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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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How to Control Your Thoughts and Become the Master of Your Mind

How to Control Your Thoughts and Become the Master of Your Mind

Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life.

Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affect your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality.

I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive and just a general waste of energy.

You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Become the master of your mind.

When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

I currently have few thoughts that are not of my own choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in charge of your thoughts. If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create the most unhealthy and unproductive thoughts:

1. The Inner Critic

This is your constant abuser. He is often a conglomeration of:

  • Other people’s words; many times your parents.
  • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples expectations.
  • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media.
  • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

He is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance and lack of self-love.

Why else would he abuse you? And since “he” is actually you– why else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

2. The Worrier

This person lives in the future; in the world of “what ifs.”

He is motivated by fear which is often irrational and with no basis for it.

Occasionally, he is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

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3. The Reactor or Trouble-Maker

He is the one that triggers anger, frustration and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

He can be set off by words or feelings. He can even be set off by sounds and smells.

He has no real motivation; he has poor impulse control and is run by past programming that no longer serves you, if it ever did.

4. The Sleep Depriver

This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

His motivation can be:

  • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
  • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
  • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity and generalized anxiety
  • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

How can you control these squatters?

How to Master Your Mind

You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You must pay attention to your thoughts so you can identify “who” is running the show; this will determine which technique you will want to use.

Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

There are two ways to control your thoughts:

  • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
  • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

This second option is what is known as peace of mind!

The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go to” thoughts in the applicable situations.

Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

For the Inner Critic

When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

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You can also have a dialogue with yourself with the intention of discrediting the ‘voice’ that created the thought, if you know whose voice it is:

“Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready. This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

  • He riles up the Worrier.
  • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
  • He is often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
  • He is a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
  • He is the destroyer of self-esteem. He convinces you that you’re not worthy. He’s a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get him out!

Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

Replace him with your new best friend who supports, encourages, and enhances your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

For the Worrier

Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind and creates anxiety in the body.

You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tense

Use the above stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

“Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense; both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

Now take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like!

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Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

For example:

If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

“I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place. Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

“Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

For the Trouble-Maker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers; but until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure; surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tension

I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds; just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

Breathe in through your nose:

  • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
  • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
  • Focus on your belly rising.

Breathe out through your nose:

  • Feel your lungs emptying.
  • Focus on your belly falling.
  • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize.

Now you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior.

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One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting, or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

For the Sleep Depriver

(He’s made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

  1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
  2. Then I came up with replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and I choose quiet.

From the first time I tried this method I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (Closed, of course!). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

You can also use this technique any time you want to:

  • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon.
  • Shut down your thinking.
  • Calm your feelings.
  • Simply focus on the present moment. 

Becoming the Master of Your Mind

Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or for destructive purposes.

You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. The choice is yours!

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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