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Review of Bill Hybels, “Holy Discontent”

Review of Bill Hybels, “Holy Discontent”

Review of Bill Hybels, Holy Discontent: Fueling the Fire that Ignites Personal Vision.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007.

What really sets you off?  What are the things in life that really get your blood boiling?  In this short, provocative, and easy-to-read book, Willow Creek’s Bill Hybels uses his pastoral fluency to challenge the reader to consider what he calls their “holy discontent,” which consists of a sort of God-given righteous indignation and to channel this discontent in positive directions.  The back-cover blurb summarizes the book very concisely: “Hybels invites you to consider the dramatic impact your life will have when you willingly convert the frustration of your holy discontent into fuel for changing the world.”

Before I proceed with the review I should offer a bit of context.  I saw the title at the bookstore at Gardendale’s First Baptist Church in Gardendale, Alabama on July 13, 2008, and it stuck out for two reasons.  First, I had a passing familiarity with Hybels and his ministry.  Second, Gardendale pastor Kevin Hamm had just given a message on contentment based on a passage from Philippians 4.  From the promotional text on the book jacket it appeared that the book would address a lot of issues in which I am interested.

I found the book to be both timely and revolutionary.  It asks a set of questions and teaches lessons that are important to Christians and non-Christians alike.  Life is frustrating, and unfocused rage can be exhausting.  So how can we channel our discontent in more positive directions?

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Hybels bases his book around a very simple question: “why do people do what they do?”  This is based on a simple observation: people expend a lot of time, effort, and energy to change the world, and not always in ways that render material benefits.  In the language of the great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, people act in order to remove “felt uneasiness” or to transform their environment into one that they find more suitable.

What Mises calls “felt uneasiness” Hybels calls “holy discontent,” and he compares it to and contrasts it against the spiritual principle of contentment.  Contentment and holy discontent are somewhere along the spectrum between inert complacency and unthinking, unfocused rage. Holy discontent is a motivation to action that is tempered by the Holy Spirit.

Hybels illustrates his points with Biblical patterns and twentieth century examples, noting for example that Moses became useful to God because of the injustices he observed and could not stand (pp. 20-21).  I should mention here that Moses was motivated by holy discontent, but when he tried to take care of business by his own ideas and his own methods, he failed miserably, sacrificing his credibility with the nation of Israel by killing an Egyptian.

The failures of our Biblical examples are encouraging, and Hybels encourages us to take God’s perspective on our fellow man.  Every person should be labeled “work in progress,” and it should be unsurprising (and un-discouraging) when our zeal for God’s house issues in mistakes and shortcomings.

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To use a more modern pattern, Hybels discusses the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. as an example of someone taking something he could stand no more and effecting change.  Even today, people delight in pointing out King’s personal and professional failures.  Indeed, there was much in King’s politics, economics, and personal life that was objectionable.  But the same applies to King David, whose failures and shortcomings are immortalized as part of Holy Writ.  We shouldn’t infer from this that God excuses everything; rather, we should take comfort from this in the knowledge that God can use people in spite of their failures and shortcomings.  That Dr. King was imperfect should surprise no one.  That God used him in spite of this to usher in a peaceful revolution in the way the United States conceives of the proposition that all men are created equal should inspire everyone.

Most of the remainder of the book consists of examples and applications.  He discusses the fire in some hearts for children’s ministry, women’s ministry, poverty alleviation, revival, and other matters.  His discussion of children’s ministry was especially compelling as he pointed out the workers at Willow Creek who, taking the view that some percentage of the children at Willow Creek on any given Sunday are, have been, or will be abused, seek to provide an environment in which the kids can be comforted, cared for, and loved.  The trials and travails of daily life that seem so important fade to black when God shines his light on real injustice and others’ pain.

Hybels’s goal is to help people channel their deep discontent—and such discontent can be healthy—into effective action, noting on pages 50 and 51 that there has to be a purpose for our lives between salvation and death.  Quoting Ephesians 2:10, Hybels notes that we are to dedicate ourselves to good works.  This point can be summarized in the following passage from page 41:

Truly there’s nothing more inspiring than a person who transforms something he just can’t stand into the kind of positive energy that advances restoration in the world.  This is what’s at work every time a check gets sent from a grateful heart to a worthy cause, all in the name of “doing good” in the world.  It’s what’s at work every time a person steps into a church or a civic center or a reliev agency’s tent with an “I’m here to serve” attitude—and does so after logging forty or sixty or eighty hours at their “real” job each week.  It’s also what’s at work when that real job is more than a path to a paycheck; it is an avenue for releasing a little pent-up holy discontent tension.

