When We Have Not What We Desire

When God acts contrary to our will, disappointment is understandable. But when our desires go unfulfilled and disappointment begins to define us, something else is afoot. It’s often the arrival of discontentment.

I’d like to tell you about Walt. He was a hard-working Christian man. He had a loving family. He was healthy. He had good stock options in his company. But he was discontent. Six months ago, his co-worker Monique received a job promotion that he thought he deserved. He still couldn’t believe it.

Sure, Monique was qualified, but Walt had always dreamed of occupying that position. He’d prayed for it over the last two years, patiently biding his time until the position opened. A competitor,  he played fair but hard, and he wasn’t used to losing.

Now Walt felt as if his star was no longer rising in the company. For the first time in his life, he felt just like “all the others.” He just knew his boss no longer saw him as a go-to guy—he could feel it in his voice. “He’s lost confidence in me,” Walt would whisper to himself during his hourly self-counseling sessions. “He says I’m still vital to the department, but it just doesn’t feel that way.” He couldn’t shake the feeling that he was shrinking right before everybody’s eyes.

His wife suggested he was looking at this all wrong. She finally pressed on his mood towards it all: “Why does this bother you so much?”

It was a great question, but Walt couldn’t come up with an answer. His confusion led to new feelings of disorientation as if he were lost or set adrift at sea. Walt increasingly felt the glow of his life dimming, like a smoldering wick in desperate search of a spark. Walt had to admit, “I have not what I desire.”

He held dreams for the promotion, worked for it, prayed for it, but didn’t get it. And God wasn’t phoning in to offer any explanations.

Defining Discontent

Discontentment happens when our ambitions are frustrated. We aspire to something that seems perfectly legit, but God appears to bail on his part of the bargain. So we stew in self-pity and wonder why God is so sloppy in the way he does business.

Discontentment is a herald announcing that there is more to our ambitions than noble aspirations. And God loves us too much to keep us in the dark.

Walt’s ambitions became engorged with self. Sure, he wanted the role to use the gifts and talents God had given him. That was real and valuable. But a more dangerous agenda took control. Walt began to invest the promotion with identity. As he faced daily the routine of his job, he began to want more… to need more.

But God loved Walt too much to answer that prayer. Closing the door on that ambition was actually God’s protection. Sometimes God’s care means he doesn’t fulfill our desires. Sometimes our unanswered prayers reveal far more about our heart than they do about our God.

James warned Christians about this when he wrote, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3). God doesn’t give bad gifts. He won’t give you something that will stoke the self-centered passions of your heart.

Walt’s response revealed he was not trusting that God is good. He had forgotten that God–not God’s delivery on our dreams–is the source of our greatest fulfillment. Walt mistook God’s gifts for God himself. So when the gift didn’t materialize, he had no joy.

The Secret of Contentment

Paul told the Philippian church that he had learned the secret of contentment. “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Phil 4: 12).

No matter the situation Paul found himself in, whether he was brought high or low, he could face it with contentment. He knew that regardless of what happened to him, God was for him and was at work in his life for good.

I don’t know what difficult circumstance you find yourself in this morning. Maybe you just received an unexpected diagnosis. Maybe a loved one just passed away. Maybe yesterday was a horrible day and today seems even worse. Maybe, like Walt, you feel passed over for some kind of promotion time and again. Perhaps you’re crying out from the dark of depression. Maybe you suffer from chronic pain.

My dear friend, I pray that whatever it is you wouldn’t follow in Walt’s footsteps. Don’t mistake an unanswered prayer for a failure on the part of God. Don’t sink into the depths of discontentment.

Learn instead from Paul who, after much suffering, was able to say, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Tenacious Tuesday Question

How do you respond when God doesn’t answer your prayers? Do you question and argue? Do you get frustrated?
Think over your recent prayers. What do your responses reveal about your heart? What would it look like if you felt God strengthening you to respond to Him?


You, O Lord, are good and do good. I know that everything I experience comes ultimately from your hand and is designed with my good in mind. Help me to receive hard things and disappointments in life not as reasons to be discontent but as purifying fire that burns away the dross of my heart. Amen.


Photo by Lukas Rychvalsky

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