Pursuing Satisfaction In God May Look Different Than You Think

I don’t know if there is a subtler foe of the gospel-oriented life than unholy discontentment. I throw in that “unholy” qualifier because there are times when God stirs up discontentment in our hearts. I know people like to think God is a gentleman who won’t interfere with our personal decision-making, but the truth is that sometimes he graciously pesters us about a specific issue until we respond in obedience. He may want us to pursue a different vocation for the sake of the Kingdom, pull back from a toxic relationship that is hindering our growth and usefulness, or leave the comfort of our first world culture and go live amongst an unreached people group. There are times when the Holy Spirit creates restlessness in our souls, gently (but persistently) nudging us to hop aboard the will-of-God train. I have experienced this kind of holy discontentment on a few occasions in my journey with Jesus.

However, what I experience more often is a fleshly, distracting, mission-abating kind of discontentment. You know, the kind that entails you moping around and obsessing about all the things or experiences you don’t have but so desperately desire. It seems like every six months or so, I begin to feel like my life is lacking and that I need to implement some circumstantial change or newness into it in order to be fulfilled. Switching vocations, moving to a different city, making more money, getting a new gadget, going to a different church, making new friends, or pursuing a new relationship status are just a few of the things I tend to entertain. None of these things are inherently bad, but when my compulsive pondering on them (and sometimes impulsive pursuit of them) is driven purely by fleshly restlessness—well, that’s obviously bad. I become so obsessed with thinking about the changes I could make or the things I could get that Jesus and his Kingdom almost completely fall off my radar.

This unholy discontentment wages more vicious war on my resolve to live a gospel-oriented life than any other sin struggle I experience. And maybe I am being presumptuous, but I have a difficult time believing I am the only Christian who struggles with this mess. I think it’s a spiritual virus we’re all constantly battling. Some of us may try to satisfy our discontentment by shifting around our circumstances (like me). Some of us may try to numb it by turning to food or alcohol or sex (I do that, too). Some of us may do all of the above (guilty)! We all experience this inner-thirst of discontentment and try to satisfy it with all the wrong things. We sip from the many cups this world offers, only to be repeatedly reminded that they don’t contain the satisfying substance we really desire. We indulge, manipulate our circumstances, and buy new things, yet we continue to find ourselves dissatisfied, fidgety, and bored.

So what are we to do? I think most Christians understand that discontentment is birthed and nurtured in a heart that isn’t satisfied in God. So, obviously, the best way to go about fighting it is to seek to be satisfied in God, right? Right. Quite obvious. But why are so few of us successful in that fight? I know there are a lot of valid answers to that question, but I think a huge reason is many of us don’t know what “seeking to be satisfied in God” looks like. Contemporary Christian culture is jam-packed with fantastic sounding ideas, but the problem is most of us don’t know how to pull those magnificent ideas down from the clouds and apply them in our everyday lives. We hear that we should find our deepest joy in God, and we respond to that with a thousand “amens!”—and then quickly realize we have no idea how to do that.

So, what does it actually look like to seek satisfaction in God? Some might say we should open our Bibles and seek to see the all-satisfying God it reveals. And they’re right; we should. The Holy Spirit cultivates fresh joy in our hearts as we shift our eyes away from the world and gaze upon God in his written word. Positioning ourselves under the Holy Spirit’s power in prayerful Bible-reading brightens our vision of Christ and ushers us into an eternity-oriented state of mind.

But is this all a pursuit of satisfaction in God entails? Some may object, saying, “I do that, though. I read the Bible constantly. I pray every day. And I still find myself struggling to be content in Christ!” I hear you—this is also my experience. I stay in the Scriptures and prioritize prayer. I don’t do these things perfectly by any means, but they are a part of my daily life. And I praise God for giving me grace to seek him via these glorious means because doing so is such a huge part of cultivating contentment in God! However, reading and praying isn’t everything. If it were, would I continue to find myself wrestling so regularly and intensely with discontentment?

Something the Lord began to teach me a few years ago—and evidently something I have been slow to learn—is that there is a deep well of spiritual satisfaction found in living in the will of God. A private pursuit of him or “quiet time” is part of his will for our lives, sure. But it’s not the whole sum. We weren’t spiritually resurrected just so we could sit in our bedrooms and read our Bibles. We were cleansed of our sins and endowed with the Holy Spirit that we might give the totality of our lives over to God’s purposes!