Incubating clarity takes time, though.  Hybels advises baby steps (pp. 67-68) while at the same time advising a resolute forward march against the Goliaths of our lives (pp. 70-71).  He counsels a conscientious and self-aware view of the areas where we really think we need to see change. Rather than fighting the impulses we feel when something really drives us crazy, he suggests that we feed rather than fight the missional feelings that God gives us.  He cites further the example of U2’s Bono, a rock star who has no doubt made many rock star mistakes but who shines as a “1000-watt bulb,” to paraphrase Hybels, and as a living expression of his faith.  I disagree with Bono about a great many things related to economic development policy, but his earnestness and his willingness to seek out wise counsel (such as Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs) are admirable.

Here I diverge from a traditional review and consider some of the take-home points I have gleaned from this book.  Business writer Seth Godin has suggested that one should not read a business book without resolving to change at least three things as a result.  Here I echo this advice.  Holy Discontent is not a business book per se, but it is a call to action.  I would like to combine Hybels’s message with some of the things I have learned as an economist to help the reader formulate an action plan that can complement the book.

With respect to good works, we should think hard and have a nuanced understanding of what we seek to change. This requires that we seek wise counsel.  I mentioned earlier that I think Bono’s views about the process of economic development are incorrect (and have gone on record to this effect), but he has done something that few celebrity activists have done.  He sought the assistance of the very best; indeed, his relationship with development economist Jeffrey Sachs resulted in Bono’s writing the introduction for Sachs’s book The End of Poverty.  I am more inclined to fall on the other side of the development debate, agreeing primarily with New York University economist William Easterly, but we should all follow Bono’s example by seeking to develop a nuanced understanding of the problems we seek to solve.

We should also “see then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, for the days are evil,” continuing steadfastly in prayer and fellowship (Ephesians 5:15-16).  The world will fill all of our time with demands on our attention, which means that we will often be tempted to put off the things that are important in order to take care of things which are merely urgent. This suggests two action steps.

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We would all do well to take an inventory of our commitments and of the things that create in us a sense of holy discontent.  Then we should apply what has come to be known as the “80/20 rule,” a rule developed based on the writings of the Italian economist Vilifredo Pareto.  Pareto pointed out an interesting empirical regularity: approximately eighty percent of output comes from about twenty percent of inputs, and approximately eighty percent of problems come from about twenty percent of inputs.  This suggests that we should look for and seek to develop the twenty percent of our commitments that create eighty percent of our meaningful results while discarding the commitments we have that are very heavy on the inputs but very light on the output.

This requires a degree of discipline, review, and reflection that I, quite honestly, have struggled to implement.  Particularly as technology changes and as we become more productive, the demands on our time will only increase.  The temptation to sacrifice what is important and productive in order to do things that are trivial and perhaps unproductive can be, at times, overwhelming.  Over time, however, we can develop the discipline necessary to change the things that create in us a sense of holy discontent.
In my estimation, Bill Hybels has written a very important book.  It is by no means a “how to” manual on dealing with holy discontent, but it offers a scriptural and practical foundation on which to build our lives and ministries.  Hybels’s book is short and easy to read, and in this sense it is a literary manifestation of Shakespeare’s idea that “brevity is the soul of wit.”  The book has changed my outlook on life, and I expect it will do the same for others, too.

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Last Updated on May 21, 2019

13 Bad Habits You Need to Quit Right Away

13 Bad Habits You Need to Quit Right Away

Creating your productivity ritual — a routine that helps you to maintain a peak level of energy can get you the best out of your days.

Part of creating your productivity routine involves removing activities that drain you (what I call “kryptonites”), and that includes your bad habits.

Like it or not, bad habits are bad for you — mentally, physically, emotionally and even socially in some cases. While some bad habits are harder to quit than others, it doesn’t change the fact that you need to get rid of them. Here are 13 bad habits to quit right away:

1. Stress Eating

I used to be a serious stress eater. I would eat whenever I felt unhappy, stressed, disappointed, anxious, or even… happy! My eating had nothing to do with being hungry, and everything to do with using food to fill my emotional voids.

