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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 September 16, 2019

How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

You have a deadline looming. However, instead of doing your work, you are fiddling with miscellaneous things like checking email, social media, watching videos, surfing blogs and forums. You know you should be working, but you just don’t feel like doing anything.

We are all familiar with the procrastination phenomenon. When we procrastinate, we squander away our free time and put off important tasks we should be doing them till it’s too late. And when it is indeed too late, we panic and wish we got started earlier.

The chronic procrastinators I know have spent years of their life looped in this cycle. Delaying, putting off things, slacking, hiding from work, facing work only when it’s unavoidable, then repeating this loop all over again. It’s a bad habit that eats us away and prevents us from achieving greater results in life.

Don’t let procrastination take over your life. Here, I will share my personal steps on how to stop procrastinating. These 11 steps will definitely apply to you too:

1. Break Your Work into Little Steps

Part of the reason why we procrastinate is because subconsciously, we find the work too overwhelming for us. Break it down into little parts, then focus on one part at the time. If you still procrastinate on the task after breaking it down, then break it down even further. Soon, your task will be so simple that you will be thinking “gee, this is so simple that I might as well just do it now!”.

For example, I’m currently writing a new book (on How to achieve anything in life). Book writing at its full scale is an enormous project and can be overwhelming. However, when I break it down into phases such as –

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  • (1) Research
  • (2) Deciding the topic
  • (3) Creating the outline
  • (4) Drafting the content
  • (5) Writing Chapters #1 to #10,
  • (6) Revision
  • (7) etc.

Suddenly it seems very manageable. What I do then is to focus on the immediate phase and get it done to my best ability, without thinking about the other phases. When it’s done, I move on to the next.

2. Change Your Environment

Different environments have different impact on our productivity. Look at your work desk and your room. Do they make you want to work or do they make you want to snuggle and sleep? If it’s the latter, you should look into changing your workspace.

One thing to note is that an environment that makes us feel inspired before may lose its effect after a period of time. If that’s the case, then it’s time to change things around. Refer to Steps #2 and #3 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity, which talks about revamping your environment and workspace.

3. Create a Detailed Timeline with Specific Deadlines

Having just 1 deadline for your work is like an invitation to procrastinate. That’s because we get the impression that we have time and keep pushing everything back, until it’s too late.

Break down your project (see tip #1), then create an overall timeline with specific deadlines for each small task. This way, you know you have to finish each task by a certain date. Your timelines must be robust, too – i.e. if you don’t finish this by today, it’s going to jeopardize everything else you have planned after that. This way it creates the urgency to act.

My goals are broken down into monthly, weekly, right down to the daily task lists, and the list is a call to action that I must accomplish this by the specified date, else my goals will be put off.

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Here’re more tips on setting deadlines: 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

4. Eliminate Your Procrastination Pit-Stops

If you are procrastinating a little too much, maybe that’s because you make it easy to procrastinate.

Identify your browser bookmarks that take up a lot of your time and shift them into a separate folder that is less accessible. Disable the automatic notification option in your email client. Get rid of the distractions around you.

I know some people will out of the way and delete or deactivate their facebook accounts. I think it’s a little drastic and extreme as addressing procrastination is more about being conscious of our actions than counteracting via self-binding methods, but if you feel that’s what’s needed, go for it.

5. Hang out with People Who Inspire You to Take Action

I’m pretty sure if you spend just 10 minutes talking to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, you’ll be more inspired to act than if you spent the 10 minutes doing nothing. The people we are with influence our behaviors. Of course spending time with Steve Jobs or Bill Gates every day is probably not a feasible method, but the principle applies — The Hidden Power of Every Single Person Around You

Identify the people, friends or colleagues who trigger you – most likely the go-getters and hard workers – and hang out with them more often. Soon you will inculcate their drive and spirit too.

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As a personal development blogger, I “hang out” with inspiring personal development experts by reading their blogs and corresponding with them regularly via email and social media. It’s communication via new media and it works all the same.

6. Get a Buddy

Having a companion makes the whole process much more fun. Ideally, your buddy should be someone who has his/her own set of goals. Both of you will hold each other accountable to your goals and plans. While it’s not necessary for both of you to have the same goals, it’ll be even better if that’s the case, so you can learn from each other.

I have a good friend whom I talk to regularly, and we always ask each other about our goals and progress in achieving those goals. Needless to say, it spurs us to keep taking action.

7. Tell Others About Your Goals

This serves the same function as #6, on a larger scale. Tell all your friends, colleagues, acquaintances and family about your projects. Now whenever you see them, they are bound to ask you about your status on those projects.

For example, sometimes I announce my projects on The Personal Excellence Blog, Twitter and Facebook, and my readers will ask me about them on an ongoing basis. It’s a great way to keep myself accountable to my plans.

8. Seek out Someone Who Has Already Achieved the Outcome

What is it you want to accomplish here, and who are the people who have accomplished this already? Go seek them out and connect with them. Seeing living proof that your goals are very well achievable if you take action is one of the best triggers for action.

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9. Re-Clarify Your Goals

If you have been procrastinating for an extended period of time, it might reflect a misalignment between what you want and what you are currently doing. Often times, we outgrow our goals as we discover more about ourselves, but we don’t change our goals to reflect that.

Get away from your work (a short vacation will be good, else just a weekend break or staycation will do too) and take some time to regroup yourself. What exactly do you want to achieve? What should you do to get there? What are the steps to take? Does your current work align with that? If not, what can you do about it?

10. Stop Over-Complicating Things

Are you waiting for a perfect time to do this? That maybe now is not the best time because of X, Y, Z reasons? Ditch that thought because there’s never a perfect time. If you keep waiting for one, you are never going to accomplish anything.

Perfectionism is one of the biggest reasons for procrastination. Read more about why perfectionist tendencies can be a bane than a boon: Why Being A Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect.

11. Get a Grip and Just Do It

At the end, it boils down to taking action. You can do all the strategizing, planning and hypothesizing, but if you don’t take action, nothing’s going to happen. Occasionally, I get readers and clients who keep complaining about their situations but they still refuse to take action at the end of the day.

Reality check:

I have never heard anyone procrastinate their way to success before and I doubt it’s going to change in the near future.  Whatever it is you are procrastinating on, if you want to get it done, you need to get a grip on yourself and do it.

More About Procrastination

Featured photo credit: Malvestida Magazine via unsplash.com

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