Desire is an interesting thing.
Some desires are good. I desire to be more disciplined in prayer. I desire to be quicker to listen and slower to speak. Yet other desires are laced with sin. I desire the praise of man. I also desire the security of a bigger paycheck. Whether good or bad, unmet desires almost always lead to the same thing – discontentment.
And discontentment is a slippery slope. Once it makes itself at home, it opens the door to anger, jealousy, resentment, even hatred. Maybe that’s why Jude has such a strong word for the discontent in verses 14-16. He lists “grumblers and malcontents” as inexcusably ungodly and deserving of the Lord’s judgment.
We all face desires that go unmet. It’s unavoidable. But how do we avoid the discontentment that so easily follows? How do we stay out of Jude 1:14-16? We must turn away from the temptation and turn toward truth.
Turn Away from Fear and Toward Trust
When good desires, or desires that seem good and pure to us, go unmet, fear bubbles up. We want to know why the Lord hasn’t answered a prayer the way we wished, why he allowed something beloved to be taken away, or why he seems to withhold a need. And we fear it’s because he can’t, or worse—because he doesn’t want to.
The sin here is doubt. We question the very character of God. We doubt his ability and/or desire to keep his promises. We paint him as either an incompetent God standing around with his hands tied, or a capricious God who toys with us as we stammer to find the magic word. How could we be content with a God like that?
Thankfully, our God is all-powerful and all-loving. We can trust that he truly is able to do far more abundantly than we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). We can know that if we seek the Lord, we will lack no good thing (Psalm 34:10). These truths are trustworthy even when what we lack seems greater than what we have, when what we’ve lost overcasts what remains.
Fear chokes out trust. If we fear the Lord, in the sense of anxious doubting, we cannot trust him. If we can’t trust him, we can’t be content with the circumstances he sees fit to give us. Instead, let us pray for the trust that Job possessed when he said, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10)
Turn Away from Pride and Toward Humility
As people, we have this misguided tendency to equate things that happen or don’t happen, things we get or don’t get, to a sense of deserving. Pride functions as the measuring stick for our circumstances. It makes sense, then, that Jude further describes the discontents as “loud-mouthed boasters” (Jude 1:16).
If we boast in our abilities and perceived strengths, it means we think too highly of ourselves. We don’t have a proper understanding of our status as weak sinners, wholly dependent on the Lord. That leaves us incapable of accepting anything from the Lord with the humility required for contentment. Instead, we will be embittered by the false notion that we deserve either more-good or less-bad than we receive.
Humility, on the other hand, enables us to receive from the Lord with thanksgiving and bless his name whether he gives or takes away (Job 1:21). If we are humble, we can rest content on the knowledge that it is the Lord who will exalt us according to his will and timing (James 4:10).
Turn Away from Impatience and Toward Perseverance
We see again and again in Scripture how good it is to wait on the Lord (Lamentations 3:26). But waiting well – patience – is a skill few possess. It’s difficult for us to see value in waiting for something desired, needed, longed for. We lose heart quickly, and so lose our contentment.
But if we learn to persevere through long seasons of waiting, not only will our contentment be preserved, but our faith will be strengthened. There is no better proof of this than Hebrews 11. Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses: They are all counted as heroes of faith because of their perseverance through years and lifetimes of waiting. They all died in faith, without having received the long-awaited promises of God (Hebrews 11:13).
Contentment seems impossible to the impatient because it is misunderstood as something passive, as doing nothing. In reality, persevering through waiting with contentment requires great strength and courage (Psalm 27:14). To wait well, we have to actively seek the Lord, from whom we draw our strength (Lamentations 3:25).
Learn the Secret to Contentment
In his life, Paul experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. He had desires fulfilled in surpassing glory, and desires withheld through painful trials. But it was Paul who said, “In any and all circumstances, I have learned the secret to being content” (Philippians 4:11-12).
What was his secret? Christ.
The verse that follows is a popular one: “I can do all things through him [Christ] who strengthens me” (v. 13); it’s most often employed when there is some hope of great victory or accomplishment. While that’s well and good, Paul is speaking of this supernatural strengthening from Jesus specifically as it relates to being content. So we could almost sub “face” for “do” in that verse. “I can face all things through Christ.”
The gospel of Jesus Christ, his saving work through faith in his death and resurrection, does not guarantee us a certain set of circumstances. What it does guarantee is that we can face any circumstance with the power of Christ at work in us.
If that is where our faith is tethered, we’re freed from the obstacles of sin that would steal away our contentment, and we’re strengthened to wait for the mercy of our Lord that leads to eternal life (Jude 1:21).