While eating would comfort me, this feeling was momentary and would disappear right after I was done eating. Instead, what I had left would be the same emotional void that triggered me to eat in the first place (be it unhappiness or stress), a 2,000 excess calorie intake over what I should have eaten for the day, and anger at myself for having stress ate.

I’ve since overcome stress eating. I have healthy eating habits and a healthy relationship with food today where I no longer use food as a tool to fill my emotions.

If you are a stress eater, don’t fret — here’s how to manage your stress better:

How to Manage Stress (A Step-by-Step Guide to Turn Stress Into Success)

2. Nail Biting

Not only is nail biting unhygienic, it is also socially repelling, leads to dental problems like malocclusion of the anterior teeth,[1] potentially cause stomach problems,[2] and lead to severely deformed fingernails in the long run.

People who bite their nails tend to have shorter nails than the average person; their nail plates also experience scarring and may eventually become absent.[3]

Understand what triggers your nail biting behavior and replace it with another neutral to positive habit. Make habits to break habits.

For example, if you bite your nails when you are stressed, go for a walk or listen to music instead the next time you feel stressed.

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3. Hanging out with Naysayers

We all know these people — people who play devil’s advocate to every idea you have and every goal you want to pursue. We are already our greatest self-critics, so it doesn’t help when there’s someone beside us, ever ready to pounce on what we say and tear it down.

Hang out less with these naysayers and spend more time with supportive people who share constructive feedback instead. You will be much happier this way.

Learn how to get rid of naysayers with these 10 Ways to Ignore the Naysayers and Achieve Your Dreams.

4. Being with People Who Don’t Appreciate You

Haven’t all of us been in this situation before? Trying to please people who don’t appreciate us? Bending over backwards to be there for people when they are never there for us?

While we give without expectations of return, we need to draw a line with people who don’t value us because these people damage our souls.

Stop spending time with people who don’t appreciate you, and spend more time with people who do instead.

Unsure who you should get rid of? Learn about it here: 5 Kinds of Toxic People That You Need to Get Rid of Now

5. Smoking

Smoking is one of the leading causes of preventable death globally.[4]

In just the United States alone, about 500,000 deaths are attributed to smoking-related diseases annually. A recent study estimated that as much as one-third of China’s male population will have significantly shortened life-spans due to smoking! Gender-wise, male and female smokers lose an average of 13.2 and 14.5 years of life respectively — that’s over a decade of life right there.[5]

Not only that, smoking causes pre-mature skin aging (i.e. wrinkles), yellowing of teeth, bad breath, and worse of all — jeopardy of the health of people around you, including your loved ones. Studies have shown that non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke are at risk to many of the health problems associated with direct smoking.[6]

Smoking risks

    6. Excessive Drinking

    All of us know that drinking too much alcohol is bad for us, but do you know how bad it really is?

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    According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, drinking too much — be it on a single occasion or over time — can seriously damage your health:[7]

    • Brain problems: Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, making it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.
    • Heart diseases: Cardiomyopathy – Stretching and drooping of heart muscle, Arrhythmias – Irregular heart beat, stroke, high blood pressure
    • Liver diseases: Steatosis or fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, cirrhosis
    • Pancreas problems: Pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.
    • Different types of cancer: Mouth, esophagus, throat, liver, breast

    If you drink a lot, perhaps cutting it out right away will be tough. Cut down the number of glasses you drink each time, followed by the number of times you drink a week.

    If need be, seek help from an AA group — you aren’t alone in this. Change starts from today.

    7. Eating Junk Food (Including Diet Soda)

    Junk food — they are everywhere in our society today. From McDonald’s, to KFC, to Burger King, to 24-hour takeouts, junk food such as fries, highly processed burgers and sodas has become a staple in our society today.

    If you think, “Hey, but junk food is tasty!”, think again:

    A study by Paul Johnson and Paul Kenny suggests that junk food consumption alters brain activity in a way similar to addictive drugs like cocaine and heroin.[8]

    “After many weeks with unlimited access to junk food, the pleasure centers of rat brains became desensitized, requiring more food for pleasure.”

    And you wonder why you seem to crave fast food when you just had some the day before?

    While it may not be possible to remove junk food completely from our diet right away, we can reduce our junk food consumption starting today. Instead of soda, opt for a fruit juice (fresh juice, not the carbonated kind) or mineral water. Instead of fries, switch to mashed potato, a salad, or rice (many food outlets allow for this today). Instead of a fried meat patty, go for a grilled one.

