Thursday, March 06, 2008

Holy Discontent

I heard a talk a while ago by a very fruitful and accomplished pastor urging Christians to listen to and act on our “holy discontent.” This is an intriguing concept to me and I’d like to explore it this week.

On the one hand, the scriptures exhort us to cultivate contentment. Paul’s famous declaration that “I know what it is to have little and I know what it is to have plenty… I have learned to be content with whatever I have” (Philippians 4:11-12) is a powerful exhortation not to let our outward circumstances dictate our inner peace. American Christians particularly, trained in the habits of consumption-towards-fulfillment, do well to heed this admonition. On the other hand, the scriptures exhort us to beware a distorted “contentment” which is really only sanctified apathy. Jesus criticizes the Laodicean church in Revelation 3 for being “neither hot nor cold… but lukewarm.”

The fact is that holy discontent is the Spirit-inspired fuel that runs the engine of spiritual action against the unacceptable status quo. Martin Luther experienced a holy discontent against the abuses of the Church in the 16th century which led to the Reformation. William Wilberforce experienced a holy discontent against the slave trade in 18th and 19th century Britain which led to its eventual abolition. Martin Luther King experienced a holy discontent against the unfair plight of Black people in America in the 20th century which led to the Civil Rights movement. These are grand historical examples, but holy discontent is simply God’s way to move ordinary people to strive for deeper spiritual significance and engagement with his Kingdom work. “Strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things (food, clothing, shelter) will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). In this sense, discontent is a positive impulse. One of the dictionary’s definitions of discontent is “aspiration for improvement.”

One challenge is identifying the “holy” in “holy discontent.” Plenty of Christians are unhappy! But holy discontent expresses the conviction that there is more work to do, more kingdom living to experience, more relationship to be had, and I want to pursue it. Its aim is to bring one’s life, one’s family, one’s church, or one’s community into greater alignment and participation with the Kingdom of God.

During our recent Week of Prayer and Fasting for Breakthrough and our Servin’ the Burbs day, one of my take-aways was the clarification of a holy discontent I have been experiencing. It was a positive clarification in that I experienced a definite inner conviction to break out of this status quo. There is a great sense of freedom, and of fear, in acting on this. And that is always the way it is when you step out on faith.

Let me ask you a question. Do you have any holy discontent? If not, and you’re certain it’s not just apathy, count your blessings. You’re in a good place. For now. Keep striving first for the Kingdom. If you do have holy discontent, listen to it. Give it a chance to talk. Just as the body gives us symptoms of deeper changes, so the Spirit gives us indications of deeper stirrings. What kind of man or woman of God do you want to be? How would you like to join God’s Kingdom work more fully? What is your present spiritual trajectory? If you died next week, what would your spiritual legacy be? The most important part of holy discontent is not the discontent but the holiness.


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