Wednesday, October 21, 2015

contentment (10) treasure

A man was walking across a cow pasture when his foot hit something. He bent over, rubbed his aching toe, and noticed the corner of a box sticking out of the ground. Curious, he grabbed a stick, dug away the dirt, and opened the lid. His heart thumped as he reached in and felt the solid weight of gold. He glanced around to see if anyone was watching, then covered the box with chunks of turf. He went home and sold everything he had, from the coat on his back to the roof over his children’s heads, and bought the pasture, cows and all. The whole town thought he’d gone crazy. He ended up a richer man than he’d ever been before. (Matt 13:44-46)

We have a great treasure. We have Christ himself! Yet we complain about what we don’t have. We envy those who with more than us. We write bucket lists. We regret what we’ve given away. We wish life had turned out differently. We have enough, but we’re greedy for more. We whinge when things don’t go our way. We worry we don’t have enough stored up for the future. We look back longingly at the things we left behind.

And all the time we tell ourselves that discontent is just a little sin. But we don’t notice how it eats away at our lives, our relationships, our faith. We fail to see the idolatry at its heart, how we have become adulterous lovers and false worshippers, seeking fulfilment apart from God. We abandon his living water and look for satisfaction, security and significance in the leaky wells of this world, then we’re surprised when we are left empty.

If we grasped just how great our blessings are in Christ – how richly he supplies every need, how tenderly he watches over us, how bright our future is with him – would we ever feel like we lack anything? I think we’d be content. More than that, I think that, even in sorrow, we’d rejoice to be found in him.

If you’re anything like me, it won’t be easy to learn this lesson. It won’t be easy to find your contentment in Christ alone. It will be a life-long battle. It will be challenged every time you suffer, every time you fail, every time you notice someone is better off than you. But it’s worth fighting, because it’s a battle to treasure Christ over all.

Contentment isn’t horizontal. It doesn’t come from comparing ourselves with others. It doesn’t come from counting our blessings. It doesn’t come from thinking about those worse off than us. Paul never tells us to be content because we have more than someone else.

Contentment is vertical, not horizontal. It comes from knowing Christ. We will become content when we learn to turn to him every time we feel dissatisfied; when we trust him to care for us; when we value him above everything and everyone else.

We find satisfaction in him, for he alone can fulfil our deepest longings. We are secure in him, for he will never leave us. We have significance in him, not because we have done great things, but because he has done great things for us.

Jesus is the secret of contentment.

I am a long way from learning this. I guess you are too. So let’s pray together that we learn to be content.

You'll find some follow-up questions, and the rest of this series, at TGC Australia

Image: Alton Hoard (British Museum)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

contentment (9) godly discontent

It’s not just contentment that is godly. Discontent can be godly too. In fact, true godliness is always discontented.

There are many things in this life that should make us deeply dissatisfied. We should be dissatisfied with sin. We should be dissatisfied when friends and family don’t know Jesus. We should be dissatisfied when brothers and sisters in Christ drift away from God. The difference between ungodly and godly discontent is that the first is centred on us and our needs, and the second is motivated by love for Christ and others.

It’s also okay to be dissatisfied with suffering ... The Bible is full of grief and pain. Just think about the Psalms ...

We are supposed to be discontent with this life. We are supposed to long for eternity. If we are content with this life – if we don’t long for the next – there is something wrong with our faith ...

Read the rest at TGC Australia.

Monday, October 12, 2015

life in God's waiting room

I’ve been thinking about waiting. The waiting you do when your hopes and dreams have been deferred—again. The waiting you do when you’re offered the opportunity you longed for but have to turn it down—again. The waiting you do when the future is uncertain and your plans can only be tentative and provisional—again.

Waiting, through twelve years of raising young children and five years of our son’s chronic illness, for a time when I can do more of the ministry I love outside the home. Waiting, through my husband’s cancer diagnosis, a six-week hospital stay and half a year of chemotherapy, to be washed up on the shores of not-quite-ordinary life again. Waiting, now, for his medical scans, the fork in the road; one path leading to further treatment, the other to four more years of waiting until we receive the all-clear.

