Godly (Dis)contentment

Because we live in a fallen world and because we are not yet arrived at our eternal home, we will necessarily--and rightly--be discontent in some areas.

“To love Christ more — this is the deepest need, the constant cry of my soul. Down in the bowling-alley, and out in the woods, and on my bed, and out driving, when I am happy and busy, and when I am sad and idle, the whisper keeps going up for more love, more love, more love!”

 

Nineteenth-century author and hymn-writer Elizabeth Payson Prentiss lived a life of exemplary faith in the midst of serious trials. For most of her life, she was confined to bed as an invalid, and her husband also suffered from ill health. In 1852, in a period of three months, their two young children died.

Later, Prentiss wrote in a letter: “To love Christ more — this is the deepest need, the constant cry of my soul. Down in the bowling-alley, and out in the woods, and on my bed, and out driving, when I am happy and busy, and when I am sad and idle, the whisper keeps going up for more love, more love, more love!”

Prentiss bore patiently through extreme trials, and yet her words about Christ sound a lot like something we don’t often associate with piety: discontent.

Content, Yet Unsatisfied

Most Christians are, of course, familiar with the command to contentment exemplified in Paul’s words: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil. 4:11). The mind trained by God’s Word rightly recoils from grumbling and envy and yearns for satisfaction with all God’s ways. We know we ought to be content.

What we may not know is that Christians–even contented ones–also experience righteous discontent. In his classic text on contentment, Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs wrote that a Christian is “the most contented man in the world, and yet the most unsatisfied man in the world.”

It might seem contradictory to say that we are to be content and discontent at the same time, but the Bible holds both to be true. Because we live in a fallen world and because we are not yet arrived at our eternal home, we will necessarily–and rightly–be discontent in some areas:

Our knowledge of God. Like Elizabeth Prentiss, our highest desire in all of life is to know and love our Lord more. And in this life, we will always be peering intently at glorious truth reflected in a scratched mirror (1 Cor. 13:12). We are content, but we are unsatisfied.

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