I am able to be content

Contentment in Weakness and Trials

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with  insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NASB

When I started writing this post, I began just with Paul last sentence here: “I am well content with weakness, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties …”  I thought I could come up with some great insights about being content with hardships.  I came up dry.  Because, um, I’m not content with insults and difficulties.  Really.  I’m not.  I spend a lot of time praying that God would take those suckers away – not praying that I’d be content in them.

So I went back to my Bible to get some context for Paul’s radical statement.  It’s sort of vague, but the gist of it is this: God had given Paul some mighty revelations.  Paul had walked on a spiritual mountaintop, and to keep him from thinking too highly of himself because of it, God allowed Satan to give Paul some sort of affliction.  No clue what it was, but it was bothersome, and Paul (like me) prayed that God would take it away.

And God said, “No.” 

He allowed Paul to keep struggling with this unnamed hardship, this weakness that tripped him up, so that the glory for all Paul accomplished would go to God Himself and not to Paul.  It would be obvious that God was moving and bringing people to Himself, because Paul’s mastery of that African language was so poor that no one could ever credit him for the success.  (Oh, wait … that was me in Africa, not Paul.)

What is it for you?  What are you inept at?  That may be where God can be most glorified – right there in your weakness, as He moves inspite of you flubbing up your part. Go plunge into ministry despite your weakness. That way God gets the credit instead of you. I think this is at least part of what Paul is saying here. 

But there’s more.  He’s not just talking about personal inaptitude.  He’s talking about honest-to-goodness trials, things that assail us from the outside.  Contentment, he says, can be found when God gets the glory as we suffer through them.

A man in my Sunday School class had a massive and unexpected stroke a few weeks ago.  As his life ebbed away there in the ICU, his family stood around his bed and sang hymns. Because musical talent runs deep in their genetic pool, they sang them in four-part harmony.  A hush fell over the hospital.  Nurses, doctors, other patients, and other visitors stopped their bustle to listen to a grieving group of believers praise their God in the midst of their trial. 

My friend died.  His family is heartbroken.  But they gave God glory in their suffering, and who knows how many hearts were moved closer to God’s kingdom because of it?

Yes, I am weak.  Yes, I will face hardships, persecutions, distress. And when God uses me despite those things, when He brings people into His kingdom even though I am tangled in my afflictions, He gets the glory – not me. 

In that, I truly am well content.

I am able to be content

Chasing Rainbows

And 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. ~ Ecclesiastes 2:10-11, NASB

Chasing rainbows. Some days, many days, that is what I feel that I’m doing. Often times that is exactly what I am doing.

Contentment is wanting what I have and having an attitude of thanksgiving for the grace that has been poured upon me. But it isn’t complacency. It isn’t laziness. This is where I get tripped up. How do I live in godly contentment and still press on toward that which Christ has already laid hold of for me? I do I labor tirelessly in the areas in which I’ve been gifted and called and yet not grow tired or frustrated, feeling like I’m getting nowhere fast?

Perhaps the key was up there near the beginning—an attitude of thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving implies that there is One to whom I am thankful. And maybe that gratitude isn’t simply for the ‘stuff’ I have, because, as the great king noted in Ecclesiastes, all of the pleasure resulting from his labor became to him “vanity and striving after wind.” Chasing rainbows.

Ecclesiastes is an interesting read. It mirrors the rollercoaster of life with great highs of success, and low valleys of emptiness. Through the poetry of Solomon, one tastes life in its reality. I work hard. In the end, I keep nothing. I fill my heart with pleasure. It is vanity. All things come in seasons. Ultimately all things will end.

Where is contentment in all of this? What did the wise preacher discover in his great dip into philosophy? Chapter twelve closes with this:

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

Interesting, isn’t it? In all his search of happiness, for meaning, and for fulfillment, Solomon concludes that all of those pursuits are empty without the fear of God. More striking, that it is only through fearing God that one can be satisfied.

How does that connect with gratitude? God has revealed himself to me—to all people, if they will listen. The striving after happiness, this forever chasing rainbows, it doesn’t have to be vanity. With him, there is meaning and purpose. In him there is completeness and fulfillment.

How can I not be content with that?

I am able to be content

Contentment, Satisfaction, Happiness

“Godliness with contentment is great gain.” ~1 Timothy 6:6, NASB

Contentment: the state of satisfaction. Huh. Many of us, if we are honest, live in the words of The Rolling Stones; “I can’t get no satisfaction.” But God issues the command to live in contentment, and He also tells us not only does that command honor Him, but it’s good for us. (That’s usually the way those command things work. God does know what He’s talking about).