    Where possible, opt for healthy food joints like salad bars and delis as opposed to fast food outlets. Every little step goes a long way.

    Here’re some healthy snacks ideas for you: 15 Healthy Snacks You Should Always Have At Home

    8. Eating Too Much Red Meat

    There has been conclusive evidence that consumption of red meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer; and suggestive evidence that it increases the risk of oesophageal cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, and endometrial cancer.

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    In addition, some studies have linked consumption of large quantities of red meat with breast cancer, stomach cancer, lymphoma, bladder cancer, lung cancer and prostate cancer![9]

    Personally, I’m a vegetarian so I don’t consume red meat, but for those of you who consume red meat, do watch out and limit your intake — better still, cut it out of your diet. World Cancer Research Fund recommends limiting intake of red meat to less than 300g (11 oz) cooked weight per week, “very little, if any of which to be processed.”

    Of if you’re thinking about becoming a vegetarian, check out this guide: 5 Practical Tips For Starting a Vegetarian Lifestyle

    9. Watching Too Much TV

    I stopped watching TV since eight years ago and I have never regretted it. Every once in a while I will switch on the telly to see what is on, and then I will switch it off because it’s just the same boring shtick over and over again.

    Watching TV, particularly well-written dramas, can be a good way to unwind. However, remember that TV isn’t your life.

    Spending three hours every night watching TV will not change your life for the better. Rather, using that time to reflect on your life, take stock, and take action on your goals will.

    It’s not easy to remove TV from your daily routine right away, but follow these 6 Steps To Remove TV From Your Life.

    10. Being Late

    Not only is being late being rude to others, it also means that you’re always rushing from one place to another, playing catch up in your agenda, and having to apologize to every person you meet.

    Stop being late and not being punctual, but practice being early instead. Target to arrive 15 minutes earlier before any appointment and bring along something to do in those 15 minutes (or longer if the other person turns out to be late). Then you can stop playing catch up and stay ahead in life.

    Learn more tips about how to be more punctual here: How to Be On Time Every Time

    11. Being in Bad Relationships

    Are you always dating the wrong guys/girls? Do you end up with jerks all the time? Well, you may not be able to stop yourself from meeting bad partners but you can certainly stop yourself from furthering contact with them, spending time with them, or even… entering into a relationship with them.

    I used to invest myself in this guy who was nothing but toxic for me. After a good five months of experiencing nothing but getting burned over and over again, I realized that he was a total waste of my time and I deserved better. I decided to cut him off, and it was soon after that I met my soulmate.

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    Learn about why you shouldn’t stay in a bad relationship and how to deal with it if you’re in one: Why Trying Hard to Stay in an Unhappy Relationship Is Not Love, but Fear

    12. Leaving Things to the Last Minute

    Burning the midnight oil isn’t fun — it’s exhausting.

    Those of you who got through college by burning the midnight oil would have learned this the hard way. Not only is it damaging for your body, it is also mentally draining as you’re constantly in a hyper-tense mode, feeling anxious about whether you can finish your work on time.

    Start today on a new note. Rather than react to your deadlines, be proactive about them by planning ahead, identifying what needs to be done for the week, and getting things done in advance.

    By staying ahead of your tasks, you can also use your extra time to plan ahead in your life and get more things done.

    Take a look at this guide and learn how to stop procrastinating: Procrastination – A Step-By-Step Guide to Stop Procrastinating

    13. Focusing on the Negatives

    In every situation, there are two ways you can react: zoom down to the problem areas and crib about how things aren’t the way you want, or celebrate the areas that are going well and work on making everything better.

    Many of us see the importance of doing the latter but in practice, we do the former. Why though? Criticizing and focusing on the negatives is easy but it doesn’t empower nor inspire us to be better.

    Make a change — for every negative encounter you run into, I challenge you to identify three things that are good about it. Practice doing this for one week, and by the end of the week you’ll find that your first instinct is to think positive, not negative.

    And here’re even more ways to help you stay positive: 11 Tips for Maintaining your Positive Attitude

    The Bottom Line

    So here you find the 13 most common bad habits and their consequences on your mind and body. The good news’ you can quit them all.

    Just spot out your own bad habits and take my suggestions to quit them. Then you’ll find your life a lot healthier and happier!

    Need more tips to break your bad habits? Check out these articles:

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

    Reference

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