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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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Art Carden

Art Carden is an Assistant Professor of Economics and Business at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.

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Last Updated on November 18, 2020

50 Habits of Highly Successful People You Should Learn

50 Habits of Highly Successful People You Should Learn

If you’re like me and really into self-development, you’ve probably read many of the thousands of self-help books out there on the market. But also like me, you probably find all the information a bit overwhelming.

That’s why I wanted to do the self-less task of taking the most important, life-changing lessons I’ve drawn from these books and condensed them into 50 key points.

Here’re 50 habits of successful people you should learn:

1. Believe It to See It

Our minds tend to focus on what’s happening around us and refuse to see what could happen. Only when you trust in what’s possible and dare to dream big, big things can happen for you.

2. See Problems as a Wonderful Gift

While others only see problems and give up, successful people use the problem as a lesson to find improvement in themselves or the task at hand.

3. Keep Looking for Solutions

Even if they’re knee-deep in problems, successful people will still put all of their focus on finding solutions.

4. Remember It’s All About the Journey

Successful people are conscious and methodical in creating their own success. They don’t sit around doing the bare minimum, hoping success finds them.

5. Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

There’s so much fear on the road to success, but instead of letting that fear control and limit them, successful people do a good job of just forging ahead regardless.

6. Always Ask Productive Questions

It’s all about asking the right questions. Successful people make sure they are questions that will elicit information for a more productive, creative and positive mindset moving forward.

7. Understand the Best Waste of Energy Is Complaining

Successful people know that choosing to see the negative side of things will only create a useless and unproductive state.

8. Don’t Play the Blame Game

Taking responsibility for actions and outcomes is a form of empowerment that you can build your success upon. While the act of blaming others or outside circumstances takes this empowerment away from you.

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9. Maximize Your Strengths

Not every successful person is simply more talented than the rest, but they do use what they know they’re good at to achieve more successful results.

10. Be in It to Win It

Successful people are busy, productive and proactive. Instead of sitting around over-thinking and over-planning a great idea, they just take a step towards it no matter how small.

11. Know That Success Attracts Success

People who are successful surround themselves and seek out like-minded people. They understand the importance of being part of a team and forge win-win relationships.

12. Actually Choose to Be Successful

Dreaming big is a massive part of being successful even if your dream seems impossible. Ambition is a mindset that needs to be a daily conscious choice.

13. Visualize, Visualize, Visualize!

You’ve got to see your success in your mind’s eye even before it comes. Successful people clarify and get that certainty about what they want their reality to look like rather than being mere spectators of life.

14. Be a One-Off Original

Successful people look for what’s working and then create a unique spin on it. Imitating only regurgitates other people’s ideas with no originality.

15. The Perfect Time to Act Is Now

Waiting for the right time to act is basically procrastination wrapped up in an excuse. Successful people know there’s never a perfect time so they may as well just do it now.

16. Keep Learning, Keep Growing

Continuous learning is the key to a successful life. Whether it’s academic, being a student of life or actionable learning, it’s all about expanding your knowledge and personal development.

17. Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Successful people have the knack for finding positive aspects in all people and circumstances no matter what.

18. Having a Bad Day? Do It Anyway!

We all have bad moods but it shouldn’t be an excuse to stop everything. Giving into a bad mood just stop-starts your life, slowing success way down.

19. Sometimes Risky Business Is Needed

Calculated risks are a must for success. It’s about weighing the pros and cons while moving forward with that element of trust.

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20. Accept Challenge All the Time

Dealing with problems head-on is a must to be successful. Successful people also face challenges in order to improve themselves.

21. Make Your Own Luck

In the mindset of a successful person, there’s no such thing as ‘luck’ or ‘fate’. They take control to actively and consciously create their own best life.

22. Ignite Your Initiative

While many people are reactive, successful people are proactive – taking action before they have to.

23. Be the Master of Your Emotions

Being effective at managing emotions is key on the road to success. That’s not to say successful people don’t feel like we all do, but they’re just not slaves to their emotions.

24. Champion in Communication

Consciously working on effective communication skills gets anyone closer to success.

