Is it possible to have discontentment according to the will of God? Is it true that all forms of discontentment are manifestations of the sin nature, and therefore are to be discouraged, if not aggressively stamped out whenever it appears? Or do we need our understanding of this concept broadened and deepened that we might be more discerning in our ability to discriminate between a God-given spiritual discontentment as opposed to a fleshly discontentment, between a contentment which comes from true spirituality as opposed to a perceived contentment which actually comes from a soulish complacency?
Let us address straight away the more familiar verses on contentment: Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. The contentment of which Paul speaks refers to allowing the indwelling Lord, by His Spirit, to have preeminence over the soul despite external circumstances. Paul's elaboration of these circumstances is natural; it is how our spirit responds to the natural events of life, whatever the circumstance.
In another place, Paul writes, but godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. Again, Paul is dealing with natural externals, reinforcing the notion that He that is in us is greater than He that is in the world; that our inner man is to have reign over the outer man. The spirit is to bring the soul into subjection, which in turn, is to bring the body into subjection. Conversely, our use of the concept of faith should not be a cover for the true motive of greed, which is the antithesis of spiritual contentment.
Now, from the standpoint of Church leadership, the promulgation of true spiritual contentment in both word and example is certainly to be desired. However, all too often, the brow-beating of God's people on the topic of contentment has at its root impure motives. T. Austin-Sparks has addressed, or rather exposed this problem in terms few have the insight or courage to express: Sheep stealing is a common charge which needs to be looked at again in the light of Christ.
Whose sheep are they? Are they His, or are they the property of a certain Christian enterprise or society? Unto what have they been stolen? Have they moved in a certain direction because they have found a larger measure of Christ there, or is it because they have really been enticed, to swell the ranks of something less of Christ? Are we really only too anxious to let our converts or members go, if they are going after the Lord? Do we want to keep some thing together? Is the essence of division in the leaving of one association or connection because a greater measure of spiritual life has been found in other directions?
Something exists which fails continually to meet spiritual need. That which does meet the hunger and longing of years comes along, and from the old dead and barren connections the hungry move to the spiritual provision. Instead of Christians being glad if a genuine spiritual move is made, the cry is not long in being heard: Dividing the Lord's people! Are we sure that behind much of this sort of thing there are not vested interests, sentimentalities, mere traditions, or our own fears?
A.W. Tozer wrote, Some men seek and find and seek no more, while others seek and find and seek still." We have some in our churches who have the attitude of, "Man, it doesn't get any better than this! Or Hey! We've got the goods! Because there is nothing new under the Sun, Paul had this to say to the Corinthian Church who shared this same attitude; For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and I would indeed that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you. And another passage is likened to it; Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing ...., except to enjoy more of the same.
It is Christ Himself in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. And how vast is that treasure? Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable are His ways. One elderly saint had this perspective; After about ten years in the Lord, you begin to know a little something about Him, and no matter how long you have been in the Lord, there is always much more to be known of Him. God seems to present us with something of a contradiction.
On the one hand He says, He that comes to Me, shall neither hunger nor thirst. While on the other He says, As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for Thee, O God. Moreover, the weight of Scripture indicates that this desire, this longing, this yearning, is the natural ongoing manifestation of one who truly has a heart after God. God Himself creates this hunger and thirst that He might fill us, not just once, but continually as essential to normal, healthy spiritual growth.
Is there a discontentment according to the will of God? Most certainly, there is! It is a God-given spiritual discontentment which accompanies our innate spiritual hunger. It is the one form of discontentment for which we may have an absolute clear conscience. It is the cry of our regenerated spirit which says, "My satisfaction is found in the Lord, and yet, I can never be completely satisfied while there is so much more of the Lord yet to be known." But I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord...(and) I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.