179)
The discipline of discontentment is to be “be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, ‘I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.’ 6 So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me’” (Hebrews 13:5-6, NLT).
The Disciplines of Life by V. Raymond Edman, pp. 173-179)