The Content of Being Content
“Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the Lord burned among them… When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the Lord and the fire died down… The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat!... we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!’…Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents. The Lord became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled.” Num.11:1-6, 10
Here we see the effect of expressed discontent, i.e., complaining, on the Lord and other people – “anger was aroused”, “became exceedingly angry”, “Moses was troubled.”
Let’s examine why: Remember when the Lord also provided shoes and clothes that didn’t wear out (Deut. 29:5)? While not stated in Scripture, given what happened with their food, the Israelites likely complained about their clothes and shoes – “Hey, I’m tired of this style! This dress is something my grandmother would wear! In fact, she’s still wearing it!” This upset the Lord. Why? Because instead of being thankful for what He gave, they wanted something else. Our discontent means “this isn’t good enough; you’re failing in some way; you don’t know or care about what I need.” No wonder the Lord took, and takes, it as an insult.
Not only that, discontent spreads like a highly contagious disease. Here we see how “every family” started “wailing…” Again, human nature-- in the nursery, when one baby starts crying, all the other babies join in the “chorus”, either out of sympathy or agreement.
Like fire leaping from one house to the next, consuming everything in its wake, chronic discontent destroys hearts, spirits, relationships, and even physical health, especially when it’s ignited vocally. This may be the reason the Lord “fought fire with fire” in Num. 11. Contagious diseases and raging fires can’t be contained or cured without drastic measures, meant not to destroy, but to rescue us from destruction.
Discontent also deletes our good memories-- focusing so much on what’s wrong and what’s missing causes us to forget any good we have now or have enjoyed in the past. Or, if we don’t totally forget it, we let the Lord’s provision become meaningless to us when we feel and say that it doesn’t count any more, compared to what we wish we had. Then, we even forget the awful trouble it caused the last time we did that—like the Israelites so quickly forgot the Lord’s literally-burning anger, and “again started wailing…” about something else! (Num. 11:4).
So what’s the antidote for contagious discontent? Or, where’s the fire extinguisher?
C ount our blessings—Recognize and acknowledge the good the Lord brings our way, even in the hard stuff. Sometimes, they’re hidden, but we can uncover them by a change in perspective (“Yeah, this is rough, but it’s a good thing…”).
O bserve reality – maybe the grass just looks greener on the other side. Or, if it really is, it may because someone’s watering it! What can we do to improve our situation?
N ip complaining in the bud—once we start, it tends to snowball and remind us of everything that’s wrong in our lives and the world. Remember Num.11!
T hank the Lord for all the blessings we’ve counted—give Him credit—it not only honors Him but makes us feel better too, especially when we find ways to thank Him in difficult situations. (1 Thes. 5:18)
E ncourage others – This makes us a positive, not negative, influence, and takes our minds off our own woes. (1 Thes. 5:11)
N ullify negative thinking – Phil. 4:8 reminds us to limit our thought life to that which edifies, not destroys. This protects us from the “stinking thinking” at the root of discontent.
T urn to the Lord for help—in prayer, ask Him to give us hope and contentment when everything seems so bleak, hopeless, and unfair. It is only natural to feel and express discontentment in those times, but we have access to supernatural power to overcome that. (1 Thes. 5:17)
Ultimately, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim.6:6) –- gain because we’ve decided so.