The Tension of Dissatisfaction

“You have tested my heart; You have visited me in the night; You have tried me and found nothing (nothing evil); I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress…As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.” Psalm 17:3, 15

A couple of nights ago, I went to sleep with my affections and attention focused intently on God. I’m aiming at making this my nightly practice. After prayer, I shift all that I am to just gaze at Him, and from there be carried off into rest.

Except that I didn’t get carried off to rest. Instead, I got carried into a night full of tension. I found myself in conversations with God that left me feeling conflicted and torn. I had peace, but I also had burden. I knew I had encountered His presence, and I also know His presence was pulling me into new territory.

I wish I could agree with King David today.  I wish I could say that, upon searching my heart, God has found nothing dark or evil in me.  But the struggle is real as I face today, and as I invite God to search me out, I am already aware that there is ugly dwelling within me. 

Do you ever have those days when you just wake up nasty?  The kids don’t even have to open their mouths (although they do…) and you’re already irritated with them.  The mess that didn’t bother you yesterday is unbearable today.  The guy talking or singing on Youtube or the television just needs to be quiet…you know what I mean, right?

Ah, but God is faithful to speak to troubled hearts like mine each day from His Word!  The title of Psalm 17 in the version above is “Prayer with Confidence in Final Salvation,” and so I am reminded, again, that all is not lost over a sour disposition.  Although I may not be like David today, or like Jesus,  that’s the goal I am inching toward, and God won’t walk away until I have arrived.  He meets us in our rough-edgedness and, with His love and grace, gently guides us through to a better place.  

A few key things stand out to me as I read this passage today.  First, it’s God’s job to search us, and it’s our job to surrender to the searching.  David shows us that surrender doesn’t have to be a hostage situation.  It can actually be an invitation! 

I think we tend to either hide from God – fearing His all-seeing, all-knowing eyes – or else we willingly expose ourselves (airing out all our dirty laundry with wincing eyes), and then drown in the sea of what we find there. We forget that the point of exposing our ugly is for God to save us from it, not for us to be overwhelmed by it. And so, either way – whether we hide or whether we bare all, we still dread the thought of surrendering.

God, however, is faithfully committed to the purging and purifying of our messy hearts…out of which flow messy lives and ugly attitudes. He tests us (usually with lack in a particular area…maybe even an apparent lack of His presence) in order to reveal what’s in our hearts. He intends for this deprivation, this place of recognizable discontentment, to help us recognize the depth of our need for Him, and to ensure that we are not deceived into settling for less than Who He is and what He intends for us. 

Here’s a relevant example: We are beginning a new school year today. Like many parents, I woke up with a sense of dread about the many challenges I will face today. I am very aware of my lack in many areas when it comes to schooling my children. I know it will require gifts, talents, time and abilities (even some desires) I do not have.

Although I’ve done this for many years, I still begin every year with fear and dread (admittedly it lessens year by year, but is still a battle I am fighting). I want things to be easy. I want them to be more comfortable and less challenging than they are. I want what I do not have and what I cannot produce.

The easy landing place would be this sense of discontentment with my situation, which – in the wrong hands (my own or that old, snaggle-toothed devil) would swiftly prompt me to find a way around the difficult parts of it. I am tempted every year, and again this morning, to avoid the discomforts of the discontentment, somehow. I can discover a whole lot of creativity here, if I let my own determination kick in!

But up through the quicksand of the discontentment plaguing my heart comes the mercy of God, exposing the places where my character lacks strength and my faith lacks maturity. And I know I have a fresh choice before me again today: I can hide behind excuses, I can look for ways around the hard parts, or I can yield myself honestly to His shaping hands, and I can grow and I can step into what I know are His beautiful plans for me, and for my children. And ultimately, for all whose lives we will rub up against.

I am reminded afresh that we need not fear God’s searchlight, and we need not fear what is discovered by it.  Though I may be found guilty of a whole mess of ugliness, still He will not forsake or abandon me, and so this becomes my new landing place: right in the middle of a mess I don’t really want to embrace, but which invites me into more than I can see right now.

