Contentment

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out.” – 1Timothy 6:6-7

I just searched this site for the number of times I’ve tagged a post with the word “contentment.” I found that despite the fact that contentment is something the Lord is constantly teaching me, I found only four previous posts (if interested, you can find them here). Recently, the Lord has convicted me about how frequently my heart wanders into discontentment, as well as the constant comparisons that I make of myself to others.

The area where I find myself most vulnerable to comparisons and discontentment is no longer the mall or when I’m flipping through a J.Crew catalog, though those are still avenues of temptation for me to lust for things. Rather, I’ve found that several of the greatest areas of temptation for my heart in this current season involve social media sites.

Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, among others, provide a unique environment for online community. They, like many other social media sites, have made it possible for friends and family members to stay connected, despite living on different sides of the country or even on different continents. I often catch myself heading to my sister’s Facebook page so that I can view new photos of my ten-month-old niece. They live in Los Angeles, but thanks to Facebook and FaceTime, I’ve been able to be a part of my baby niece’s life! There are so many other positive uses for social media. We aggregate news, we are inspired to pursue causes of justice and mission, and we pursue a myriad of various interests through social media. The possibilities are truly endless. I’ve made numerous Pinterest-inspired recipes and craft projects. However, despite all of the positive opportunities that Facebook and other social media sites provide, I have recently realized that there is another inherent opportunity in the use and consumption of social media – the temptation and opportunity to covet and compare.

This temptation is not new. God commanded the Israelites in Exodus 20:17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” We all have a proclivity to want what we do not have and Facebook and Pinterest tend to make us much more aware of what is not ours. They bring the whole world to our fingertips! While looking through my News Feed, I’ve found myself comparing my body, my vacations, my family, my home, my job, my marriage, and my friendships to those of my closest 1,028 friends on Facebook. And it doesn’t stop there! You can literally compare every detail of your life to the details of others’ lives that they post for all to see!

I experienced the incredible danger of these comparisons this past fall as I settled into marriage. I had several friends on Facebook, whom had also recently been married, and I found myself in a constant state of comparing myself and my marriage to these women and their new husbands. I wondered if my marriage wasn’t as good as their marriages if I wasn’t also receiving flowers or love notes with the same frequency as the other new wives. Or if I wasn’t cooking for my husband as much as they were. Facebook opened a door into others’ routine lives and relationships that made me feel as though my life and my relationship were somehow inferior. I found myself coveting. I wanted my husband to be more like theirs. Likewise, while Pinterest is super fun (and addicting), even I have “Fitness” and “Fashion” boards. Is it full of exercises that I think would be helpful and outfit ideas that I love? Yes. But it’s also full of images that fill my heart and mind with what culture says I should look like. And sadly, all too often I fall prey to their perspective. And so do many other women. In fact, even the news media has been reporting on Pinterest’s “anorexia problem.”

I’m sure that I compare myself and what I have been given to other people and their possessions even more often without realizing it, but thankfully, the Lord revealed this sin in my heart last fall, before I allowed it to poison my new marriage. I have to constantly remember and reflect on why I entered into marriage in the first place – because God had led me to this specific man and no other! Likewise, I have had to consistently meditate on 1 Peter 3:3-4: “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.

I want to encourage you to take a look at your heart today. Look at where you may have allowed discontentment, jealousy, and covetousness to creep in as you have observed your friends’ lives or dreamed of new clothing, a perfect body, and what your future house could look like. Meditate on Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Please let God Himself define perfection for you. And don’t be lured into thinking that God hasn’t given you exactly what you need. Thank God for where He has placed you specifically – and remember that He is sovereign and that He has determined not just when you would live, but also “the boundaries of your dwelling place!” (Acts 17:26).

And lastly, please place a guard on your heart and do not allow yourself to be lulled back into discontentment. As 1 Timothy 6:6-7 says, “godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out.”

Faithful in little, faithful in much

In the last month God has made it increasingly clear to me that much is accomplished in the drudgery of the day-to-day. Even the most mundane of tasks is worthwhile, all because our lives and our actions matter. Every word, every action, even every thought matters. Everything we do is eternal.

I love the Parable of the Talents found in Matthew 25:14-29 (here are verses 14-23, but it’s all really good):

“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’”  

One of the neatest experiences is to realize that consistenly being faithful in little has a dramatic impact on your friends, family, and coworkers. The truth is that so often we become influencers and transform environments without even realizing that we’ve done so. When you’re faithful with little when it’s hard and when you don’t understand, and when you think no one sees, you yourself are transformed, sanctified, and made more like Christ. And that doesn’t go unnoticed.

I think sometimes we feel like we’re out in the desert.We feel without hope of achieving our dreams and sometimes we even begin to feel forgotten. We wonder why God’s put our dreams on hold. But let me say this – if I’ve learned nothing else in the last several years, I have learned that faithfulness in the desert leads to an incredible reward. God never, ever puts our dreams on hold, even when we’re asked to wait.

