“One dream replaces another and the circle of discontentment starts all over again.” This is just one of many sum-up-our-culture-in-a-sentence lines that fill the pages of Stephen Altrogge’s new book “The Greener Grass Conspiracy.” (affiliate) And it’s true.
Our culture chases after things, success, fame, money, and “the American dream.” It’s so refreshing (and challenging) to read Stephen’s new book and to get a clear, Biblical perspective on contentment. The book is written in a very easy-to-read style that’s both hilarious and pointed. Stephen’s wit and humor gives necessary comic relief to the weighty topic but never trumps the seriousness of the matter he’s writing about.
If Only Statements Never Lead to True Contentment
The book challenges many attitudes of discontent that the American Christian lives day to day as well as gives a good overview of how to deal with things in our lives that become idols. I love how Stephen personifies the messages that media speak to us daily to convince us that these “if only” statements will truly make us happy:
A box of cereal informs me that I can be slim and heart-healthy if I eat a mere three bowls a day, seven days a week. A high-gloss magazine advertises an article entitled “223 Ways to Be Happier and Get What You Want, without Doing Any Work.” Before I entered Wal-Mart I was pretty happy with my life. Now I want more things. The conspiracy is everywhere!”
We are Not Entitled to Anything
Throughout the pages of his book Stephen accurately describes the American Christian’s typical attitude, shows us clearly that we are not entitles to anything, and gives us very a very compelling picture of how to rest in what God has done for us in Jesus through the Cross. Our contentment in life lies in the fact that God has not only not given us what we deserve, but has given us immeasurably more that we don’t deserve.
But the beauty of the gospel is that we get what we don’t deserve. Instead of justice, we receive mercy; instead of wrath, grace. God has forgiven us, adopted us, clothed us in righteousness, given us the Holy Spirit, and promised to hunt us down with mercy (Ps. 23:6)…On our worst days we’re always doing infinitely better than we deserve. We may not get what we desire, but we have immeasurably more than we deserve.
My Only Disappointment* (updated and clarified)
The only disappointment I have in this book is that it didn’t seem to touch on the idea of times when general contentment might actually be a bad thing. For instance, in our careers or ministries when we’ve settled into “maintenance mode” and decided that we’re content with the way things are without the call to be passionate about taking things to the next level. While that in and of itself can become an idol for sure, I think there are appropriate situations where indifferent apathy can lead contentment to be dangerous.
*Clarification and update: My ever-so-wise pastor left a great comment on the I am an Offering Facebook page with a great distinction between contentment and complacency: “Distinction: contentment is Christ-sufficiency and always good; complacency is self-sufficiency- and a cheap counterfeit of contentment.” So, I recant what I said above about being disappointed. Sometimes it’s okay to recant, just not in the case of marriage covenants and doctrine.
A Challenging Read with Great Direction
In general, though, Stephen is right on in the fact that “chasing the American dream” has become an impossibility that no one can truly ever accomplish. And even if they do end up retiring in the Bahamas with their own private yacht and bungalow true contentment will never be found without God filling the void that only He can fill.
Perhaps the best thing I love about this book is the “Stop – Think – Do” questions at the end of each chapter. These are great not only to keep yourself accountable as you read but would be perfect for any type of small group that might be going through the book together.
All in all, this was a very good wake up call that reminded me of the vast luxury that I live in as an American and that God has blessed me beyond measure and I’m often far more ungrateful than I should be and have far more than I ever deserve to have.
Excellent book, Stephen, I highly recommend it.
Question: In what area of your life is God challenging you to be more content?
(disclosure – I received an advanced copy of the book for free to review from Crossway. All opinions are my own)