Another Way To Say ‘Alive’

Posted on February 5, 2015


**Originally for publication elsewhere.  I’m not sure if it will end up getting used on that platform, so I’m putting it here just to let it see the light of day.**


One of the fun ways that American evangelicalism has served the global church- and I use the phrase “served” with as much sarcasm as humanly possible- is with its continued deployment of the phrase “God wants you to be ______”

Perhaps you’ve heard it before.  This phrase, with the blank generally filled in with all kinds of comically unbiblical answers such as “rich” or “successful” or “never unhappy” is a stick of lit dynamite which American Christianity has all too often taped to its chest and then asked “Who wants a hug?”

I’m hoping that the examples I provided above are sufficiently laughable in their falseness, despite the number of people filling pews who actually believe them.  The actual answer, if one exists, is far longer and more complex than any one word could ever hope to sum up.  And yet, the popularity of the phrase still seems to persist.  The problem with this is that, sometimes, the blank is filled with a less obviously false word, yet one that, if not nuanced correctly, remains not quite true nonetheless.

Such as this one:  “God wants you to be content.”

Of course, right?

Well…. right.  Sort of.

Scripture describes two categories of experience that frame our understanding of contentment.  The first category is a trust with God’s supply for our needs.  It’s an understanding that he will provide for us materially (Matt. 6:31-32, Luke 12:24), that we can find rest and comfort in Him (2 Cor. 1:3-5), that he has given us everything we require to live on this earth (Phi. 4:19), and that whatever is happening in our lives, we can trust that we have what we need (Psalm 34:10).  What we need, God gives.

The second category, however, is something different.  The clearest example of this (for my money) is below, from the pen of the Apostle Paul in Romans 8.

 “….For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.  And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. “

Paul is describing a fascinating experience- a discontent that co-exists simultaneously alongside our obedient contentedness.

The phrase that Christians have historically used to describe this experience is ‘holy discontent’.  It is rooted in Paul’s phrase “having the first fruits of the Spirit…”  When we become Christians, we are inaugurated into an unfinished experience.  The Holy Spirit gives us the first taste of what it will feel like, one day, to be glorified, perfect, complete, holy.  That final day is, of course, not today.  But because we have tasted what it will be like, because we now have a new longing for the work that was begun in us to be completed, we “groan within ourselves.”  Holy discontent.

By way of analogy, imagine a perpetual night before Christmas, wherein a child anticipates the future riches of presents, long awaited and desired.  Tomorrow they will unwrap them all in such ecstasy the world has never known.  But tonight they lie in bed, so excited they can’t sleep, so impatient that their body seems to ache.

There is a sense, then, that nothing is needed to be done to cultivate discontent in one’s relationship with God.  All that is necessary for discontent is already present within you:  a new nature which desires to obey God and be holy, and an old nature which attempts to thwart you at every turn and will every second, with varying degrees of intensity and success, until the day you die.

Because of that, the holy discontent Paul describes is, frankly, the norm for the everyday Christian rather than the exception.  If one is a Christ-follower and not discontent on some level, even if only a little bit down deep, it is worth exploring, if not the question of “Am I actually saved?”, at least the possibility that perhaps one has grown comfortable with a thing which Jesus himself is not.  After all, if all of creation is groaning for the consummation of a thing and you who is most definitely part of that creation is not really so much- that is not an encouraging asymmetry, yes?

So discontent is a thing which is part and parcel of the daily Christian life.  How then can we stay hungry for it?

Let me suggest that the primary way to do this is by being vigilant about what truths we allow into our lives.

Truth claims are like gravity. They are forces that pull us towards themselves, that bend us and shape us.  If we accept an incorrect truth into our schema, no matter how small, it tugs us towards itself, altering us in the process.

And so if one is currently not discontent, even a little bit, it makes sense to first step back and evaluate any truth claim that might have been allowed to exert that force.  It may be an explicit belief, such as “God doesn’t care about my sin, just about how much I try to love him.”  It may be something more subtle, such as “I don’t have to be in his Word regularly to grow spiritually.”

Whatever it is, if you are currently numb to the groaning that Paul says is a normative experience for all believers, it’s time to ask yourself what’s up.  What un-truth, what lie, has maneuvered past the city walls of your heart and managed to infiltrate the palace court?

Your best, and really only, tool for this process is your Bible.  Good grief, right?  What a square.  Is there a more boring answer?  Sheesh.  How is Pastor Tweets McVisionary supposed to grow a YouTube platform for LifeSprings of NewBlessing Church with that?

Let me phrase it like this:  are you aware of another repository of absolute, authoritative truth claims about your life and the world around you?  Are you aware of any other way to empower your spiritual radar to stiff-arm that vast amounts of not-truth that are lobbed at you every single day, from both inside and outside the church?  No?  Me either!  Fantastic!  So, the Word: start reading it, praying it, and preaching it to yourself- hard.

Good news:  as the Holy Spirit empowers Scripture to cut and pummel and dissect, you’ll find that lie (or lies) soon enough.  If you drag enough lies and disobedience to the cross in repentance, you’ll start to get free.  And once you taste that freedom you’ll want more- more of those first fruits.  All of them, in fact.  You’ll have to wait, of course.  But at least you’ll have holy discontent again- which is just a more spiritual way of saying ‘alive’.

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