The Cure to Our Restlessness: A Sermon on Finding Contentment in a Restless World

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12/06/2024

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12/06/2024

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The Cure to Our Restlessness Finding Contentment in a Restless World

Struggling with restlessness and discontentment in your work, relationships, or circumstances? Discover biblical wisdom for overcoming this malaise by choosing patience, embracing God’s calling, and blooming where He has planted you. This sermon was preached on 28 April, 2024, in Truth Baptist Church. You can watch the full replay below:

1. Introduction

10 years ago, when I was teaching at my previous school, I was approached by an agent from a multi-level marketing (MLM) company to join a ‘network marketing’ team and build a side business. How it works is that the more customers you recruit under your ‘network’, the more they spend money to buy the company’s products, and the more side income you earn.

At first, I was skeptical. But the way this team works is this: the agent passed me CD after CD to listen to. The content of the CDs was motivational talks based on the concept of Cashflow Quadrant in Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad. It says that Rich Dads are Business Owners and Investors, while Poor Dads are Employees and Self-employed. Employees and self-employed are ‘poor’ because they exchange their time for money – once you stop working, the money stops flowing.

The Cashflow Quadrant by Robert Kiyosaki. Source: High Target

The effect of listening to all these CDs and attending all their events was that I began to despise my current job as a teacher. I started dragging myself to work every day, longing to ‘break free’ from the rat race of being an employee. The whole idea of building up a passive income made me wonder if I can have more ‘freedom’ to spend time with my family and doing the things I want.

I began to feel a strong sense of restlessness.

Now, I am not saying that building a side income stream is wrong. And if you are working with an MLM company, I don’t mean to say that all MLM companies work like this, or that they brainwash their people (because that was precisely what they were doing – I was being brainwashed). I am only sharing my experience with this particular team. Later I’ll share how my story ends.

Feeling Restless in Our Work

What I want to point out is that, this feeling of restlessness is so innate in all of us. We have all experienced that feeling – the restless longing that there must be something better out there. Whether it’s feeling stuck in a job we’ve grown tired of, being discontented with our current circumstances, or simply thinking the grass looks greener on the other side.

According to a 2023 Gallup report, global employee engagement (which measures how involved and enthusiastic the employees are in their work), stands at a miserable 23%. Singapore was sadly below global average – only 13%. I was quite shocked when I read this. This means that over 80% of us are either not engaged or actively disengaged from our work.

bored formal man watching laptop at desk
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Another report estimated that a person will go through 12 job transitions in one’s lifetime. I suspect that part of the reason was because we are not engaged with our work.

What This Sermon is About

Yes, it is natural to complain about our work. But the Bible warns us that this spirit of restlessness can lead our hearts away from fully following Christ. It causes us to despise the very circumstances and callings God has providentially placed us in, constantly looking elsewhere for fulfillment instead of blooming where we’re planted.

In 1 Corinthians 7, the Apostle Paul directly addresses this issue of restlessness. He instructs believers to resist the temptation to constantly change their situations in pursuit of something new. Instead, Paul calls us to find contentment in honoring God right where we are – even in the most difficult of circumstances.

So, how do we find the cure for our restless, discontented spirits? How can we remain faithful and committed to where we are right now, rather than always looking for the exit ramp? This is what we seek to answer today.

2. Digging Deep into the Text of 1 Corinthians 7:17-24

Our text this morning comes from 1 Corinthians 7, where the Apostle Paul addresses a concerning issue in the Corinthian church – a spirit of restlessness about their current circumstances and callings in life.

Corinth was a diverse congregation, made up of believers from vastly different cultural and social backgrounds. As new followers of Christ, they were facing many challenges in living out their new faith amidst the pagan culture around them. One of those challenges seemed to be a dissatisfaction with their present situations – a desire to constantly change things in pursuit of something new or different.

In verse 17, Paul lays down a clear governing principle to counter this restless attitude. He writes:

“Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.”

