Bigger, better, faster, newer...it is often a reason we are always looking for the “next big thing”. It is a reason we don’t commit--to jobs, spouses, churches, you name it. It is a reason we find ourselves obsessed, depressed, or just restless. It is a reason we justify our action or inaction. It begins with two words, “if only”. We find that we cannot say with the apostle Paul, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” because the proverbial grass is always greener on our neighbor’s side of the fence. With the exception of Jesus, coveting due to discontentment in one’s own life is likely something that every human being has experienced. I know I have…frequently.
This is why I so heartily recommend Stephen Altrogge’s book, “The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence,” published by Crossway this year.
I was sent the book last week to read and review by the end of the month. Prior to receiving the book, I was concerned about meeting this short timeline. However, once I started reading the book, it was hard to put down. I attribute this to the fact that the book is: 1) on a topic to which I can easily relate; 2) written in clear language; 3) thought-provoking; 4) funny; and 5) only 139 pages long.
While Altrogge’s writing style is laid back, friendly, and full of humor (much of which is self-deprecating), there are plenty of reasons to read his book besides the fact that it is an easy read. In fact, I believe that I (and you) would benefit most from it by slowly digesting his points and particularly from using them to examine our own lives and motives. In fact, each chapter has half of a dozen or so questions designed to help us do just that.
Altrogge begins by exposing the problem in a way that a broad spectrum of Americans can relate to—whether we are rich or poor and whether our longings are material or immaterial. He then looks at what the Bible says causes our discontentment—namely, our own idol factory hearts. He shifts our focus to the fact that we are not the center of the universe, but rather God is and we are created to “display His worth to the world and to show how great God really is” p. 24. Later on the same page, he says:
“Contentment is created in the shadow of the majesty of God. I become content when I see and treasure and embrace the glory of God. I find contentment when I grasp the fact that life is not primarily about me and my comfort and my happiness. My soul is satisfied when I stop trying to elbow my way into the center of the universe and instead rejoice in and worship the God who really is at the center of all things.” P. 24
I love these words. And the beauty of Altrogge’s book is that these words don’t come across as the lofty or religious condescension of someone who has “arrived,” but rather Altrogge humbly speaks of his own struggles with contentment in a way that gives hope to those of us who find ourselves struggling as well. He acknowledges that we all need to ask God “to let us see…, really see, his majesty, splendor, holiness, beauty, fierceness, and greatness, so much that God captivates our hearts” and that we “need to ask God to help us love His glory” because “we can’t manufacture love for God” on our own. And as he describes in the book, it is this very love alone that rescues us from our malaise of discontent—self denial and idolatry will never suffice for this.
From this key point, Altrogge unpacks some of the lies upon which our discontentment is built—lies about God, ourselves, and this world. In Chapter 6, he lays out the richness of the gospel and our inheritance through it in such a way that not only challenges the lies we have come to believe, but also in turn exposes the laughable inferiority of our alternative “gods”—the things and circumstances we believe will somehow make our lives complete. This chapter is one I see myself re-visiting.
The book shifts to discuss the realities of suffering. I so appreciate this because, instead of offering empty platitudes or unhelpfully suggesting that Christians pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, Altrogge takes to the time to acknowledge the reality that life is painful and that people genuinely suffer—some more than others. He explains that “joyfully embracing God’s will doesn’t mean that we’re always laughing or smiling” p. 88. But through our suffering—big or small--Altrogge unwaveringly points us to one source—Christ Himself. Regardless of our circumstances, Altrogge continually urges us to engage with Christ and to ask Him for the kind of supernatural sincere joy that defies our circumstances and comes only from Christ.
I found the book to be most practical when Altrogge insightfully suggests how we engage with Christ. He says, “We meet Christ through promises, prayers, and people” P. 90. He first directs us to a series of “contentment-giving promises” in the Word. He then leads us to seek God in prayer, asking for “spiritual eyes” to see the “incredible wealth we have in Christ and to be filled with gratefulness for all we receive” pp. 96-97. And then he reminds us that “we cannot grow in contentment apart from the Body of Christ,” reminding us that we “need friends who will turn [our] gaze away from [our] circumstances to the God who never changes” and who will help us see when we are believing lies since our sin deceives us. P. 98
Whether you are going through a season of life where things are going well for you, or whether you going through a season of life where you are struggling, Altrogge’s book will challenge you to consider where your contentment rests. If you read it prayerfully, giving thought to application in your own life, it will not only help you see the areas of your life where your contentment ebbs and flows with your circumstances, but it will also point you to the only One who offers deliverance from this fleeting lesser joy and who calls out to you with all the substance of unshakable, supernatural, circumstance-defying sincere joy that flows only from His hand.