Waiting for the waiting to be over.

So what do I do, here in life’s waiting room? Do I choose escapism? Do I complain and grow resentful? I do both, sometimes. But surely there are better uses of this time.

Here’s how I see it. There are two possible things going on here.

The first is that this isn’t so much a waiting room as God’s training-ground. A hothouse where I’m grown in Christlike character (Jas 1:2-4). A boot-camp to strengthen the muscles of perseverance, humility and hope (Rom 5:3-4; 1 Pet 5:6-11). God’s university, where he teaches me to mourn with those who mourn (Rom 12:15) and gives me the comfort that I will one day share with others (2 Cor 1:3-7), preparing me for life and ministry.

The second is that this isn’t a waiting room for life; it is life. These hardships may continue for many years. In which case, this isn’t preparation for anything more than the hard slog of patient endurance. And that’s okay. Because if I never get to do the ministries I long for, and just keep encouraging others by trusting God in hardship, that will be sufficient service for a lifetime.

Come to think of it, those aren’t alternatives. They are different perspectives, views of the same reality from opposite sides. Whatever God has in store, this is both training for life and life itself. This is the life God has given us. You don’t stop living just because you are waiting.

So what do I do, here in the waiting room?
  • I fulfil the duties of this time. I may not have chosen them—the doctors’ visits, the extra school trips, the weight of care—but this is the good work God has given me, and I try (and often fail!) to do it cheerfully, patiently and well. 
  • I make the most of the time we have together as a family to build strong relationships as a foundation for whatever may come (I’ve planned more family holidays and weekends with my husband this year). 
  • I train my own mind, and the hearts and minds of our children, to trust God during the trials we face now and the ones we may face in the future. 
  • I remember all those who have waited: for an affliction to end (Ps 27:14), a prayer to be answered (Ps 5:3), a ministry to begin (Exod 7:7), a hope to be fulfilled (1 Sam 1), and (this includes all of us) for Jesus to return (Rev 22:20). I am not alone. 
  • I put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes this means telling myself, “I know you feel lousy, but just do the next thing. It might make you feel a little better, and if it doesn’t, at least you will have finished one more task.” 
  • I pray the prayers of those who wait (e.g. Ps 130), bringing my fear, grief, disappointment and frustration to God, turning to him rather than away from him. 
  • I make plans that assume life will continue the way it is but that allow for uncertainty, then commit these plans into God’s hands (Jas 4:13-15). 
  • I manage my energy levels so I can keep serving: a good night’s sleep, regular exercise, a daily time of rest, and a weekly morning off to read an encouraging book, pray, and reflect on life. 
  • I live the ordinary Christian life wherever we are, from hospital to home (1 Pet 4:19). I read my Bible, pray for others, turn from sin, meet with God’s people, and try to use every opportunity to make Jesus known. 
  • I choose ministries that I can maintain, that use my limited time effectively to meet others’ needs, and that allow for interruptions. It helps if some of these ministries energize me so I can fulfil my primary ministry to our family. 
  • I learn the lessons that waiting teaches me: that we may plan, but God directs our steps (Prov 16:9); that the building of his kingdom doesn’t depend on our usefulness (Ps 127:1-2; 1 Cor 3:7-9); that his grace is sufficient for every day he gives us to face (2 Cor 12:9-10). 
  • I fight to choose contentment, thanksgiving, trust, and joy (1 Thess 5:16-18), remembering that God’s plans for me are better than any I could make for myself.
I don’t want to waste this time in the waiting room. I want to use it, every bit of it. Whether it turns out to be a waiting room or simply the life God has given us, I want to be able to look back and say: I did the work God gave me to do, in his strength and for his glory. And that is more honour than I deserve, and joy and privilege enough for me.

This article first appeared at

Photo credit: Erich Ferdinand

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

contentment (8) getting practical

Hold up your hand. Five fingers, right? Here are five steps we can take next time we notice ourselves becoming discontent, one for each finger to help us remember them easily:

Stop. Think. Turn from. Turn to. Turn out ...

Read the rest at TGC Australia.