Hope for the Unhappy Christian

On the outside, Chloe appears to have it all together. She is single, has a career, and is fairly active in her local church. But she’s lonely, disenchanted by her career, and feels detached from her church. The shell that her peers admire conceals her discontentment and joyless Christianity.

Chloe had envisioned a different life for herself. By now, she thought she’d be in her prime, but she’s found herself in a pit of misery. She thought she’d be married, still connected to her college friends, raising a family, and mentoring younger Christian women. But her present reality disappointed her expectations. Her discontentment has led her down a dark path of sin, searching for relief, but only finding death.

Chloe’s only hope of curing her discontentment and unhappiness is learning the art of contentment and embracing a biblical view of God. Those two things are essential for her joy.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

“The human heart is impossible to satisfy with temporal conditions or earthly goods. We always want more.”

Chloe represents many Christians struggling to cope with the hand they’ve been dealt. Her heart condition not only applies to singles, but the married as well. Every morning, Christians across the country wake up discontent with life — singleness, marriage, career, church, or community — and wish they could trade it for a different one.

Our discontentment leads to wishful but hopeless (and sometimes suicidal) thinking. We attempt to replace and eliminate anything that we perceive is linked to our discontentment:

  • “I hate being single, so I should settle.”
  • “My spouse doesn’t satisfy me, so I should get a new one.”
  • “My job isn’t fulfilling, so I should quit.”
  • “My church isn’t exciting, so I should leave.”
  • “Life is full of misery, so I should end it.”
  • “God doesn’t make me happy, so I should reject him.”

However, the problem is not with singleness, marriage, job, church, or God. The answer to our problem isn’t always linked to changing our circumstance. The Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs wrote,

It is a common saying that there are many people who are neither well when they are full nor when they are fasting. . . . There are some people who are of such irritable and unpleasant dispositions that no matter what condition they are put in, they are obnoxious. There are some who have unpleasant hearts, and they are unpleasant in every circumstance they encounter. (Contentment, Prosperity, and God’s Glory, 1)

Sick or healthy, single or married, rich or poor, fruitful or barren, hungry or stuffed — regardless of the circumstance — we can find a way to be discontent regardless of our plight in life. The human heart is impossible to satisfy with temporal conditions or earthly goods. We always want more. Life could always be better. As Charles Haddon Spurgeon rightly pointed out, “Remember that a man’s contentment is in his mind, not in the extent of his 
possessions. Alexander, with all the world at his feet, cries for another world to conquer.” However, there is a better way — a path that leads to sweet contentment and true happiness.

Sweet Contentment

The Christian’s unhappiness, discontentment, and view of God are directly linked. Discontentment screams, “You deserve better!” and whispers, “God is not giving you what you deserve.” The former screams are blatantly false, but the latter whispers are profoundly true. Satan is the master of mixing lies with truths.

It’s a lie that you deserve better. The statement also assumes that you know what’s best and that God’s gifts aren’t best for you. The lie leads you to believe that you’re wiser than God and interprets his direction for your life as an attack rather than a mercy and gift.

“Even when we’re feeling our worst, God is showing us more mercy than we deserve.”

It’s true that God is not giving you what you deserve. We deserve God’s wrath, yet daily we receive new mercies. How can sickness, suffering, and other tragedies be considered mercy? By realizing that every morning we don’t wake up in hell is an example of God’s mercy toward us. Even when we’re feeling our worst, God is showing us more mercy than we deserve. There is no calamity or tragedy that we can face that is worse than the holy wrath of God. At the same time, there is no earthly pleasure that can compare to the glory that is to be revealed. This is how the apostle Paul faced suffering: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

With this in mind, on our worst day, he’s worthy of thanksgiving and praise for all he’s done. Or, as we used to say in church growing up, “If God never does another thing for us, he’s already done enough.” This view of God’s goodness reflects a humble heart before a holy and good God. This perspective enables us to suffer well, knowing that the best is yet to come.

But we can go even further. As we fight daily against discontentment, we must interpret everything that comes our way as a reason to rejoice. Again, Burroughs writes,

Have good thoughts of God and make good interpretations of his dealings toward you. It is very hard to live comfortably and cheerfully among friends when one makes harsh interpretations of the words and actions of another. The only way to keep sweet contentment and comfort in Christian societies is to make the best interpretations of things we can. Likewise, a primary way to help keep comfort and contentment in our hearts is to make good interpretations of God’s dealings with us. (Contentment, Prosperity, and God’s Glory, 7)

Imagine if we truly believed what the Bible says about how God sees us. It would transform the way we interpret all his actions as mercies. I know that in the midst of my battles with discontentment and besetting sins, it’s hard to view what is happening in my life as anything but a condemnation and punishment.

God’s Mercies, Our Joy

“Our ability to interpret God’s actions towards us as good is inevitably tied to our contentment and joy.”

Like Chloe, our dissatisfaction with life will inevitably lead us into a cycle of discontentment, sin, guilt, and depression if left unchecked. Discontentment will eventually lead to sin, sin to guilt, guilt to depression, and depression back to discontentment. This cycle slowly destroys everything we encounter and touch, leaving us joyless and empty. In order to break this deadly cycle, the pursuit of joy is essential. James 1:2–4 complements the words of Burroughs:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If we joyfully interpret everything that happens — sickness, death, loss, poverty — as actions of mercy rather than judgement, it will transform the way we live as Christians. We must look to God’s inerrant word to find comfort that he indeed loves us and does good toward us. Scripture says,

  • God is the one who helps; therefore, we have nothing to fear. (Isaiah 41:13)
  • God’s love is displayed and proven when he sent his Son to die for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
  • Nothing can separate us from God’s love — absolutely nothing. (Romans 8:35–39)
  • God loves us with an everlasting love. (Jeremiah 31:3)
  • Jesus loves us with the same love that the Father loves him. (John 15:9)

Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, was a man of sorrows (Isaiah 53:3). He was despised and rejected by men, suffered and died for crimes he was innocent of, and soaked up the wrath of God for sins he never committed. God ordained all this. Why? Because God loves us (John 3:16). And since he loves us, we should expect to suffer in this life just as Christ suffered, because “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3–5).

But thank God that, even “as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Corinthians 1:5). Our ability to interpret God’s actions towards us as good is inevitably tied to our contentment and joy. If we’re unable to see his providence as good, we will never be content, and without contentment, we will never fully know the joy he has for us.

(@PhillipMHolmes) served as a content strategist at desiringGod.org. He and his wife, Jasmine, have a son, and they are members of Redeemer Church in Jackson, Mississippi.