Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Learning contentment

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
—Philippians 4:11-13

Of course, I haven’t “arrived” where Paul was, but this is my goal. Over the past nineteen months that I’ve been without a fulltime job, as I've thought more deeply about the fact of God's absolute sovereignty over absolutely everything (including my employment status, and the resulting financial strain for my family) I've come to see that discontent is really a form of unbelief.

In other words, when I'm discontented with my circumstances, I'm ultimately questioning God's choice to place me in these circumstances of partial employment and reduced income. If God is truly sovereign (and He is: Psalm 103:19; Daniel 4:35; Ephesians 1:11), and if He has the power to cause all things to work together for my good (and He does: Romans 8:28), then I have absolutely no legitimate reasons to be discontented with and complaining about any circumstances which God ordains for my life. Sometimes that’s a tough pill to swallow, but swallow it I must! The Lord does “all things well”, and He makes no mistakes.

Contentment, however, shouldn't be confused with apathy (I’m sure Paul would have preferred freedom to imprisonment). Being content doesn’t mean that I don’t care or that I must like my situation. Contentment is recognizing that whatever happens to me has been ordained by a good and sovereign God for my good. Contentment is the realization that God’s design is that I be a better man, conformed to the image of His Son. Contentment is the confidence that comes from knowing that God is not against me; He’s for me. Contentment is simply trust in God’s word.

I admit it is exceedingly difficult for me to feel content with many of the things which are going on in my life right now. It’s no fun. But Scripture says I can be content, and genuinely feel contentment, “through him who strengthens me”—through the Holy Spirit (“the Spirit of Christ”, Romans 8:9) who dwells within me. How do I draw upon the power of the indwelling Christ? “The just shall live by faith”—faith in Christ.

I’m learning. I’m not “there” yet. Nevertheless, I know God is good and, through the past nineteen month, has been good to me and my family. And He is sovereign. I can trust Him.

“And Are We Yet Alive”—New Year 2011

A fond memory from my days as a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church was the Methodist tradition of singing, at the opening service of each year’s Annual Conference, Charles Wesley’s hymn, “And Are We Yet Alive”. As a way of marking the beginning of another year writing this blog, I think it also appropriate to recall Wesley’s words.

And are we yet alive,
And see each other’s face?
Glory and praise to Jesus give
For His redeeming grace!

Preserved by power Divine
To full salvation here,
Again in Jesus’ praise we join,
And in His sight appear.

What troubles have we seen,
What conflicts have we passed,
Fightings without, and fears within,
Since we assembled last.

But out of all the Lord
Hath brought us by His love;
And still He doth His help afford,
And hides our life above.

Then let us make our boast
Of His redeeming power
Which saves us to the uttermost
Till we can sin no more.

Let us take up the cross
Till we the crown obtain;
And gladly reckon all things loss
So we may Jesus gain.

—Charles Wesley (1707-1788)