Some people love a good conspiracy. Others avoid them like the plague. Stephen Altrogge believes that whether we like it or not we are all part of one big conspiracy. This is not a conspiracy like those involving Area 51 or Lee Harvey Oswald. It is bigger and more sinister. It is a cosmic conspiracy.
In his new book, The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence, Altrogge explains this cosmic conspiracy we are all part of:
It’s a conspiracy between the world, my heart, and Satan to steal my happiness. These three are plotting and scheming together to make me perpetually discontent. They’re stubbornly determined to poison the joy I have in God and to deceive me into believing that I can find happiness somewhere other than God. They want me to dishonor God by gorging on the unsatisfying pleasures of the world instead of finding true joy and satisfaction in Christ. (p. 12)
The cause of discontentment
So what is this conspiracy trying to perpetuate in our lives? Discontentment—specifically, discontentment with what God has given us in Christ.
Where does this discontentment come from? My circumstances or others around me? No—it comes from me. In reference to Mark 7:21-23, Altrogge points out the following:
The problem is me. I am my own worst enemy. The raging, covetous, discontented desires come from within. They’re not the product of my circumstances, and the desires won’t be satisfied when circumstances change. (p. 17)
Throughout Scripture we see that God is the center of the universe and its activities. That means I am not. God made me for Himself (Isa. 43:6-7). “Discontentment begins when I start trying to be God….when I attempt to displace God from his rightful place at the center of the universe” (p. 24).
Discontentment is the symptom of a greater problem—idolatry. “Discontentment is the result of misplaced worship. It’s the result of giving our heart to someone or something that should never have it” (p. 37). We were made to worship God and not the misplaced desires of our hearts.
But this idolatry has its own cause. Our hearts idolize things when we buy into the lies that Satan has fed us. Satan wants us to think that God is withholding good things from us (p. 51). He wants us to think that God owes us something (p. 53). He wants us to believe that if we get what we want we will be happy (p. 55). Further, Satan wants us to believe the lie that we know what is best for ourselves (p. 56). But Satan is wrong on all counts. God gives us everything we need in Christ (p. 52). God owes us nothing because He is our creator. Only God can satisfy, not the things we want. And I do not know what is best for myself.
The Cure for Discontentment
“Contentment is a disposition of the heart that freely and joyfully submits to God’s will, whatever that will may be” (p. 28). It is not an asceticism that rejects all of the good things of life that God has given us to enjoy. It is a self-denial of what I want for myself and a humble submission to what God wants for my life. A truly content person rests their lives in the sovereign will and hand of God.
If the root of discontentment is idolatry then how do we root it out? We do so by putting off these idolatrous desires. We put them off and live in light of the new creatures in Christ that we now are. We do it in the power of the Holy Spirit (p. 43).
But this putting off of idolatry can only come when we bathe ourselves in bloody contentment. “Bloody” refers to the fact that true contentment in life stems from first being content in Christ’s work on the cross. Altrogge explains,
Forgiveness of sins and power to change is possible only because of an exchange far greater than our idolatrous exchange of God’s glory for created things. This exchange is a three-way transaction between God the Father, God the Son and humble sinners who throw themselves on the mercy of God. (p. 60)
At the cross Jesus took our idolatry on Himself and took the wrathful punishment for our sins from God the Father. As idol worshipers we can be restored to fellowship with God because “our wicked exchange is swallowed up in the greatness of the divine exchange” (p. 63).
The net result of this divine exchange is that we now have what we need to be content despite our circumstances—“God himself. The gospel of Christ makes it possible for us to dwell with and be truly satisfied in God” (p. 66). It is the gospel of Christ that “is the fountainhead of contentment” (p. 70).
The process of contentment
So if contentment is found in God through the gospel of Jesus Christ and we have this now, then shouldn’t contentment be immediate? Not so, says Altrogge. If anyone knows the painful process of learning to be content despite circumstances it is the Apostle Paul. Paul was stoned, beaten numerous times and shipwrecked for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet he could reach the other side of it and say, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (ESV, Phil. 4:11).
If Paul had sought his contentment in his circumstances he would have experienced an emotional roller coaster. Instead, “the unbearable weight of Paul’s circumstances forced him to find strength and contentment in God” (p. 81). It was in the thickness of horrible circumstances that Paul cited God’s famous words, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Altrogge aptly states, “In the midst of trials we never expected, God wants to give us grace that we never expected” (p. 82).
So how do we draw on this grace that we never expected? First, we claim the promises of God. This is not a promotion of “name it and claim it” theology. It is a call to claim the promises God has clearly given to us in His Word—promises we are given in Christ. Again Paul states, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19).” Second, we go to God in prayer. Content believers pray for God’s will to be done and not their own (p. 95). Finally, we find strength in people. “Our growth in contentment will only happen in connection with other Christians. We cannot grow in contentment apart from the body of Christ” (p. 97).
I we think we are unable persevere through the tough circumstances, we need only look to Christ. Isaiah 53:3 says, “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” Jesus was a “man of sorrows.” He endured the greatest injustice and yet was content because He had everything in His Father. Because Jesus endured suffering, we can. Because Jesus was content with what He had in the Father, we can be content with what we have in Him.
The contentment thief
Can Christians be robbed of their contentment in Christ? Altrogge suggests we can. Just as Israel complained to the Lord in the wilderness in the face of His provision for them, so we can complain despite God’s gracious provision in our lives. “Complaining proves that discontentment is nearby. It is a slap in the face of God. When we complain, we’re saying that God hasn’t been good to us” (p. 103).
So how do we fight complaining? We count our blessings. We need to thank God continuously for what He has given us. If we always think about what we don’t have and play the “what if” game, we will always be discontented with what God has given us and it will never be enough.
The promise of eternal relief
When we look at the first chapters of Genesis, we see that God made a good creation. We see that man enjoyed fellowship with God. Then we see that fellowship broken by sin—our sin of idolatrous discontentment with what God has given us. Man had fellowship with God in the Garden of Eden then lost it. This fellowship is restored through Christ in an introductory manner. Salvation has been inaugurated in Christ and we now get a taste of its eternal glories. One day, when Christ returns, we will have full fellowship with God because sin will no longer be in the picture. We will enjoy God forever in heaven as we experience “consistent, constant, guilt-free pleasure” (p. 137).
Discontentment is a sin we all struggle with. Stephen Altrogge shows us how to navigate through its idolatrous roots so that we might turn to the heavenly riches we find in the gospel of Christ. I recommend this book for everyone!