Today At the Well (click and scroll down to participate) we’re talking about contentment–In Christ Alone. In Philippians 4:11 Paul makes the amazing statement that he has “learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content.” Whether in want or in abundance, he was content. I think the key word here is “learned.” I am not Paul, and I have not learned, but I am learning, to be content in whatever state I am. Paul didn’t say that he was always, from the beginning, content. He said he had learned to be so. The way that we learn something is by starting out “not able/not knowing” and “practicing, while being taught.” Then, after time, we arrive at a higher level of knowledge, understanding and skill. The method of ascertaining what level we have attained is often testing.
Christmastime is a test for me. At Christmas, I experience the deep feeling of “longing”: I “long” to be more organized. I “long” for happier times past or future. I “long” for a house more beautifully decorated. I “long” for a skinnier body more physically fit when we’re going to take our Christmas picture. I “long” to see all my loved ones saved as I write my yearly Christmas letter to extended family. I “long” to truly celebrate the Lord’s birth as I “should” (whatever that means). I “long” for all my relationships to be warm, loving and fulfilling, at a time when busyness, expectations, too much eating and too little sleep make us peevish and fretful, like toddlers needing a nap. The world continually tells me “this is the happiest time of the year”! Why do I feel I am in a perpetual state of angst.
Is this discontentment? Perhaps. Some of these longings, however, will never be fully satisfied until I reach heaven, for they are longings for perfection and holiness. I am discontent with sin and imperfection, in myself and the world. The discontent with sin in myself: covetousness, bitterness, hatred and an out-of-control tongue, which sin causes chaos in my surroundings and strife in my relationships, should cause repentance, and change. My longings and discontentment, then, may decrease, too, if I do, in fact, learn to be more organized, so that Christmas becomes more Worshipful and less Will-I-Ever-Finish. (Not looking to that perfect world that only exists in my imagination, magical movies, and Christmas illustrations on glossy greeting cards, where families laugh and sing while decorating a gigantic Christmas tree–the house spotless and mom carrying a tray of dazzling decorated cookies, dressed in heels; later cozying up in an overstuffed easy chair by a warmly lit fireplace, the mantle festooned with greenery and flickering candlelight, sipping hot cocoa while she reads lovely stories to happy little children sitting on her lap.) The world only feeds discontent.
Yesterday, before the prayer time in our church, a young man quoted Philippians 4:6–“Be careful (anxious, worried, fretting) for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. (It goes on to say, “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”) I was cut to the quick. The hopeless state of my heart was revealed, as the Scriptures cut straight through to the deepest level. I realized my sin of fear, worry, discontent, and bitterness, all in one fell swoop. I recognized my lack of faith. There were areas of my heart exposed in which I had given up hope that God would answer my deepest longings. I didn’t believe that God would do what was best for me and for those I loved. I was bitter and angry at God. I sat in my chair confessing my sin before the Lord, under a dreadful blanket of unthankfulness.
Is there something you’re longing for, but God seems not to answer, or the answer seems to be, “No?” The temptation is to give up hope. But that is really lack of faith, like saying, “If God gives me everything I want, when I want it, then I will trust Him, praise Him, believe in Him.” Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” When we have the thing we hoped for, we no longer need faith.
If our longings are for “things,” then looking to Jesus, and and setting our thoughts and affections on eternal things will give us a clearer vision. Everything we can see and touch is going to burn. If our longings are for things we cannot see, they may be a picture of the true spiritual world which we are really longing for: the love in our relationship with God, our Father; the perfection of holy living; the peace of righteousness. These longings should turn us to Him. In any case, the answer to our discontent and longing is Christ. Christ alone can satisfy our deepest longings. As I live in this world of imperfection, I am learning contentment by turning my longings into prayers, my complaints and bitterness into confession, my sighs and whys into supplication. “No good thing doth He withhold from them that walk uprightly.” Does God do anything ill? God is good. God is loving. James 1:17 states, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” During prayer time, as I listened to a prayer request for a woman once healed of breast cancer, who now has months to live because of brain cancer, the thought of my own cancer-free status hit me in the face and I was stunned by the image in my mind of my clenched fist in God’s face over His delay and even possible “No” to my longings. When had I stopped waking with thanks on my lips for life? When had I forgotten that “His lovingkindness is better than life?” It’s so easy to lose perspective. After confessing my sin to the Lord, I asked for restoration of my soul, and His power to change me.
Learning contentment is a lifelong process. At every stage of life, we experience “longings” and must exercise faith. When I was a child, I longed to be older, more grown up. When I was older, I longed for someone to love me. Then I longed to be married. Would God ever answer? When I was married, I longed for children. I thought I would never have any. We waited 7 years before our first child was born. Then my second pregnancy ended in miscarriage. Would I ever be able to have any more children? We began thinking about adoption. But it didn’t look like we would qualify. Then we were able to conceive again. Later, my husband decided we should not have any more children. I longed with all my heart for more. Then when my children were grown, I longed for them to traverse the path into adulthood without falling. Now, I long for them to find the right Godly marriage partners. We never arrive, because change is a part of life, and life here on earth is temporary. What we experience here on earth is just a picture of spiritual truths. It points us to Christ. I am sure that later, should my children marry, as I’m longing, I will long for grandchildren. Then I will long to see my children and grandchildren more. Then I will long for my grandchildren to be saved and walking with the Lord. And on it goes.
At every stage of life, we must exercise faith. We must learn, through taking all our longings to Him, and saturating our hearts and minds with the Word, that “Christ is my all in all,” and that He is enough. In Christ alone, I have my hope. In Christ I trust. In Christ I rest contented.