From Leader to Leader – Ezra’s Healthy Dissatisfaction

by César De León Ph.D LMFT, Ministerial Director for the North Pacific Union Conference

Life dissatisfaction, especially when chronic, results in physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual maladies. Dysphoria, the more clinical term for life discontent, is a profound state of unease or dissatisfaction.  In a psychiatric context dysphoria may accompany depression, anxiety, or agitation. Common reactions to dysphoria include emotional distress and in some cases, even physical distress.

Long term life dissatisfaction is also strongly associated with various mental symptoms such as depression, hopelessness, psychosomatic symptoms, alexithymia, general psychopathology and low concurrent functional ability. Life dissatisfaction, among healthy general population subjects, has also been shown to predict several poor health outcomes such as psychiatric morbidity, depressive symptoms, total mortality, suicides, fatal unintentional injury deaths, and premature work disability due to somatic and psychiatric causes in follow-ups of over a decade.1

Additional symptoms of chronic dissatisfaction include restlessness, needing more of something indefinable and always shifting, feeling like you’re not there yet, but wondering where “there” even is; episodes of yearning for something you can’t quite name, or wondering if there’s more to life than you’re currently living.  However, chronic dissatisfaction (CD) can also be experienced as a healthy and adaptive state of being, that if embraced and used reflectively, can propel one to seek more, or reach further than one who may be experiencing life satisfaction.  In fact, dissatisfaction can be a great motivating force in life. 2

Recently, I was reading the book of Ezra; for a moment I paused and re-considered Ezra’s life and transformational ministry.  “. . .this Ezra came up from Babylon; and he was a skilled scribe in the Law of Moses, which the Lord God of Israel had given.  The king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the Lord his God upon him.” Ezra 7:6; NKJV

“Born of the sons of Aaron, Ezra had been given a priestly training; and in addition to this he had acquired a familiarity with the writings of the magicians, the astrologers, and the wise men of the Medo-Persian realm. But he was not satisfied with his spiritual condition. He longed to be in full harmony with God; he longed for wisdom to carry out the divine will. And so he ‘prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it.’ Ezra 7:10. This led him to apply himself diligently to a study of the history of God’s people, as recorded in the writings of prophets and kings.  He searched the historical and poetical books of the Bible to learn why the Lord had permitted Jerusalem to be destroyed and His people carried captive into a heathen land.”(italics, underline & bold added).3

Ezra was a self-motivated, inspirational, teachable learner. It is notable that he was driven to discover knowledge above and beyond the minimal requirements of the existing priestly training. We are not told he was dissatisfied with his life, career, socio-economic status or with the degree of his influence and popularity.  Actually, instead of focusing his energy on appraising the spiritual condition of his peers, or seeking mind-numbing entertainment, he demonstrated a humility that led him to recognize that his own spiritual condition was not optimal. Ezra’s humility led him to make an accurate, spiritual self-evaluation which qualified him to become a pivotal human instrument to enforce God’s Agenda at that point in history.  “As he learned more and still more concerning God’s dealings with His children and comprehended the sacredness of the law given a Sinai, Ezra’s heart was stirred.  He experienced a new and thorough conversion and determined to master the records of sacred history, that he might use this knowledge to bring blessing and light to his people.” (italics and underline added).4

I was moved to rediscover the other-focused motivation for his dive into deeper learning.  Neither an additional degree of higher learning nor a professional promotion were his motivation. As a Spirit-led scholar, Ezra understood that all knowledge attained must be for the purpose of blessing the objects of God’s love. “God chose Ezra to be an instrument of good to Israel, educating those about him in the principles that govern heaven. . . his principle work was that of a teacher. As he communicated to others the truths he learned, his capacity for labor increasedHe became a man of piety and zeal.  He was the Lord’s witness to the world of the power of Bible truth to ennoble the daily life.” (bold and italics added).5

There is an undeniable mounting disinterest in the reading of God’s Word.  Just eight months ago, CBN News cited a Barna study which showed that most Millennials believe that Bible is ‘just a book’. In reality, today’s younger generation is more disengaged than ever from the Christian faith.  Another recent Barna Group study revealed that only 14 percent of Millennials believe the Bible is the literal Word of God. Additionally, researchers are reporting that both Millennials and Generation Z are more hostile to the holy book than previous generations.6  

