Discontent: Holy Or Unholy?

Thursday, July 25, 2019
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Listen while you read: "All Hail The Power Of Jesus Name"1 (Lyrics)

Discontent can be a destructive energy that harms us physically, emotionally, and relationally. It may be a symptom of ingratitude or an inability to accept one's lot in life — never having "learned to be content whatever the circumstances" (Philippians 4:11b NIV). At its root, one is shaking an angry fist at God, accusing Him of failing to satisfy one's expectations. This kind of discontent is self-centered and cynical, and can become vengeful. It turns its back on God. It pushes others away from God. It's unholy discontent.

There's also a holy kind of discontent, as author William Willimon suggests: "A holy kind of discontent seems to be fertile ground for God's prophets."*

What makes it holy? I say, it is holy because it keeps facing God. It empathizes with God's heart for humanity. It sees human fallenness from God's perspective. Holy discontent refuses to whitewash sin or deny anything that assaults God's character. It yearns for God's mercy on fallen humanity. It is expressed in prayerful weeping and pleading with God, even while resting contentedly in His promises.

Unholy discontent lacks mercy. It refuses to cooperate with God's lavish grace towards sinners. It leaves nothing but cold, dead emptiness. Unholy discontent may be the driving force behind pushy and noisy evangelistic zeal. It's a turn-off. It produces infertile and passionless Christianity.

Conversely, holy discontent ignites spiritual passion. It is propelled by divine love, which energizes people to partner with God in the formation of true and vibrant Christian living.

Do you see why holy discontent is "fertile ground"? It is life-producing! It flows out of life itself — God's life. It refuses to give up on God's enduring promises, even when circumstances look bleak and sin seems unabated. It allows one to stand firm, with spiritual eyes watchful and fixed on the bigger hope. This holy kind of discontent is seen in the prophetic writings in Scripture. That's why the biblical prophets can still inspire us today. The apostle Peter put it this way:

2 Peter 1:19 – And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (NIV)

We may not be prophets; yet, like them, we will find ourselves distressed over the effects of injustice and evil, whether through civil authorities, social peers, church, family, or other. Discontent is natural. Yet, it is also natural to react out of strong emotions. Fear or anger may arouse our fight-or-flight instincts, and we become driven by grievance and a sense of moral superiority. Discontent is not our problem. It's the inability to see from the perspective of God's heart. We must learn to wait on the Lord, allowing Him to transform our reactionary tendencies into mature patience and restful trust. Those qualities will guide us towards wise choices in the presence of evil.

When affronted by human sinfulness the question is, "Which kind of discontent will rule my life: holy or unholy discontent?" May the following be our personal prayer:

Prayer: Lord, purge any root of unholy discontent in my heart and replace it with a holy kind of discontent. Work within me so that, even if You should require me to confront injustice and wrong, I will always be shining the beautiful light of Your Son into the brokenness. Amen.
* William H. Willimon, Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002, page 60.

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About the author:

Diane Eaton <d.eaton@bmts.com>
Paisley, Ontario, Canada

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1 Comment

  • PresbyCan Feedback says:

    May it be so, Diane.

    Good morning Diane,
    What thoughtful and helpful comments. Thank you!

    Very interesting and thought provoking, Diane. Thanks, and blessings to you!

    Bravo! What an absolutely great devotional this is!!! Thank you, Diane, for writing.

    What a lovely message Diane. Thank you for this and the many other devotionals you share.

    Yes, Diane, let’s gratefully focus on God, not on circumstances or things. Thanks for sharing this devotional with us. Blessings.

    Diane, what a thought-provoking devotional! I really enjoyed reading it! Thank you for helping us to ruminate on the difference between holy and unholy discontent.

    Oh, I do LOVE an excellent sermon!!! Have heard many in my 76 years. This one is straight from the Holy Spirit and glorifies our Lord Jesus Christ.
    Thank you so much for being one of His servants!

    Hello Diane,
    Many thanks for another very meaningful devotional. Yes, so important that we take time in situations to be patient and wait upon our Lord ford His direction and response.

    Thank you for this wonderful devotional clarifying so well the paradox of being content in all circumstances and yet living with that prophetic perspective of discontent.
    The prophetic perspective of holy discontent is experienced I think not only when we look at injustice and oppression in the world but also, I believe when we observe power abuse within the institutional church itself. The prophets in OT times mainly addressed the constant drifting from God of His covenant community Israel. Similarly, today I believe the prophetic holy discontent includes a longing to see the church acting out of love and full of grace, as well as a passion for justice and freedom from oppression in the world and compassion for sinners.
    Again, thank you for this excellent clarification of holy and unholy discontent.

    Truths. Many thanks.

    I haven’t heard about holy discontent before. Thanks for a new idea.

    Diane, Thank you for sharing this perspective on discontent. Very helpful and educational and inspiring. Blessings.


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