Friday, September 23, 2011

Contentment: The Heart That Gives

Continuing to think on the track of the last post, I just wanted to share some scriptures that stuck out to me when I was looking up contentment. Compared to how the world thinks, these things are revolutionary - just as they were in the world Jesus and the apostles taught in.

I was just recalling the parable in Luke 12 today, about the rich man who planned to build bigger barns for his harvest. To him, God said, "'You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?' So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." Often, our attitude towards wealth includes the notion of storing it up, accumulating it, counting our pennies.  Though we can do this with money, the point is that we cannot do the same with the days of our life. There is no such thing as putting our days in a savings account, or buying stocks in life-lengthener.

Paul wrote similarly in 1 Tim 6:6-10,

"But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs."

Going back a bit farther in time, to the ministry of John the Baptist, I found it interesting to see what the forerunner of Jesus had to say to those who questioned him about the proper response in light of the coming wrath.

"'The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.' And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, 'Teacher, what shall we do?' And he said to them, 'Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.' Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, 'And what about us, what shall we do?' And he said to them, 'Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.'" (Luke 3:11-14)

How incredible! Before this, John had been proclaiming the coming judgment of God upon unbelievers, telling them that "the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." Unlike many doom-sayers of today, John warned the people not to hoard their possessions, but, in essence, to count it as nothing.  The ability to do this requires the grace of God which leads to repentance and enables the believer to forsake themselves.

This all sounds very biblical and theological, but the real test comes in asking, "what does this really mean for me to obey?"  Looking at how John directly and specifically addressed the crowds and the tax collectors and the soldiers, it can be seen that this is not something to be understood and then passed over.  There are two questions that I need to ask myself: "What do I habitually take or hoard for myself?" and "What do I have to give?" This is so convicting to me, as I know that there are many things which I have not fully abandoned for the sake of Jesus. For everyone, there will be different answers. In my life, I know a big one is time. I need to be rethinking "me-time" and focusing on how I can best use it to grow in my relationship with God and be a blessing to others. Another one is my reputation - my status in the eyes of others. So often I fear the judgment or rejection of others. Am I willing to sacrifice and step out of my comfort zone for the name of Jesus? There are countless other ways in which this applies to my life. These are really hard things, although they are often accomplished in small steps... like giving an extra coat away, or encouraging a hurting friend.

I realize that I've been mainly focusing on fruit in this post, but it's so important to realize that none of it can be achieved without a transformed heart that has been ransomed by the blood of Christ and fully given over to Him. When we hoard time and resources, we are merely feeding the flesh and displaying carelessness toward our eternal fate. Eternally, anything we gain will be that which we have given for the glory of Christ.  I love Jim Elliot's quote, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." Oh that I would truly be able to forsake myself and live for the honour of my King!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Contentment: The Heart God Fills

During my quiet time the other day, I was simply given one word.


I looked it up in the little concordance at the back of my Bible.  Honestly, I was surprised at how the verses I found spoke to my heart and tied together a lot of things the Lord has been teaching me recently... I was amazed at just how strong and true and pure and right these things are as I begin to realize their fullness.  This contentment that Jesus talked about transcends all the pale, thin counterfeits seen by the imagination or drawn up by the words of men.

This contentment is not the pleasure of being surrounded by beautiful things, being filled by a warm meal, or being held by human arms; nor is it the state of simply being resigned to one's lot.  How could I describe what this contentment is if my listener does not know the Spirit who grants it?  It cannot be born without the stripping away of every other desire, every other thing from which we seek satisfaction.

Contentment means to cease chasing after the wind and at last drink from the Fount.  Contentment means to leave all else behind and follow the Master.  Paul wrote in Philippians 4:11-13, "I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."  The satisfaction Paul spoke of had nothing whatsoever to do with his circumstances, but with Christ who gives strength and hope.  Whether we are filled or hungry, we can be satisfied by the Bread of Life.

After moving to a different church several years ago, and being distanced from many of my closest friends, God began to teach me these things in a practical way.  I had never realized just how much my dependence was on friendships until that time. I experienced times of loneliness and times when I battled with feeling accepted.  There came a point when I realized that God was using these things I was going through to bring me to a deeper dependence and a greater intimacy with Him.  As I expressed to Him my longings for a confidante, I began to experience what it truly means for God himself to be my friend and to find peace in surrender to His will.  Since that time, the Lord has brought many dear friends into my life who love the Savior and have been a great encouragement to me, but I pray that I will remember the lesson He taught me in that season.  I love John Piper's quote: "This is God's universal purpose for all Christian suffering: more contentment in God and less satisfaction in the world."

My prayer is that I will be able to face every joy and trial with the knowledge that Christ is my strength, to surrender every thought and circumstance to Him, knowing that He "causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." (Rom 8:28)  Contentment is not merely a state of the mind, but of the heart.  God fills the heart that has been emptied.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Two children are playing outside on this lazy summer morning.  The colours are hazy, the grandeur of the mountains slightly faded by the warm smog rolling in from the city.  The older of the pair, an eight-year-old girl, laughs as she holds up her thumb and squints with one eye in the direction of her younger brother.  "Ha! I can't see your head anymore, it's gone!"

"Hey..." the little boy retaliates, trying this trick of perspective for himself.  He pinches thumb and forefinger until they nearly touch. "You're only this big!" Turning their attention to the car in the driveway, the mountains in the distance, the sun in the sky, they measure the astonishing smallness of these familiar objects, laughing at the absurdity of the game.

~ ~ ~
Absurd? Truly? In our world, most have worshiped the game until it has become a prison; a fatal, self-inflicted blindness.  The philosophies of this world puff up the influence, greatness, and potential of humanity. Our lives are not a linear progression between birth and death, but a web, extending outward, perhaps even heavenward.  Each thought, each word, each step, affecting the lives walking beside and coming after. The headiness of wisdom, the immortal, unquenchable, immutable human spirit has intoxicated the great minds of countless philosophers and sages.

What does it mean to be human? It is a question that has been asked time and again, and has never been satisfactorily answered by science or philosophy.  In the end, man is his own creation, made in the image of the mirage we set before us.  But what if the mirage is emptiness and the image becomes brokenness?

 "All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor. Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun." (Ecc 2:10-11)

meaningless. meaningless.

The oppressiveness of what we understand, but which does not fill; what we seek to know, but cannot find - these things are death to us!  Oh that eyes would be opened to see!  For at last, at the moment of hopelessness, when the prison tower crumbles, there is hope.

This is humanity.  This dash between two dates, this life with its vast web of human connection; of love and hate and dreams; of failure and achievement...  All of it, nothing more than a pin prick in the hand of the Almighty Creator, the Sovereign Judge.  (Dan 4:35)  "Ah," we think with relief, "so small that He would never notice."


drove the nails through the hands

How foreign, how strange, how disturbing this is to a world that is gorged with self-love.  How astonishing God's words are, that we, being nothing, could be such an offense to Him that He would give Everything to ransom us.  What beauty!  What love beyond compare! 

"O Lord God, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand; for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as Yours?" (Deut 3:24)