Dealing with Discontentment

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Discontentment is one of the biggest problems that human beings face today. Spouses get discontent with each other and divorces happen. Children get discontent with parents and move away. Congregation members get discontent with their pastors and churches break up or new denominations are born. Neighbors get discontent with each other and move into another neighborhood, only to repeat the story all over again. Pastors get discontent with congregations and congregations split. The list can go on and on. Voters get discontent with the government and elect the opposition to power only to find that things are no better, or even worse. We have heard the saying “grass is greener on the other side”. But many times, instead of landing on the “greener side” we go from the frying pan directly into the fire.

If we analyse discontentment, we can discover many reasons that causes discontentment. There is this constant craving for something that we don’t have. Adam and Eve craved for the taste of the forbidden fruit, thought they had access to everything else. David craved for the company someone else’s wife, though the Lord had given him everything. There are many such examples in the Bible itself. For paucity of time, I will not be able to discuss all of them. But I am going to focus on just one major reason.

In the corporate, one of the major challenges that leaders face is how motivate employees. Hence people continuously study about this evasive concept. As a result, there are many motivational theories that has got wide acceptance in the corporate circles. This is a church and hence I will not make it into a class on motivational theory. However I have to tell you about one theory that is well accepted and relevant to today’s message. It is called the Equity Theory of Motivation. It is an interesting theory. Some of us who are old might remember the first time TV advertisements started and there was this Surf advertisement which went like “Uske kameez mere kameez se safed kyon? “. The Equity theory is quite like this. It basically says that people compare their perceived efforts vs their perceived rewards and then decide whether it is equitable or not. So what I do is, I evaluate my reward. Let us say salary, and divide by what I think is the efforts that I am putting in. Then I estimate Nidheesh’s rewards (salary) and then divide it by what I think is Nidheesh’s efforts. If my ratio is lesser than Nidheesh, I am unhappy, because I then think that it is not equitable. If my ratio is better than that of Nidheesh, then I am motivated do better at my work. You get the drift right?

If you think of it, we actually do this constantly, in real life. Not just in office, but we do this at home, we do this in marriage, we do this in society. We are constantly comparing what is dealt out to us against what others get. We then naturally feel that “I deserve better”. And that causes a whole lot of problems all over.

Let us turn to our Bibles. Matthew 20:1-15 (NKJV) “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’ So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’

I am not going to go into the spiritual lessons that come with this passage. But I do want to point out the most practical message that comes out of this passage. The laborers who came in first, came in with the explicit understanding that they will be paid a denarius for a day’s work. And they sure were paid exactly what they were promised, or what was agreed. But the moment they saw that some others who put in lesser hours also got the same compensation that they got, they were disappointed. Their discontentment did not arise out of any injustice done to them, but out of the grace extended to someone else. Their feeling was “I deserve better” because I put in more hours than the others. It is not enough if I get what I deserve, or what I have been promised, “I deserve to get better than others” is the theme here.

So my point is this, comparison with others, what others have, what others get, what others do, what others say, is one of the major root causes of discontentment. We hardly ever ask the question, “Am I getting what is promised to me? Am I getting what I deserve? Instead, we keep looking at what others are getting and then become discontent about it, immaterial of what we have, immaterial of what we get.

Let us look at another biblical case. In 1 Samuel Chapter 8, the people of Israel do something that becomes the beginning of the downfall of Israel. God had told them that He will be their King, and they need to obey only Him. He had protected them. He had provided for them. He had fought their battles. But the Israelites were not happy with that arrangement. They seize an opportunity that came their way when the sons of Samuel did not walk in His ways. 1 Samuel 8:5-20 (NKJV) “ and said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” So Samuel prayed to the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day–with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods–so they are doing to you also. Now therefore, heed their voice. However, you shall solemnly forewarn them, and show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them.” So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who asked him for a king. And he said, “This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots. He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers. And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants. And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants. And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the LORD will not hear you in that day.” Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, “No, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

I love their closing argument “that we may also be like all other nations around us..” . It didn’t matter to them that God had warned that a human King is going to do terrible things to them, it didn’t matter to them that they are forsaking the protection and provision of the creator himself for humanly protection. What mattered to them was they the fact that other nations around them had kings and they did not. By comparison, they thought that they lacked something that the other nations had. They thought the other side was greener.

There is another manner of comparison that is equally destructive. Numbers 11:4-6 (NKJV) Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!” It didn’t matter to the Israelites, (thought the trouble started with the aliens among them, but the Israelites soon joined them) the Lord God had brought them out of slavery, it didn’t matter to them that the Lord parted the Red sea in front of them and allowed them to cross over on dry land. It didn’t matter to them that the Lord struck down the entire army of the Pharaoh who were chasing them. It didn’t matter to them that the Lord was continuously protecting them from alien nations around them. It didn’t matter to them that they were mere slaves when they were in Egypt. It didn’t matter to them that the Lord provided food from heavens for them in the wilderness. All that mattered to them was the fact that they had been eating fish and meat regularly when they were in Egypt and they were not getting the same now that they were out of Egypt.

This story demonstrates another way of comparison that leads to discontentment. We start comparing our present conditions to past glory. Haven’t we all heard at some point in time, “it was so much better in the past” statements? Married couples go through this when one of the spouses constantly remind the other of how caring and loving he/she was during the courting days. Churches go through this, when the congregation keeps harping back to (one of the) the previous pastor who was so good. I am sure each of us have our own examples to quote.

OK, so we have established that comparison causes discontentment. But is it wrong to be discontented? Before we try to answer that question, let us clarify, that hoping for better things by itself is not discontentment. Jesus himself asked his disciples to look forward to better things. John 14:1-4, Luke 10:18-20. It becomes discontentment when we are bitter about the present and complain about the present, while coveting for something else. In my last sermon here, I dealt upon the encounter with God, and what happens when we have an encounter with God. When we have an encounter with God, we obey Him. Discontentment is exactly the opposite of this. Discontentment is disobeying God. It is against the 10th commandment which says “you shall not covet”. Discontentment means distrusting God. It means that subtly we believe that God made mistake. So , yes, it is wrong to be discontented.

We have good counsel from the Bible about being content. Let us remind ourselves of a couple of them. Hebrews 13:5-6 (NKJV) Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” The best advise of course comes from Paul Philippians 4:11-13 (NKJV) Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

This morning, shall we examine our hearts for traces of discontentment that we might be carrying? Shall we trust that the Lord who gave us His only son, will not withhold any good thing from us, and will provide all we need. Shall we repeat after Paul. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me?

Let us pray.

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