Notice the language Paul uses here – “retain” the place, “assigned” by God, the “calling” one has received. Paul is instructing believers to resist the temptation to constantly change their situations and circumstances. Rather, they should see their current place in life as a calling, an assignment from the Lord Himself. It’s not something to be quickly discarded or changed, but to be faithfully worked out in one’s life.

Paul then gives two specific examples to illustrate and apply this overarching principle:

Circumcision or Not – It Doesn’t Define You

First, in verses 18-19, he addresses a cultural and religious issue that was causing division – the matter of circumcision. There was controversy over whether Gentile believers needed to be circumcised to be fully accepted. Some Jewish Christians were saying that the Gentiles needed to be circumcised to be fully God’s people. And some former Jews wanted to hide their Jewishness. Paul’s response cuts through the outward trappings:

vv. 18-19 “Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts.”

For Paul, circumcision or uncircumcision was ultimately irrelevant. What mattered was keeping God’s commands – but not in a works-based way of trying to earn salvation. Rather, keeping the commands by faith and through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit in those who are in Christ.

His point is – don’t get hung up on these external cultural or religious identities and practices. What’s important is living out your new identity and calling in Christ faithfully where God has placed you.

Not Even Slavery Can Enslave You

Secondly, in verses 20-24, Paul uses the example of one’s social status, specifically the lowest rung – being a slave. He writes:

vv. 20-24 “Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.”

Even in the most difficult and socially undesirable circumstances imaginable for that day (being an actual slave), Paul says don’t let that trouble you or cause you to be restless. Why? Because your slave status is irrelevant to your new identity and calling in Christ.

For the one in Christ who was once a slave is no longer a mere earthly slave, but is now “the Lord’s freedman.” At the same time, the one who was born free is still just as much a slave – but of Christ. Our true identities and callings transcend our social statuses and circumstances.

Because You Belong to God, Remain Where You Are

So in verse 24, Paul restates and summarizes the governing principle: “Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.”

The core message is this – your primary calling is to Christ Himself. That calling supersedes any secondary callings or situations in life. Therefore, you can honor God and live out your true purpose right where He has placed you currently.

This general principle is thus reiterated 3 times in vv. 17, 20, 24– remain where you are, remain where you are, remain where you are. There is no need for restless discontent.

Of course, as we’ll see, this doesn’t mean we can never change jobs, relocate, or improve our circumstances. Like Paul said in v. 21, if we can gain our freedom as slaves, we should do so.

But it does mean we should see our present place as a God-given assignment – not a situation to be quickly abandoned. Rather than being marked by restless discontentment, our hearts should be steadied by the reality that we can fully honor and glorify God wherever He has us right now.

3. What is Restlessness?

As we just examined in 1 Corinthians 7, the Apostle Paul instructs us to remain in the situation and calling God has providentially placed us, rather than constantly seeking to change our circumstances out of a spirit of restlessness.

But what exactly is this “restlessness” that Paul is warning against? The ancient Christian theologians had a term for it – they called it “acedia.” Acedia is a profound sense of discontent and agitation that causes us to despise our present circumstances.

“I’m Sure That There is Something Better Out There”

At its core, restlessness is that constant feeling that there is something better out there for us . Something that is more fulfilling than our current job, relationships, or station in life.

  • We became increasingly dissatisfied with the roles, relationships, and responsibilities God has given us right now
  • We obsessively daydream and fantasize about other opportunities, callings, or greener pastures 
  • We’re always looking for the next exit ramp out of our present circumstances
green and white male gender rest room signage
Photo by monicore on Pexels.com

Restlessness keeps us from being fully present and engaged. Though our body may be present, our minds and hearts have drifted. We are discontented with where we are.

‘How do I know if I’m feeling restless?’

This spirit of acedia manifests itself in many areas of our lives:

  • In our work – We carry out tasks half-heartedly, constantly fantasizing about other careers we wish we had instead of giving our full effort
  • In relationships – We are impatient and take people for granted, always wondering if the grass is greener with other friends, spouses, or communities
  • In church – We are chronically discontented, always looking to “church hop” to the next trendier congregation rather than blooming where we’re planted
  • In school or studies – We struggle with boredom and lack of dedication, our minds drifting to all the other subjects or activities we wish we were doing instead

The signs of restlessness are all around us if we care to admit it. We are unable to be fully present where God has us.

