By: Jenni Walker
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Doing things God’s way brings joy. But there are many things that can so quickly, and almost unwittingly, deplete the strength and joy of serving the Lord. For the rest of the month, we will take a look at three attitudes of the heart to watch out for that can subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) take root deep down in our hearts! But God’s Word provides us with clear wisdom about each of them. Remember that we do not have to do this in our own strength. As we “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles,” we can look “unto Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2) who is graciously and faithfully with us every step of the way as we follow Him.
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Several years ago, our air conditioning unit stopped working. My husband and I could hear it rumbling in the utility closet, trying to do its job, but the thermostat was showing an ever-increasing temperature. Bryan and I trekked to the store to purchase a box fan to put in our bedroom window while we waited for our home warranty company to send someone out to determine the problem. The spring evenings still cooled down into the low 60’s, and sleeping at night was pleasant. But two weeks later, all of that changed.
I live in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and it gets HOT here! The temperature had been heating up so much during the day that evenings did not bring the cool temps we had been experiencing a few weeks earlier. The box fan was no longer cutting it. And even though an air conditioning tech had now been out to our home, he had determined that we needed an entirely new unit, which meant more waiting on the home warranty company to process everything. (I’m sure some of you have been there!) This was difficult. I get cold easily, and even I felt like I was drowning in oppressive heat in our home by this point!
Throughout this “stifling situation,” we battled the urge to complain, to become discontent, and those urges felt extremely justified. We should not have had to wait as long as we did for our home warranty company to find a solution for us. We paid every month for them to come through for us in just these kinds of situations. Over a month later, there was a light at the end of the stuffy, hot tunnel we were in when the new unit was finally on its way and promptly installed. But God also challenged us to walk through that month with a good attitude. In times of feeling frustrated when we got home from work and entered a non-air conditioned home, Bryan and I decided to choose to cultivate contentment in our hearts. This does not mean that we were not proactively and frequently calling our home warranty company – we were, and with great adamance! This does not mean that we did not feel on edge and slightly irritable at times – we most definitely did!
BUT…we also chose to keep our minds fixed on the Lord and to use it as an opportunity to allow Him to produce the fruit of the spirit in us. This is something that required a choice by us to “walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16a). As Christians, we are called to honor God and to become more like Him in all things. Even in times of stress, we must choose to obey God and to rely on Him even more to help us walk in His ways when our natural inclination is to become discontent and upset in a way that pulls our focus off of the Lord. This can occur when unexpected demands or stressful situations arise, such as the one with our air conditioner. How do we navigate these times with God’s help?
Discontentment can also creep up on us through comparison of our situation to others’ situations. This is often subtle and can happen at the most inopportune times! You may be in the middle of a disagreement with your spouse that you are trying to come to a consensus about, and that same day a dear friend has an anniversary that she posts about on Facebook: A photo of a vibrant bouquet of flowers is framed by a caption that goes something like “So thankful for my amazing husband! He is thoughtful, considerate, and always knows just how to make my day. I love you, honey!” The disagreement between you and your husband seems all the more frustrating, and you suddenly have comparison amnesia, quickly losing sight of the many considerate things that your husband does for you.
Or perhaps you just saw another commercial by a home décor company. In the first frame of the commercial, a woman walks through the store with a smile, an endless budget, and no children in sight; the next frame shows her holding a cup of coffee and leisurely fluffing a few pillows in her newly-decorated living room or patio. If the commercial does show anyone besides her in that room, they are all smiling at her, keeping everything spotless, and applauding her success. The satisfaction you were feeling with the load of laundry you successfully washed, dried, and hung up in your kids’ closet begins to fade as you stare at that tastefully-decorated room on the television screen. Your living room strewn with toys and books begins to feel like a down-arrow rather than a place where family memories are made.
When an attitude of comparison, complaining, or selfishness begins to creep in, remember the words of Isaiah 26:3, which powerfully proclaim, “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” God calls us not just to be satisfied in Him when things are going well but also in the times when we feel spent, frustrated, discontent, or depleted of inner resources.
And that is the crux of the issue: Whatever breeds discontentment competes for our attention and our hearts. My pastor’s wife pointed out recently that complaining is almost considered a cultural right these days. Self-expression is constitutionally guaranteed; the free market more than ever before appeals to the individual sense of self (have what you want when you want it!); and the skill of self-presentation is honed in the way we dress, in what we talk about, in the photos and statuses we share on social media, and the way we approach and respond to daily interactions with others. The opportunities to regale others about the irritations of daily life, to point out flaws in a product, or simply to observe the adventurous lifestyles, tastefully-decorated homes, delicious meals, trendy clothes, happy families, new cars, summer vacations, and new achievements, seem to barrage us constantly. We may not even realize that discontentment has crept deep down into the driver’s seat of our hearts.
In 1 Timothy 6:6–7, Paul writes, “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” In Luke 12:15, Jesus does not mince words when He says, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” We are commanded in Hebrews 13:5 to “keep your lives from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’”
But I don’t struggle with greed or materialism, you may be thinking to yourself. Each of us has something different that may be a temptation to become discontent about. Ultimately, the object of our discontentment lures our hearts away from satisfaction in the Lord. Do I long for people to see me in a certain way? Do I get quickly irritated when things don’t go my way? Do I get a sense of status when I write an online review about a product? Am I habitually comparing myself to others? God does not call us to self-critique ourselves to find out the answers. He calls us to Himself, the One who never leaves or forsakes us, but who we often let our hearts wander away from as we feed on things that breed discontentment in our lives.
1 John 2:15-17 is both a command and an invitation to consider what we most love: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”
There is a competition for the love of our hearts! Whether your air conditioning unit is on the fritz, someone forgot your birthday, a grocery item was left out of your Walmart pick-up order, or you just keep comparing yourself to others, pause to consider what is on the throne of your heart in each of these situations. A home not cooling down properly can be irritating and requires phone calls, time, and money. A forgotten birthday can feel disappointing and hurtful. A missing item in your grocery order can feel so frustrating in the moment especially when you are on a tight schedule. And opportunities for self-comparison seem to be everywhere.
Whatever the situation, consider the words of the Psalmist: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). Dear wholehearted woman, that is what this is all about. Deep down, who and what is the strength of our heart? To what or whom do we turn to in times of brewing discontentment? Are we really satisfied in God? Can we truly pray this verse honestly, or is there something else that is competing for our hearts? Our God is the giver of true joy. It is not about us but about HIM. And yet, He invites us to experience Himself as our true source of joy and everlasting strength (Isaiah 26:4). Let us not miss the daily opportunities to exchange discontentment for deep and joyful satisfaction in the Lord!
TIME TO REFLECT
1) What most resonated in your heart from today’s devotion topic?
2) Revisit the Scripture passages in this devotional. How do they affect your approach to things that may contribute to discontentment in your heart? What is God teaching you about discontentment and about Himself?
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(This devotion contains excerpts from The Wholehearted Woman: Who She is and Why She Matters by Beth Doohan and Jenni Walker.)