Have you ever struggled with discontentment as a believer? Has the dazzling centerpiece of God’s sovereignty around which the accent jewels of the perfectly-set grace doctrines ever appeared a little lackluster?
Sometimes, while we embrace the marvelous truth that every circumstance is ordained by God’s good hand, in practical living, when painful trials come, our immediate reaction can still be to find the quickest escape.
As with all sin, pride certainly lies at the root. Jonathan Edwards labeled pride as the “worst viper in the heart,” the first sin that “entered into the universe [and the . . .] lowest of all in the foundation of the whole building of sin.” Vainglory promptly pollutes everything it touches, and, when left ungratified—when denied what pride imagines it so rightfully deserves—it breeds discontentment. We suffer from an embarrassment of grumblings as our dissatisfaction runs the gamut, as trivial as the slight discomfiture inclement weather brings for those few moments in between our various climate-controlled indoors, but it can also be the entrenched disappointments of unfulfilled aspirations in life, and everything in between. Pride and ensuing discontentment produce sickly offspring that further advance this gnarled, warped family tree of sin. Jealousy, envy, malice, depression, bitterness, fear, and anxiety can all trace their growth to these inveterate roots.
Many suffer from this flesh-produced proclivity; otherwise, puritan Jeremiah Burroughs wouldn’t have qualified this jewel of biblical contentment as rare. Our natural state certainly seeks contentment. This design feature of humanity was fashioned by God who also graciously supplied the only provision that truly satiates—Himself. Since the fall, our sinful bent leads us to search high and low in all the wrong places, from base debauchery to the “good” things of this world, but none of it satisfies, since nothing else is meant to—they are evanescent, temporal, masked as quenching pleasures, a steady stream of them continuously glittering ahead along the path. The ad industry monetizes this flaw now inherent to our sinful nature to the tune of over $250 billion a year in the United States alone.
A God-honoring replacement for many of these sins is to cultivate gratitude. It’s not uncommon in biblical counseling to have counselees keep a gratitude journal to which they regularly add and refer. Even the secular world perceives advantage here (though it’s less certain to whom they are grateful). For the believer, the absolute foundation of gratitude is grounded in the gospel—where ultimate satisfaction in God is possible through the reconciling work of Jesus Christ. Everything emanates from the destination of our eternal souls—either of contented, eternal bliss or suffering, everlasting damnation. Every item on a gratitude list is subservient to salvation—to wit, they would all be rendered irrelevant without it.
Sometimes, it can be a struggle to add to the list in any real, meaningful way, and “Things I’m Thankful For” can quickly descend into lopsided trivialities or broad-sweeping generalities that can feel vapid. Not that either of these aspects is inherently wrong, but we’re left with an imbalanced, wanting list that may undercut the intended purpose. However, in an article from Crossway a few months ago, pastor and author Erik Raymond successfully reminds believers to remind themselves of God’s character and His promises. Instead of racking our brains to produce more miscellaneous and slapdash items for which to be grateful, he ingeniously rephrases the assignment to keep a list of everything we have that we don’t deserve—well, that’s everything. Everything, indeed, comes flooding to mind, easily revealing the blessings amidst trials.
Raymond also suggests juxtaposing this list with another, cataloguing everything we don’t have that we deserve—if your list is blank, you get the idea. Or even better if it features a single item—hell. The reminder of our just and immediate condemnation for our sin puts everything into context and draws forth a deluge of gratitude when we consider how Christ paid the debt, the Father credited us with His righteousness, and He continues to lavish on us “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”