Prayers for the Discontent
Updated: Oct 4, 2018
Every day, our hearts are yearning for something.
Sometimes, those desires are good and godly, and other times those desires are inherently sinful. For this blog, we’ll focus on the former—desires for good things that can become inordinate and unhealthy based on our spiritual postures and attitudes. One of the easiest signs that your desires are unhealthy—aka covetous—and inspiring discontentment is that you have inappropriate reactions to the blessings others receive. For example, you may become angry when someone is praised for something at work when your projects go unrecognized, wonder “why not me?” when a friend advances in a romantic relationship while you remain single, or secretly feeling delight when a friend experiences a setback in their career or ministry during a season when you feel like you’re standing still.
The good news is that even if every one of those examples applies to you, God loves you exactly as you are. He even sent His son to die for you while you were still a sinner (Romans 5:8). And it doesn’t stop there! God loves you enough to show you the way of escape out of all temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13) — including discontentment and coveting — so you can experience the joy that comes from walking with and growing closer to Him. But how do you fight those kneejerk envious reactions to other people’s joys and successes?
Our thoughts—as natural as they may feel—don’t always honor the Lord, and we need to renew our minds instead of conforming to the world's ways and our sinful tendencies (Romans 12:1-2). And prayer is a great way to redirect your thoughts from their natural sinful path to one focused on God’s truth. Consistent prayer helps us grow to trust God more and lean on Him instead of our tainted understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6). While there is no magic pill for fighting discontentment, I believe that these three prayers can be a springboard that shifts your mindset from one of discontentment to one of faith, trust, and gratitude.
Pray for the people you envy.
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
As you look at the lives of others, it can be easy to wish that you had what they have or think that you deserve their circumstances more than they do. However, it’s important to remind yourself that God is completely sovereign and that He created good works for His children to walk in (Ephesians 2:10). So God may have given your friends those circumstances as opportunities for faithfulness if they’re believers or as a means to soften their hearts to the gospel if they aren’t. Instead of focusing on the perceived disparity between their abundance and your lack, ask God to help them be faithful with what He has given them. In other words, pray for them to do and use whatever you're envious of for the glory of the God.
Did a friend just get engaged? Pray for God to use their engagement season to strengthen their relationship and to protect them from the conflict and materialism that wedding planning can inspire. Did a coworker just get a promotion that you don’t think they deserve? Pray for them to better understand God’s grace as a result of the blessing they received and for them to work as if for the Lord going forward. If you’re not sure what to pray, ask them! That simple question will help you see the person as a brother or sister in Christ instead of just seeing their circumstances or viewing them as competition, which leads to greater compassion and empathy.
Jesus said that the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40). By entreating God on their behalf and asking God to help them honor Him through the provision He has given them, you’re performing an act of love instead of letting selfish thoughts swirl in your brain and take root in your heart in a way that damages your relationships and prevents you from encouraging others.
Pray for your delights/desires to align with God’s.
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)
Our society is all about following your heart. From sassy t-shirts to philosophical coffee mugs, we are surrounded with messages about how we should embrace and pursue what makes us happy, using our hearts as unquestionably perfect compasses. However, the Bible paints a very different picture of how we should view our hearts. Jeremiah 17:9 says that “[t]he heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” That definitely doesn’t sound like a reliable compass. Thankfully, God is really good at recalibrating hearts—or rather giving us new ones! He takes our hearts of stone and gives us hearts of flesh when we trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior (Ezekiel 36:26). He also continually conforms us into His image as we abide in Him (sanctification).
So when your desires feel so overwhelming that anger, despair, discontentment, and envy begin rearing their ugly heads, ask God to help you desire and what He desires and to be content with what He has given you. Also pray that you would delight so much in His presence and provision that your unfulfilled desires would pale in comparison to the holy discontentment you have as a result of wanting more time with Him. After all, God promises that we will find Him when we seek Him with our whole hearts (Jeremiah 29:13), and that’s one powerful promise!
Pray prayers of thanksgiving.
“[D]o not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
I’m a firm believer that gratitude is a powerful tool for combating a discontent attitude. I don’t just mean giving thanks for your material and spiritual blessings. Yes, we should definitely thank God for the blessings of friendship, steady work, having a home, good health, and more, but we should also thank God for unanswered prayers and difficult seasons. Sometimes, God uses times of deep longing to help us see that our greatest longing should be for Him and to show us just how perfectly satisfying He is in all circumstances.
When we have God, we can be brought low and high, and still be content and fruitful in our faiths because God is the one strengthening us (Philippians 4:11-13). We don’t need the paycheck, title, spouse, children, or clear bill of health that we’re praying for to find joy in or glorify Him. So we can look at unanswered prayers and lingering desires as blessings that point us to God more and even help us show more compassion and kindness to other people during challenging seasons.
Now, even though I just wrote a thousand or so words about how to pray through discontentment, I’m going to be real. Finding contentment in a world full of marketing, movies, and social media that tell you you’re not enough, you don’t have enough, and God isn’t enough is not easy. Every day, you have to wage war on your flesh and debunk the lies that society and the enemy hurl at you to keep discontentment and coveting from stealing your joy and ruining your relationships. However, you can take comfort in knowing that the war will end one day, and you won’t be on the losing side.
Sin and death will be swallowed up in victory because of what Jesus Christ did on the cross (1 Corinthians 15:54-57), and you will have an eternity to spend with God, who brings fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). He will give your soul true rest after a life full of sin-inspired weariness (Matthew 11:28-29). Even if every desire you ever had was fulfilled exactly as you wished, they would just be mere flecks of glitter compared to the radiant majesty that is beholding God in His full glory and experiencing His perfect love as your faith finally becomes sight.
I don’t know about you, but knowing that profound joy is an absolute certainty can free me from idolizing the material abundance I do receive and help me endure even the darkest seasons of unfulfilled longings. So commit to leaning on and praying to God when your desires are roaring their loudest, and just watch how God strengthens you and makes you a little bit more like Him one day at a time.
Kristen Reed, a graduate of the University of Texas at Dallas, is an artist, filmmaker, and author from Dallas, Texas. As a Christian, her faith heavily influences her writing and is the driving force in her life. Visit Amazon to discover her books!