Restlessness Reveals Our Deeper Discontent

But more than just its outward signs, our restlessness is ultimately a symptom of a deeper heart issue. Restlessness reveals:

  • A lack of gratitude for the specific circumstances, relationships, and means of provision God has placed in our lives
  • A failure to see our present situation as a loving assignment and calling from God for our own growth
  • An underlying lack of trust in God’s timing, wisdom and purposes for placing us where we are

Restlessness stems from a discontented, ungrateful heart that fails to recognize God’s loving providence in our lives. It betrays a lack of faith that God has placed us in these exact circumstances, whether easy or difficult, to shape us into who He wants us to be.

As we’ll see, the cure for this malady of restlessness is not to constantly look for exits or new opportunities to escape our circumstances, It is to choose patience and learn to bloom where God has planted and called us for this season.

4. The Cure to Restlessness: Cultivating Christ-Centered Patience

If restlessness is the problem, what is the cure? The answer is found in the fruit of the Spirit – patience. This patience is the steadfast ability to remain faithful and committed right where God has planted us. It is filled with the hope that God is working out His eternal purposes in these temporary assignments.

Patience is the steadfast ability to remain faithful and committed right where God has planted us. Source: Generated with AI

A. Choosing Not to Run Away

The first step in overcoming restlessness and cultivating patience, is to choose not to constantly run away. Instead of physically or mentally checking out, we are to:

See reality as it is

When we remain present, we will stop living in our own fantasy world. We will stop daydreaming about ‘what if I am in that job instead of this one?’ We’re forced to honestly see our circumstances for what they truly are.

Accept your situation as God’s assignment

So, rather than resenting our circumstances or asking “why me?”, we must have the patient faith to accept that these are not accidental – they are God’s providential assignment.

Be ready for God to change you and deal with the underlying issues in your heart

Like it or not, in one sense we are ‘stuck’ with the company, the colleagues, the family and the community we are in. And that is a good thing. Why? Because there are things that God can teach us right here, right now.

So let Him deal with the issues in your heart. If you’re in your 5th job and you’re still having conflict with your bosses and co-workers, maybe the problem is with the pride in your heart. Let God deal with that pride before opting for another job.

Gain wisdom on when to truly move on

This isn’t to say we can never change jobs, citizenships, or relationships etc. When Paul instructed us to stay in the calling in which you were converted, we ought not to take and apply it in an absolute and wooden sense. How do we know? Because Paul himself has allowed exceptions to this principle all along. We also know this because the Bible describes and approves these kinds of changes in status, from time to time.

When you go to the Old Testament you see that there is provision there for slaves to be made free. And when you look at the New Testament we see Matthew – a tax collector, who became a preacher and apostle and we see fishermen who became missionaries. And there are some jobs in which you simply could not remain and honor God – like prostitution or some other form of immoral activity.

So, there is nothing wrong with people wanting to improve their job situation, learn new skills, or train and prepare for new careers. But when we make those decisions, we need godly wisdom, which comes only when we choose patience over restlessness. If you need to leave your current place or station, it must come from a place of deep assurance from the Lord, that your duty at this station is done and it is time to move on to a new calling from the Lord. It should not come from a restless urge to run away.

B. Bloom where you’re planted

 As we choose patience over restless escapism, we’re freed up to truly bloom and bear spiritual fruit right where God has planted us

photography of flower field
Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

Use your current gifts and talents

Instead of coveting abilities, experiences or platforms we don’t have, we can finally steward and maximize the gifts God has already given.

Grow in love, commitment, contentment

Galatians 5:22-23 says,

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.

By staying put even when it’s hard, we cultivate the fruit of the Spirit like love, patience, faithfulness and self-control. We learn commitment and contentment in Christ. Through our work, God began to do the deeper re-shaping of our character that we so desperately need.

Godly patience leads to contentment. Towards the end of his life, Paul wrote from prison:

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13)

Live at the center of your calling

The pastor Frederick Buechner once said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

Source: AZ Quotes

When we choose the virtue of Christ-centered patience and remain rooted in our present circumstances, we begin to take joy in using our gifts and talents to serve the people God has called us to.

