Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Joy of Contentment--Part 1

I tend to write out of the flow of whatever God is dealing with me at the time, and for the sake of being transparent and hopefully touching at least one life, I tend to write with candor.

In this case, the issue is contentment, and I will be honest about my tendency to be seduced into pitching my tent in The Land of Discontent.
For me, The Land of Discontent includes towns such as Greed, Envy, Not Trusting God, and Pride (which is also the capital of this deceptive land). The streets beside which I have pitched my tent include I Hate My Thighs, I Hate My Arms, I'm Tired of that Color, I Want a Bigger Car (sometimes this street sign is misread as I Need a Bigger Car), and one of my long-time favorites, I Wish I Were Like Her.

I confess that this is not the first time God has dealt with me regarding a lack of contentment in my life and my dwelling in this particular sin, but it is surely one of the most intense times.
The Apostle Paul gave me and you plenty to meditate on regarding contentment. And the Holy Spirit never wastes a Scripture or an opportunity to remind us of His Truth! I will be dividing this discussion into two parts for ease of chewing.

Prayerfully consider
1 Timothy 6:6-8, which says, "Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content." The middle portion is easy to comprehend and to accept. But, the first and last portions can be a bit harder to swallow.

I have been pondering the first portion: "Now godliness with contentment is great gain." In the preceding verses, Paul described certain men who regarded godliness as a means to gain. But, Paul points out the beauty of contentment coupled with godliness. Godliness is not about being "good" in God's eyes so that He can give us more of what we want or what we think we need or deserve; godliness is about being like God, imitating His character according to the grace He provides, and being content with what He, in His perfect sovereignty, sees fit to give us.

The last part of this passage,
"And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content," speaks to the importance of distinguishing true needs from deceitful wants. Granted, our world today is much, much different from the world in which Paul lived, and you may be successful in arguing that even our true needs are different these days due to various societal and familial demands. Electricity and technology have made huge differences. And yet, in some respects, our worlds are the same because human nature is the same. Recall with me that since the beginning of time as we know it, humans have been attracted to things they wanted, but not necessarily needed (Genesis 3).

Now, I have to be honest again and tell you that I often struggle with distinguishing my true needs from my deceitful wants. And not just mine, but my daughter's, as well. It is very easy for me to say to my husband (who, I must add, is a wonderfully responsible provider), "But, Jon, Claire needs a new dress for church." (Forget the fact that she already has five dresses that fit perfectly well and that make her look absolutely darling.) And if I am in a particularly challenging (uh, make that deceived) state of mind, I will add, "Don't you want your daughter to look pretty for Jesus at church?" Um, deceived much? Mercy, mercy, mercy. Praise God that He, in His infinite wisdom, gave me a husband who is much better at distinguishing our family's needs from our wants.

I think that is enough candor for now. Keep reading for Part 2!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Joy of Abiding

Most of us in the church have heard John 15:11 quoted many times. In this verse, Jesus tells His disciples, "These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full." We often focus on the later half of the verse (to have full joy or any joy is a good thing, after all), but we fail to consider what those "things" were to which Jesus referred.

In the preceding verses, Jesus explains that He is the true vine, God the Father is the vinedresser, and we (the body of Christ) are the branches. Throughout verses 1-10, He stresses the vital importance of our abiding in Him, of allowing His words to abide in us, and of our abiding in His love. The consequences of our failing to abide are severe: a lack of fruit and a kind of spiritual death. However, the consequences of our obedient abiding are wonderful: Jesus' joy and joy to the full. (Note that Jesus did not say enough joy to get us by; He said a full joy!)

Here are some definitions of "abide," courtesy of dictionary.com: "
1. to remain; continue; stay 2. to have one's abode; dwell; reside 3. to continue in a particular condition, attitude, relationship, etc.; last." Take a moment and chew on that definition as relates to our abiding in Christ. We are to remain in Him, to make our dwelling with Him, to continue in a relationship with Him. We would not expect a relationship with a friend to continue on a good level if we rarely communicated. Should we expect it to be any different in our relationship with Christ?

When we fail to abide in Christ, we dry out and whither up, and consequently bear poor fruit, if any at all, and we lack joy. Here is an example: When I get caught up with taking care of my sweet baby girl and my wonderful husband, keeping the house clean, cooking meals, running, and all the other tasks in my day, I can forget God. I don't mean that I forget to have my quiet time. I mean that I forget God. (Just keeping it real.) I forget that He's there inside me, around me. I forget the vital importance of abiding in Him and communing with Him. And when I fail to commune with God, my attitude reflects it. My life begins exhibiting very poor fruit...being short-tempered, frazzled, impatient, unkind, unloving. And I get sad and even depressed. On the other hand, when I remember to speak to God as freely as inhaling and exhaling, then abiding in Him reminds me of His awesome love and mercy. And because I am reminding of His love and mercy toward me, a wretched sinner, I am better able to fulfill Jesus' commands to love others and to show them mercy. And what joy there is in that!

So, ask yourself these questions: Am I abiding in Christ and in His love? Am I bearing good fruit for the sake of Christ and for the glory of God? Am I experiencing Jesus' joy to the full? I pray today that you will know the joy of abiding in Christ, of allowing His words to abide in you, and of abiding in His love.