I think I’ll stay.

I’m reminded of something else today, as well. If David, who was found with no evil in his heart at this particular moment of being searched, purposed not to sin with his mouth, how much more should I – when I know I am filled with ugly, evil thoughts? 

When we have days like I’m having today – days when we are fully aware of the distance between where we are and where we should be – it’s best to just stay quiet and let the roving thoughts be captured by God instead of aiming them at people or speaking them into our already difficult circumstances.  Instead, we can purpose our hearts in times of discontent and distress to be still and look toward God, Who is redemptive in everything He allows us to be challenged by.

We can believe the best, instead of rehearsing the worst.

David wrote this Psalm from a place of tension.  Maybe at the time of this particular prayer, David was innocent, but we know he didn’t live a perfect life.  He sinned, and he sinned greatly before both God and man. There were times of victory and times of great defeat in His life, just like ours. And just like us, there were times when he found it easy to come before God, because his heart was less messy. And there were times when he avoided it because of the mess he knew he carried there. Nevertheless, his pattern was still to come before God. In times of tension and in times of ugly, shameful mess, still he humbled himself and came.

The beautiful part about this passage is that the tension he carried was one that he knew would never go away. Mess or not, he had agreed to embrace a discontentment which would plague his life until death. He had agreed to own it, to sit in it, and not to run from it or find a way to ease it. He closed the Psalm with the confession that he wouldn’t be completely satisfied until the day He was found to be like Jesus.  And between that day and the day in which he then lived, he would only see glimpses of that goal, because our ability to be perfect and complete is only attainable as we walk in Christ. 

David would try to live as God had called him to, and he would know both success and failure.  And the momentary successes would be beautiful and encouraging, but those were meant to be tastes of the life yet to come, encouragements to press in and press on.  And the failures would be discouraging and painful, but he would take his hope in the confidence He had from God’s Word that ultimate, final transformation would come one day. If he could, and would, just hang on, God would complete everything He began in David.

He will do the same for us.

The world views dissatisfaction as an ailment to be cured.  But the Christian – the man or woman after God’s heart – views dissatisfaction as a holy tension we must learn to live in, because we know, like David knew, that true satisfaction can only be found in true transformation – the realization of oneness and identification with Christ. 

So while the world pursues temporary solutions to a deeper craving, the Christian lies awake at night or rises up each day with fresh determination (even amid discouragements and frustrations), denying superficial temptations to answer the craving with lesser things. We choose to wait for God to test and search our hearts. 

The world fills itself with emptiness and is driven mad, while the children of God empty themselves of all pretended fullness and are driven deeper into the mystery of hunger that has no end, yet makes us full.  

Can we pray today for God to change our minds about surrender, and about discontentment? Can we pray for the courage to let Him test and try our hearts, to search us out, even if by denial of the comforts and privileges we wish we had?

Dear Woman of Breakthrough, would you ask Him to grant you the strength to deny all pretended solutions to the dissatisfaction of your heart long enough to let that dissatisfaction drive you deeper into Him?  There is a God-given cry in every heart for “more than this,” but we are sometimes so full of the things that satisfy us for a moment, we can’t hear that cry. 

Sometimes breakthrough comes by staying through…

Are you willing to be still and listen?  Are you willing to be hungry, to live in the tension of dissatisfaction that takes its true fill only from one source?  It may seem like a lot to consider, but I promise it’s worth it, because even in the most aching moments of discontentment, you will know with confidence – like David knew and like I know – that God won’t leave you where you are. 

He will come, at just the right moment, with just the right gift to satisfy your soul.  And daily – even on your worst days – you will rest in the truth that He is still transforming you, and you will one day see ultimate satisfaction in the face of Jesus, Whom you have become the mirror image of.

So don’t avoid the tensions in your life and heart today. Step into them, because what you discover there will be like nothing you’ve ever tasted. He Who made You holds the power to sustain and satisfy you!

{Photo images courtesy of}

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