When we meet the needs of these people in the way that we uniquely can, we are feeding the ‘deep hunger’ of the world. We are walking right at the center of our calling.

There is a sense of deep, inexplicable peace, a steadfast ‘anchored-ness’, when we realize that we are living God’s purpose for our lives.

Read More: How to Find Your Calling

How did my story of restlessness end?

So how did my story of restlessness end? I was very conflicted about whether to take on this side hustle of doing network marketing. Remember that what drew me was the idea that I could get more freedom and time for my family and my interests? What put the brakes on me was a casual conversation with another Christian. She said that her sister happened to be in this same business as well, and was one of the ‘emeralds’. But she ended up having to deliver speeches and attend events everywhere, that she have little time for her family!

I asked myself, so what if I attained the ‘success’ in this business, and lose the very things I was working for? The promises of ‘passive income’ fell apart.

After pulling out from it, I began to reflect on my godless attitude towards work. I came to realize that there was nothing shameful about working as a teacher. The Lord Jesus Himself was a Teacher! And we are handling God’s truth in our subject discipline, and passing it on to the next generation of students.

My love for teaching was rekindled as I aligned myself with these truths. My deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger met. So I stopped trying to run away, and patiently faced the issues that had troubled me in my workplace.

Unexpectedly, by the end of that year I was offered a new promotion to be the Head of Department in another school. As I reflected upon this, I realized that it was after I finally accepted my old calling as a teacher, before the new calling as a HOD came. But the call would not have come if I was still struggling with the urge to run away.

God can use restlessness to drive us to Himself

So far, we are looking at examples of worldly restlessness. Of course, this isn’t to say that all experiences of restlessness are automatically sinful or bad. Just like the examples of Jacob (Genesis 28:10-22), Joseph (Genesis 37-50), or the woman at the well (John 4), God can use seasons of restless longing to ultimately drive us deeper into dependence on Him.

As Augustine famously wrote in his Confessions about his own struggle: “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”

St. Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430): “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” Picture source: Wikipedia

Are you struggling with restlessness right now? God may be allowing this period of restlessness to expose the emptiness of your earthly pursuit. Jesus invites us to bring our weary souls to Him, in Matthew 11:28-30:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The cure isn’t the complete elimination of all restlessness. It’s to exercise patience as we wait upon the Lord. Our hearts may still experience dissatisfaction with present circumstances at times. But a patient, faithful spirit centered on Christ empowers us to remain present and engaged in those assignments, resting in God rather than running away.

5. Conclusion

To close, let’s briefly recap the main points we’ve covered regarding the malady of restlessness and its cure of Christ-centered patience:

  • Restlessness, or acedia, is that pervasive sense of discontentment with our present circumstances and callings
  • It stems from an ungrateful heart that fails to see God’s loving providence and purposes in our current assignments
  • Rather than constantly looking to exit our situations, Scripture calls us to remain faithful and bloom where we’re planted

Embrace God’s Calling in Our Present Circumstances 

While this doesn’t mean we can never change jobs, relationships or locations, it does require us to approach those decisions patiently and wisely. Not from a place of restless escapism.

We are called to be faithful stewards and hope-filled sojourners in whatever situation God has us for this present season – whether easy or difficult, mundane or glamorous. Our identity is not set by our circumstances, but by our primary calling in Christ.

So by God’s grace, let us resist the deadly pull of acedia and its grumblings against God’s loving assignments. Let us embrace patience rather than restlessness as we seek to honor our King Jesus right where He has sovereignly planted us.

When we do, we’ll find that the things that once seemed so tedious or unfulfilling are actually filled with God-given meaning. Our obedience amid restlessness becomes an act of worship.


References

Taking Your Soul to Work: Overcoming the Nine Deadly Sins of the Workplace, by  R. Paul Stevens and Alvin Ung

This article is part of a series of posts about calling and work. Check out the other articles that explore how we can live out our calling in the world of work:

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