Steps to Contentment, part 2

6. We own everything.  Sometimes the biggest thing that is keeping us discontent is because we are not happy with what we have been given in material possessions.  Espeically in the United States it is so easy to think that we deserve everything and we are really good experts on covetousness.  Christians often react to materialism in a gnostic way, saying that we should not want things in this world because they are only material.  But I don’t think that is why we are told not to covet.  God isn’t saying “Do not covet, because I’m going to take everything away from all of you”  He is saying “Do not covet because I own all of it, I made it, and you are my child.  Everything I have made is your inheritance.”  We have a great inheritance to look forward to in the Lord.  Everything that we have in this world is like a down payment on the blessings we have to look forward to in heaven.  God withholds from us because he is teaching us, as his children, but it is not because He intends to always withhold or because He doesn’t want us to be surrounded by beauty.

7. Jesus suffered too.  It is such a comfort to know that a God who is sinless and perfect chose to take on humanity and experience all of our struggles.  Any struggle that we go through, He has walked through the valley.  We can find joy and contentment even in our struggles because we know that He suffered in order to be our deliverer.  He didn’t suffer so that He would just be able experience empathy, He suffered so that He could rescue us, so that our sufferings can be nailed to the cross and put to death.

8. We have to ask.  James says that the Lord gives wisdom to anyone who asks, and He loves to give it.  When we are struggling with discontent, with being unhappy with how God is writing our story, our first course of action should be to ask for wisdom which will bring contentment.  We shouldn’t be happy with just being able to function through a trial, we should seek and expect complete peace and contentment.  We have been given the Holy Spirit, and we should expect him to work in us.  When those who do not have the Spirit suffer, they can find ways to cope.  But we should not settle for coping.  We should ask the Lord again and again for contentment in our trials.  Everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks will find.

9. We live for God. When we are living for ourselves and thinking about everything we want in life, it is impossible to find contentment.  Even if we had everything we ever wanted, we can’t find contentment in living for ourselves.  But when we know that we have been baptized into Christ, that He has claimed us for His own, then everything we do in life we do for Christ.  It is much easier to find joy and peace with our story when we know that we are living out His perfect will for us.  He is more important to us than anything else we pursue.  We know that if something doesn’t work out, it is because He is orchestrating something else for our good.  Our jobs, our families, our chores, everything we do in service to Him and He is pleased with our work.

10. We are in covenant with God.  The story of Scripture is a story about love and promises: God’s love to His people and His promises to them.  That is a beautiful thing about the covenant that He makes with His people.  He gives promise after promise after promise and He is always faithful to those promises. Every struggle that we face has a promise attached to it.  There is no aspect of our lives that God has not redeemed and that He has not given us a reason to hope in.  There is no relationship so broken that He cannot heal, there is no sickness that he cannot cure, there is no poverty that He cannot provide for.  Even in our darkest and hardest days He has a promise for us from Isaiah 43, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”

11. Dwelling on heaven.  This so easy to say and so hard to do.  It is easy to say that we should just think about the day that we will be in heaven and all of our pain and struggles will melt away, but it is hard to remember it when we are facing every day.  When we are struggling with disciplining a difficult child or when we miss someone we love, it is hard to just look past those days.  The time seems endless until we are made new, and we still have so much to figure out here.  That is why weekly worship and daily Bible reading are so important.  It is hard to keep our focus on where we are going and it is hard to remember how beautiful the promises are.  We have to constantly be reminding ourselves and switching our thoughts to dwell on the sweetness of Christ.  When we do this it does help to put our worries and fears in this life into perspective, and to find contment and peace in our every day tasks.

12. Crying to God. We can not find contentment in ourselves.  We have to be constantly looking to Christ, seeking after God for help.  But, here is the sweet part, He loves to hear our cries.  When we pour out our hearts and tell him everything that is on our minds and hearts, He is pleased to listen.  When we are really struggling to find joy and our words fail us, we have many beautiful Psalms that we can pray.  He wants His people to cry out to Him, to ask for help and give our concerns over to Him.  And even these desperate prays have a promise, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4)

Steps to Contentment, part 1

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Learning to be content and completely satisfied in Christ is certainly a life-long process and a lesson that we are always learning, and always being tested on.  As I am learning and wrestling against discontent, I am always looking for practical and tangible ways to set my course towards joy and peace.  In his book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, the puritan Jeremiah Burroughs gives many recommendations for how to achieve a content heart.  While he has many wise things to say and many of his ideas have influenced my list, I would like to offer my own version of steps that we can take to stay on course and to be continually growing in contentment.