25. Plan Your Life Strategically

Successful people’s lives aren’t a clumsy series of unplanned events and outcomes, they methodically work at turning their plans into a reality.

26. Become Exceptional at What You Do

To become exceptional, you typically have to do things that most won’t. To become successful, hard decisions need to be made and acting on them is crucial.

27. Choose to Live Outside of Your Comfort Zone

While many people are pleasure junkies and avoid pain and discomfort at all costs, successful people understand the value and benefits of working through the tough stuff that most would avoid.

28. Live by Core Values

Successful people firstly identify their core values and what’s important to them, then do their best to live a life that reflects these values.

29. Realize Money Isn’t Everything

Money and success are not interchangeable and the most successful people understand this. Putting money on a pedestal and equating it to success is a dangerous mindset to have. Success comes in many forms.

30. Don’t Get Carried Away

Successful people understand the importance of discipline and self-control and as a result they are happy to take the road less travelled.

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31. Self-Worth Is Not Tied to Success

Successful people are secure. They do not derive their self-worth from what they own, who they know, where they live or what they look like.

32. Kindness Breeds Kindness (And Success)

Generosity and kindness is a common trait among long-term successful people. It’s important to take pleasure in helping others achieve.

33. More Humility, Less Arrogance

Successful people are humble and happy to admit and apologize for mistakes. This is because they’re confident in their ability. They are happy to learn from others and happy to make others look good rather than seek their own personal glory.

34. Change Opens New Doors

People who are successful are adaptable and embrace change, while the majority are creatures of comfort and habit. They are comfortable with, and embrace, the new and the unfamiliar.

35. Success Requires a Healthy Body

It’s not just how you think, it’s about how you show up for success. Successful people understand the importance of being physically well, not for vain reasons but because being in tiptop condition creates a better personal life for success.

36. Laziness Just Doesn’t Exist

Successful people are never considered lazy. Yes, they can relax when they need to, but working hard is their game.

37. Resilience by the Bucket Load

When difficulty strikes, most would throw in the towel, but successful people are just warming up.

38. Feedback Is Just Another Chance to Improve

How people react to feedback determines their potential for success. Being open to constructive criticism and acting on it to improve is most seen in those who are successful.

39. Your Vibe Attracts Your Tribe

If people are hanging out with toxic and negative people, then they need to take a look at themselves. Successful people hang out with others who are positive and supportive.

40. Can’t Control It? Forget It

Successful people don’t invest time or emotional energy into things which they have no control of.

41. Swim Against the Tide

Successful people are not people-pleasers and they don’t need constant approval from others in order to move ahead.

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42. Alone Time Is Valuable Time

More self-worth means being more comfortable with your own company. Successful people are more happy and see the value in spending time alone.

43. Self-Standard Is Higher Than Most

Everyone has a choice to set high standards for themselves. Successful people do this, which in turn produces greater commitment, more momentum, a better work ethic and of course, better results.

44. Failure Isn’t Rationalized

While many use age, health, lack of time, ‘bad luck’, or lack of opportunity to explain away their failure, the key to success is finding a way to succeed despite facing these challenges.

45. Down Time Is an Important Part of a Routine

Having an off switch and taking time to do things that make them happy is a common trait of a successful person. Take a look at here The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

46. Career Isn’t Who You Are, It’s What You Do

Successful people know their career isn’t their identity. They are multi-dimensional and don’t define themselves by their job.

47. Be Interested in Only the Path of Resistance

While most people look for the easiest way or the shortcut, successful people are more interested in the most effective way. They look for the course of action which will produce the best results over the long term.

48. Follow Through

Many spend their life starting things that they never finish, but successful people get the job done. Even when the excitement and the novelty has worn off they still follow through and finish.

49. Invest in All Your Dimensions

We’re not just physical and psychological beings, but emotional and spiritual creatures as well. Successful people consciously work at being healthy and productive on all levels.

50. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

To obtain success, it’s important to practice what you preach. Successful people don’t talk about the theory, they live the reality.

So there you have it, a summary of what I’ve learned from self-help books. But of course, you need to start taking actions so you will get closer to success too.

Bonus: 5 Bad Habits To Quit

More About Success

Featured photo credit: Juan Jose via unsplash.com

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