I find it to be no coincidence that the seasons I am most discontent are also the seasons I am just barely participating in the ministry of my church, loving my siblings in Christ poorly, and not grabbing hold of the plentiful opportunities God is continually giving me to engage unbelievers with the grace and truth of the gospel. And on the flipside, the seasons I am most content in God are the seasons I am most fully giving myself over to his will for my life! I’ve found nothing more effective in shutting down the unholy discontentment than giving my time and energy to the ministry of the local church, my spiritual siblings, and those who have yet to enter into the joy of salvation.

If Christ’s “food” was to do the will of God and accomplish his work (John 4:34), wouldn’t we do well to feast upon the same things? If discontentment is plaguing your heart today, I challenge you—as I also challenge myself—to put your hands to the plow of God’s purposes for your life. Find ways to participate in the ministry of your church. Find ways to love on your brothers and sisters in Christ. Find ways to engage the lost with the gospel. I guarantee you that if you will toss idleness aside and submerge yourself in the ministry and mission of the gospel, a God-centered satisfaction will invade your soul and mercilessly crush that unholy discontentment.

  • Lyle Nelson

    The sin of comparison is the killer for me. Looking at what others have in certain areas that I wish I had (while conveniently ignoring those areas where I have been more abundantly blessed than others). Basically saying that I know better than God what I should have. Forgetting that He ALWAYS knows what’s best for me.

    Placing our eyes, heart and work all subject to Jesus, as you suggested, Matt, is the best solution. The only limitation is that, as long as we are in this world, we should always want more of Him than it is possible to have. That is probably better described as yearning, rather than dissatisfaction or discontentment, however. And it is a good thing, when reacted to in the right way, in that it encourages us to pursue Him with all our hearts.

  • cryptical

    I am honestly starting to think that you and I are the same person. I’ve gone through this realization recently. For me the conclusion was that it’s ok to be an “ordinary Christian”. Paul talks in 1 Corinthians 7 about remaining in the situation in which God called you. He actually says that this is what “the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” So where you are, is where God has called you to be. Your life situation, is what God has assigned you. So many unhealthy and unholy motives can stir us up to make radical changes, and it’s hard to see the problem with that when it drives us toward ministry or other “godly” things. But so often, as you’ve said, it masks discontentment, restlessness, or just a desire to feel better about ourselves. At least, that’s the case for me. Paul says somewhere else that we should make it our ambition to live a quiet life and work with our own hands to make a living. Not exactly the dramatic, world-changing stuff I thought I’d be doing when I became a Christian. But that doesn’t mean you’re not living for Jesus, or that there won’t be opportunities along the way to influence peoples’ lives.

  • fedup22010

    I appreciate what cryptical posted below. I’m getting up there in years, 62 on my last birthday. (Ugh! haha) But I can relate to so much of what is written here, though now, I am more at rest than ever before. When I was younger and single, (I married late in life) I was very discontent. The Lord would chide me gently and tell me that I was rejecting the gift he had given me and was coveting the gifts that were given to those around me. Like a child at Christmas who receives something that is perfectly suited to her but only has eyes for what her brother or sister got. The Lord instructed me to embrace the very things that seemed to me to be hindering my joy and happiness. Because, like Cryptical said, THAT IS THE VERY PLACE GOD HAS CALLED ME TO BE AT THIS MOMENT in my life. These are His gifts to me, to shape me into His image and His likeness. The sculpting is hard on the old nature, to be sure. “Be content with such things as you have, for he has promised, I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 🙂 Good conversation. Great blog as per usual.

  • I wasted more than half my life comparing myself to others, thinking of myself unworthy to serve the Father because of my sins. I was under no delusion thinking I could like Martin Luther or Billy Graham. I was hoping to at least control my inclinations and I couldn’t. Therefore I thought myself as unworthy to serve him and wallowed in self pity, always pining for what I could not have.
    The single hardest thing to do is to forgive yourself when you make a mistake (and I made plenty). But that’s not our jobs. The Father has already forgiven us. Our job is to admit our mistakes and go on serving Him in whatever capacity we can. The Father will turn our weaknesses into His strengths. The self loathing was an utter waste for me, for instead of leading others to Christ, I was too busy comparing my sins to others. “If only I was straight, I wouldn’t sin.” This was bad thinking on my part, because even if I was, I would still be a sinner. I pray the Father uses me, in my brokenness to further His Kingdom.

  • Beth Ann Kinney Glasser

    Thank you, Matt! Today has been a big-time struggle with restlessness! Thank you for listening to the Lord and ministering to so many!