  1. Accepting that we will never be 100% satisfied in this world.  C.S Lewis wrote, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”  The truth is that we will never find anything in the created world that will make us completely happy.  There is something so freeing about believing that – we can stop striving, stop trying so hard, stop being disappointed when things are not exactly how we want them.  We won’t find the fulfillment of joy until we are with the Lord, and understanding that we are not supposed to find it here can help us to have patience and to be satisfied with continually longing for more.  We are supposed to have a longing, a hope for something better, eyes that look beyond this life.  Eternity is written on our hearts.  We have work to do here, but we will not find complete satisfaction in a world that is under a curse, and we can find contentment more easily when we stop expecting satisfaction from this world.
  2. Understanding our desires.  Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart”.  One of the biggest reasons why we struggle with contentment is because we want something that we do not have.  Our desires are not equal with our circumstances.  We want a house, but we have an apartment.  We want children, but we have not been able to conceive.  We want to be healthy, but we struggle with sickness.  There are many, many circumstances that quickly steal our joy because we do not have what we want.  It is easy enough to say that we should just stop wanting the things that we do not have, but I do not believe that the Lord wants a people who are void of desires.  When we want something that He has not provided, as long as that thing is not sinful, our job is to wait and believe that He will be faithful to His promises.  Our job is to find joy and delight in God, to worship Him and offer thanksgiving to Him, and to continue to pray for that which we want.  We can find so much peace and contentment just in knowing that when we turn to Him He will hear our prayers, and that the desires of our hearts are not in vain.  He hears us and He loves to fulfill the desires of His people. Like with Abraham, He wants to see us willingly open our hands and be ready give up our greatest loves, but He will always ultimately fill us with more than we can hope or desire.
  3. Remembering our sin.  It seems counterintuitive to focus on our depravity when we are seeking after joy.  So, I am careful not to say that we should look to our sin and keep our eyes there.  That would destroy us.  But when we really understand how grievous our sin is to the Lord, when we really see ourselves as a created being who has greatly sinned against our Creator, then we start to see what He has done for us.  When we see our sin for what it really is, we understand the hugeness of His love in covering it.  We were like scarlet, but now we have been made as white as snow.  The contrast is stark.  When we know how much we have been forgiven and how much we are loved, we can not help but to trust that everything else God does for us is out of great love.  This safety that comes from knowing how loved we are by God and the peace that comes through this trust will bring deep contentment.  Remember all the horrible things you have done, remember how He has forgiven you completely for each one, remember how much He must love you to look past that sin, and know that He will always love you and that you can trust Him.  This is peace that brings contentment.
  4. Accepting the thorn.  In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul writes “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” There are many difficulties in life that have no end on this earth.  There are struggles and pain that we know will always be with us.  This is hard and it can make it particularly hard to find peace and contentment with our life when we have these burdens.  But the good news is that it is possible to find contentment even in the midst of these hardships.  Paul says that he had a thorn which the Lord refused to take from him.  His response is not to despair, because he understands that God will take all crooked things, all
    the painful things, and He will turn them into power and strength.  This is hard for us to understand, but when we really believe that Christ is reversing all the evil in creation then we can find contentment knowing that He will redeem the evil in our life too.  He will take a great weakness and a great pain and turn in into something powerful.  We have to be content with knowing that He is doing more than we can see.
  5. Working. When things are not exactly how we would have them, it is easy to spend our energy and thoughts complaining about the situation.  We have to learn to change our thoughts and find our duties. Work is a great kindness from the Lord, and just doing what needs to be done can change our attitude.  Are you tired of small apartment living? Decorate it, make it lovely.  Are you tired of being single? Help a busy mother with her children.  Are you tired of having to work overtime? Be creative in thinking of ways that your company can improve.  Are you carrying a burden of emotional pain? Find others with the same pain and help them in ways that you have found helpful.  In every situation there is something that needs to be done.  Sometimes this means just cooking a feast and setting a beautiful table because the whole family has been under a lot of stress.  Just look for ways to work within your current situation, and spend your energy and thoughts thinking of ways to improve what you have right now instead of thinking of ways that something else would be better.  This kind of work will not only make a tough situation easier for you, it will make a tough situation easier for everyone else around you.