What a challenge and opportunity this poses for pastors, teachers and Kingdom builders in varied posts. May we be inspired, like Ezra was, to lead our generation into a “Return to Bible Reading Revival.”    Let’s commit to praying that God will impress us individually with creative ideas to inspire, through word and deed, a reigniting of passionate commitment to reading and meditating on the Word. I don’t know what, how or when the Spirit will impress you; but let’s agree to be swift in following the personalized promptings of the Spirit. Some of us may be impressed to host a weekly, Millennial (or any age) Bible study & dessert night in our home this summer!  Others may have the platform to encourage parents with kids of any age to find creative ways to intentionally insert personal and family Bible reading into this summer’s activities.  Maybe others will host a Bible writing relay—an activity where participants write out sections of the Bible in a relay race fashion. Maybe some of us with children at home for the summer can implement creative family Bible reading activities, maybe even outdoors . . .the sky is the limit! 

During a season when our sons were young, my wife, Carolann had been homeschooling our sons and one of them was having a hard time mastering reading.  He was becoming frustrated with himself as he saw his brother easily reading far above his grade level. It was breaking my wife’s heart to see our son feel so frustrated with himself. We even had him professionally tested to see if there was a learning challenge, we needed to support him with; however, the final report revealed no learning disability that could explain his challenge. One day, after crying out to God for wisdom, my wife says that the Spirit reminded her of the following thought she had read years before: “If the mind is set to the task of studying the Bible for information, the reasoning faculties will be improved.  Under the study of the Scriptures the mind expands and becomes more evenly balanced than if occupied in obtaining general information from the books that are used which have no connection with the Bible.”(bold, underline & italics added)7  

The following day, she felt impressed that it would help our son with his reading block if he were to begin to write out some Bible verses for a few minutes every day—even while he was yet unable to read or comprehend the words he was copying. He was diligent in unhurriedly writing out his daily assigned verses. Lo and behold, one day, only a few weeks into this Bible copying experiment, our son experienced a miraculous, long-awaited, breakthrough in his reading skills.  Just copying the Word seemed to have been the direct response to my wife’s desperate prayer and the supernatural key that unlocked his deferred ability to read. “Why should not this book—this precious treasure—be exalted and esteemed as a valued friend?  This is our chart across the stormy sea of life.  It is our guidebook showing us the way to the eternal mansions and the character we must have to inhabit them.  There is NO BOOK the perusal of which will so elevate and strengthen the mind as the study of the Bible.  Here the intellect will find themes of the most elevated character to call out its powers.  There is nothing that will so endow with vigor all our faculties as bringing them in contact with the stupendous truths of revelation.  The effort to grasp and measure these great thoughts expands the mind.” (bold, italic and underline added).8   Again, EG White reiterates, “The minds of all who make the Word of God their study will enlarge.  Far more than any other study its influence is calculated to increase the powers of comprehension and endow every faculty with a new power.” (italics & underline added)9

I pray that you will catch Ezra’s healthy dissatisfaction, and that God will use you to arouse those in your circles of influence (family, neighbors, co-workers and church family) to recommit to the personal (and/or group/family) reading and meditation of the Living Word.  Consider reading the Word in several different versions. The Message version (MSG)— a compelling, reader friendly version written by a former Hebrew and Greek professor—can be enjoyed by all ages. For others, digging into original Greek and Hebrew may be particularly stimulating. 

You may even consider carving a space during your Sabbath worship for people to share their personal testimonies about how the Bible continues to be a relevant, inspired and transformational volume, inspired by God, that unlike any other book, continues to be a source of personal spiritual growth and development!  Colleagues, let’s re-commit to reading, meditating, preaching, teaching and living out the Word! 

 References:

  1. Rissanen et al: Long term life dissatisfaction and subsequent major depressive disorder and poor mental health. BMC Psychiatry 2011 11:140.
  2. https://www.drdebracampbell.com/chronic-dissatisfaction/
  3. White, Ellen G. Prophets and Kings. Nampa, Idaho, Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1985.
  4. Et al, 608
  5. Et al, 609
  6. https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2018/september/most-millennials-believe-the-bible-is-just-a-book-ndash-what-this-group-is-doing-about-it
  7. White Ellen G, Mind Character and Personality Vol. 1. Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association: 1977.
  8. Et al, 97
  9. Et al, 98

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