Contentment, satisfaction…happiness. Synonyms. Isn’t that interesting? Not ‘achievement, wealth, happiness.’ Not ‘status, position, happiness.’ Contentment, satisfaction, happiness. Consider the following quotes:

imagesD0KYSR82“Happiness is not a goal…it’s a by-product of a life well lived.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt

 

 

“Many people lose the small joys in the hope for the big happiness.” ― Pearl S. Buck

 

untitled“It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.” ― Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

The power of attitude outweighs circumstance. Every. Time. I could be the most successful writer the world has ever known, gaining status and wealth and never be happy for lack of contentment. Or, I could never be known, never be read, never sell a book, and yet still live happily if chose contentment in the life God has given.

What will I choose today?

I am able to be content

Puppies, Money, and Contentment

Your life should be free from the love of money.  Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you.  Hebrews 13:5 HCSB

“Mama, I want a black lab puppy.  Please, may I have one?”  The big, brown, pleading eyes in the face of my precious son tweaked my heart.  But I couldn’t give him the answer he wanted.  We already had a dog.  I didn’t want two. So I said, “Sweetheart, pure bread dogs are too expensive.  We just can’t justify putting that kind of money into a pet.” He kept up the pressure though, until I said, “Ok, if this is so important to you, pray about it and see what God does.”  Honestly, I said that to just get the kid off my back.

But my boy took me seriously, and he prayed.  Not long after, our pastor gave a sermon illustration about his black lab (who knew he owned one?) who was pregnant.  My son craned his neck around my husband to glare at me there in the pew.  And a few days later, the pastor offered a free puppy to my children.  Still, I hesitated.  Did I mention we already had a dog?  And that I didn’t want two?

Ah, but now my daughter joined the chorus.  “Mama, pleeeeeeeeease.  Please?  It’s free.  And if you’ll just let us get a black lab puppy, we will never want anything again in our entire lives.” 

Two sets of pleading brown eyes.  Two pure hearts, making promises they truly believed were true. If only they had this one thing – this puppy – they would be content.  They’d never desire another thing again.  I knew that thinking was false.  But they sincerely believed it. And I love them.  And I’d told him to pray about it.  How could I say “no?” So, the puppy came home with us.

He’s now a beautiful, full-grown, chew-everything-sight, sit-in-the-water-dish, run-off-with-anything-you-leave-in-the-backyard dog.  My kids love him, but he annoys them, too.  Are you surprised that he didn’t make their lives complete?  That they still want other things, despite the fact that they got the puppy?  That iPhones and Furbys and just plain old cash have taken the place of the puppy – that if only they had those things, they’d be content for the rest of their lives?

It’s easy to laugh at the foolishness of children, who truly thought a puppy would fulfill them forever.  But, we as adults often do the same thing.  “If only I had a better job, or a spouse, or a decent house, I would be content.  Life would work then.”

Or, we can even substitute “spiritual” things.  Before I left for Africa, it was: “If only I were already missionary, if only I was done with seminary and finally on the mission field, I’d be content.” After I got to Africa?  “Oh, things would be so much easier if only I lived a normal life in the States.”

My children and I have to learn this one truth:  Christ alone fulfills us.  He will never leave us or forsake us.  And focusing on Him, making Him our chief desire, enables us to be content with whatever material possessions or life situations we have.  Puppy or no puppy, spouse or no spouse, America or Africa, my current salary or a higher one – Christ is all I need. He is my source of fulfillment.  And being satisfied with Him is peace.

I am able to be content

I am able to be Content: A Joint Post

“…I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot.  In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content – whether well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need.  I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  Philippians 4: 11-13

From Susan:

About eight years ago, I wanted something desperately.  I felt as though I wouldn’t be able to breathe if I didn’t get this thing, this blessing, this necessity-for-happiness.  But circumstances meant that I could never have my heart’s desire.  Ever.  And so, I was walking misery. 

And it was while I was out walking for exercise one day that this verse flooded my soul.  Yes, God confirmed, He would never give me my sought-after thing.  And He was ok with that.  He told me I could choose to be content in my current circumstances, with the blessings He had already given me, or I could choose to be despondent, yearning for something I’d never receive.

Well, who wants to be despondent?  I mean, who chooses that option?  Me.  I was choosing it.  And in that moment, I realized I didn’t have to feel that way.  I could choose to be content.  Like Paul, I learned the secret of contentment: mustering Christ’s strength (not my own), I chose to breathe thankfulness for what I already had and let go of what would never be mine. Peace flooded my soul. 

From Jen:

Peace and discontentment do not reside together. Angst is desire’s best friend. This gets tricky, though. I believe that God gives us dreams to chase after, ambitions to pursue. But discerning the ambitions wrought by His hand from the selfish desires of our fleshly hearts can be difficult.

How can I determine one from the other?

As Susan pointed out, misery may hold a clue. Despondency? This is not the will of God. Even in His most excruciating moments, Jesus did not become despondent. His plea for another way, though intense beyond imagination, did not smoother His contentment in the will of God. Conversely, Jesus was still able to lay down His angst and submit to the will of the Father.

How?

I believe Paul tells us. All things can be done in the strength of the Spirit of God. And that strength smoothers unhappiness. That strength provides the contentment we long for, even when what we sought is not what is given.