Mankind, by the perverse depravity of their nature, regards that which they have most desired as of no value the moment it is possessed, and torment themselves with fruitless wishes for that which is beyond their reach.” – Francois Fenelon
Charles Dickens was a 19th century author who has been acknowledged by critics and scholars alike as a literary genius. Some even regard him as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. Did you know that he had very little formal education? It’s true. He left school at age 15 and began working as a clerk in a solicitor’s office after his father was thrown into a debtors’ prison. Remarkably, Charles would go on to write 15 novels, hundreds of short stories, non-fiction articles, and letters. His immortal tale of ghosts and redemption know as A Christmas Carol, first appeared in in 1843, and remains a perennial holiday favorite to this day. Moreover, A Tale of Two Cities, written in 1859, and from which I shall now quote, is perhaps his best-known work of historical fiction:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity (unbelief), it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
Dickens was writing about the disturbing state of affairs which existed in 18th century England, and France. If you even pay nominal attention to the crumbling state of affairs in our modern social order, then maybe you’ll appreciate the pertinence of his words almost two and a half centuries later.
Since this is not an English Lit class, nor am I a literary scholar, let me simply summarize the observations of Dickens like this: it was a time of contradictions – wisdom and foolishness, faith and disbelief, light and darkness, hope and despair. Welcome to the timeless human dilemma ” the more things change, the more they remain the same. Take for instance the tyranny of discontent.
On a recent flight from Hartford, Connecticut to Tampa Bay, Florida, I patiently listened as the man seated next to me spoke of his very successful life. William, (not his real name) seemed to have everything. He talked about his beautiful home in an upscale neighborhood, complete with a 12 seat man cave/home theater, wine cellar, custom designer swimming pool, professional tennis courts and an outdoor entertainment area with a fully equipped kitchen. Bill showed me a picture of his lovely wife, said she was beautiful inside and out. He had a daughter whom he described as amazing, talented and attractive. Bill played golf, owned a boat and dined at the finest restaurants. Yes indeed, he was a genuine gentleman of leisure. I said. “Bill, you sure seem like a man who is abundantly blessed, and very content”. The silent pregnant pause that followed was deafening. “That’s what’s missing in my life you know”, he said, “I am restless and never content for very long.” How sad.
Bill is not unique when it comes to discontent. Rich, poor, young, old, male and female – countless people feel that there is something missing from their lives. As a result, they are frustrated and dissatisfied.
Call it the funk. Call it the blues, Call it anything you like. Getting stuck in a “rut” of discontent is anything but fun. And yet, we’ve all been there. Sometimes, life can actually seem just a wee bit boring, even become stale, and monotonous. You know, the same old dull routines. That’s normal. But what happens when you are never satisfied? Let’s talk.
Real contentment must come from within. You and I cannot change or control the world around us, but we can change and control the world within us.” – Warren Wiersbe
I can’t remember exactly when it happened to me. Actually, it wasn’t a singular epiphany at all. Over many years I gradually came to realize that my periods of discontent were actually a series of personal wakeup calls. We all get them you know, and more often than you think. But far too many of us just choose to keep hitting the snooze button when they come, or worse – we ignore the wakeup calls completely. Sooner or later you will either have to confront the root cause of chronic dissatisfaction, perhaps even change some things in your life or you’ll continue to exist within the disturbing realm of discontent.
Once, I lived in my own deluded world where debt, duty and a desk ruled my life. Searching for inner contentment, I switched careers a number of times; worked for myself, and even went to work for “God” (professionally speaking). Over time, life became stable, predictable, and comfortable enough. But something wasn’t quite right. Deep down inside, I was still a malcontent. After years of hitting the snooze button, and blaming everyone and everything around me for my restlessness, it dawned on me: I wasn’t really grasping what I was put here on spaceship earth to do. I had a “God smack” moment – and I didn’t like it at all. But it did lead me to one great realization: only the Creator Himself can fill the spiritual void inside of me. Until I let Him invade my life, contentment would never last for very long. Guess what? I let Him in.
Now here’s the dichotomy: before I could move beyond my discontent, I had to absorb what it really meant to be contented. I’ve yet to grasp it perfectly, but I keep pressing on toward that mark. I learned how to do this from a man named Saul who, like me, was a devotee of the liberator Jesus. Heard of him? You can read all about his life in the Bible’s Newer Testament Book of ACTS.
Saul was a Jew, born in the Roman city of Tarsus somewhere between 5 BC and 10 AD. After quite a dramatic supernatural encounter with the Creator (the Spirit of the resurrected Jesus) he became known as “the Apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13), It was then that he began to use his Roman name, Paul.
Before his “conversion”, Saul was a fiercely religious zealot known for his relentless persecution of the early Christian movement. He was passionate for his Jewish faith to the point of becoming a religious terrorist. Saul believed that he was doing the will of the Lord by killing innocent people. Here is how the Bible describes it:
3 “Paul was like a wild man, going everywhere to devastate the believers, even entering private homes and dragging out men and women alike and jailing them.” (Acts 8:3 TLB)
That all changed when Saul got his “wakeup call”. You can read the full account in the Newer Testament Book of Acts 9:1-22. It turned his life upside down. He would spend the rest of his days on spaceship earth as the Apostle Paul, proclaiming a message of hope and redemption throughout the Roman world. He often claimed to have received his message by supernatural visitations. Through tremendous hardship and suffering he remained steadfast and unmovable in his faith until they finally put him to death. But how did he stay so hopeful and full of joy? Glad you asked. What he learned and what he helped me to comprehend is revolutionary. You ready for it?
11 “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to get along with little and how to live when I have much. I have learned the secret of being happy at all times. If I am full of food and have all I need, I am happy. If I am hungry and need more, I am happy. 13 I can do all things because God gives me the strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13 NLV)
Yes indeed, Paul had learned the true meaning of contentment. In the Almighty, he found inner strength and a deep satisfaction no matter what circumstances he faced each day.
You who say, “If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.” You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled.” – Charles Spurgeon
Look, there is a reason why you so often grow discontent and it has less to do with your fleeting circumstances then you may realize. There is a better way of life calling to you. Deep inside you know this to be true. Your ego, wants you to keep “playing it safe” or believing you are actually “controlling” things. But we all know stability, safety, and control are just man-made delusions. Our lives could be gone in an instant, in spite of our best laid strategies. The Newer Testament writer James put it this way:
14 “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” (James 4:14 NLT)
So, you are a malcontent? Bit of a spiritual Sleepwalker? Me too. Maybe it’s time to stop hitting the snooze bar. WAKEUP CALL! It’s time you let our Creator fill that emptiness inside of you. Are you ready to let Him in? Hey, could I ask you to at least think about what Paul wrote to a friend of his named Timothy?
6 “But godliness actually is a source of great gain when accompanied by contentment [that contentment which comes from a sense of inner confidence based on the sufficiency of God]. 7 For we have brought nothing into the world, so [it is clear that] we cannot take anything out of it, either. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (1 Timothy 6:6-8 AMP)
Contentment. Getting there can be a real struggle. But it’s worth it. I’m just now beginning to really find that out. Oh Happy Days!
Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is a noted author, broadcaster, a popular Bible teacher and a rabbid Coastal Junkie®
For additional information write to: Coastal Life Ministries, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, Florida 34656