I love this verse and I’ve held on to it since the fall:

“But these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.” Habakkuk 2:3

So, my encouragement to you today – if you feel stuck in the wrong job or the wrong state, or even if you don’t know where God is calling you or what His plans for you are – be faithful right now. Be faithful where you are. Look for opportunities to love and influence the people you see daily. The rewards you will reap as you eventually move from one season to another will be tremendous.

The challenge for me as I transition is to continue pushing through, working hard, and remaining faithful as I see the end approaching rapidly.

“Finding Myself Extra Amazed by God Today”

(from November 3, 2009)

This past week has been one of intense revelations. The contentment theme continues…

Today my gchat status said this: “finding myself extra amazed by God today.”

I don’t know why, but I really didn’t expect to be asked why. It stands to reason that people might want to know just what it was that prompted such a statement in the midst of an ordinary Wednesday afternoon. I got SO many questions about it – “just what did God do for you?” and “why is God amazing?” and “PLEASE tell me the story behind your gchat status.” People were so curious and I think I learned two things from said curiosity – a.) it really matters what I say there (even in that tiny little box) because people really do pay attention, and b.) I really need to be giving God glory more often, and not just because people pay attention, though that’s a good reason as well.

So, what did happen? I’m sure you, like everyone else, are dying to know. It wasn’t that something really good happened at work, or that a huge prayer had been answered, or that a desire of my heart had been met… or was it?

I think it was the latter. The desire of my heart is increasingly God Himself… just to know Him better and to find Him… it’s a constant life of seeking and finding. Recognizing all that I am not and all that He is. Pushing myself to decrease and to allow Him to increase in me (John 3:30).

That gchat status gave me multiple opportunities to share with coworkers, friends, and acquaintances about my faith… and about the overwhelming feeling I get when I think about the cross and grace, and just how… close I get to be to God. It’s an honor, a privilege, humbling, and totally undeserved. It’s truly amazing… an answer to prayer and the desire of my heart granted.

I’m realizing more and more that it doesn’t matter what I think or want, unless I first want Him and His kingdom and that it’s incredibly prideful to think that I can be effective in the kingdom of heaven or bring glory to Him outside of His plan and my preordained role in it. Each day, He increases my desire to make Him great. It’s almost like I can feel my heart expand inside my chest and I want His will for my life more each day, whatever that may be… and I want to fill my proper role within the kingdom.

so, I hope that each day I find myself extra amazed by His friendship and increasingly grateful for His grace.

Contentment 2.0

Tuesday evening I was running and listening to a sermon on contentment by Josh Patterson of the Village Church (the sermon can be found here). I used to run, watch a muted tv show, and also listen to sermons – all at the same time. I’m constantly the multitasker, even in what I consider to be “me time,” or “alone time.” Recently I’ve realized that I need to focus more during that time, and so now I just run and listen to sermons… it’s really brought about a lot of breakthrough in my life. I love the changes that take place in my heart when I am constantly in prayer, listening to sermons, or reading the Word.

I must have put the sermon on my ipod with purpose, but I had forgotten about it until it jumped out at me as the one to listen to right then. Over the past few weeks, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be content (as I’m sure can be seen from previous posts).  God keeps directing me to Philippians 4, and other epistles that Paul wrote… I’m learning so much about true contentment and what it means to find complete satisfaction in God alone. All of it has been amazing – I’m always constantly overwhelmed by how God speaks to me… how He uses His Word, His Church, and His world to imprint new things into my heart – things that I hope are engraved there forever. But Tuesday was really special. It was one of those defining moments that I think I’ll never forget. It was a moment when an important truth that completely changes the way I view life was illuminated…

Josh Patterson read Philippians 4:11-13 (NLT) “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”] As I heard it again, and he mentioned that Paul didn’t show a preference for either plenty or lack, I realized that BOTH are hard places to be content in. Contentment is a learned response, regardless of whether you have little or whether you have much.

I’m realizing that it’s probably far harder to be content when I have all that I want, because then, in my plenty, I lack the desperation and knowledge that He’s all I have and could ever need. I’m now praying that since God has taught me to trust and to be content in the desert or hard seasons, that He’ll give me the opportunity to learn to be content (and to practice contentment) when I have enough, or even plenty. I think I’ve always read Paul’s words in Philippians 4 to mean that we have to learn to be content when we are in lack, but I think I’ve realized that what we truly have to learn is how to be satisfied in Him when we don’t lack any good thing. That’s the hard part. I’ve spent more time in prayer in the last month than I have in years… Now I just need to make it a lifestyle and stay there.

I think I understand now, more than ever, why the rich young man in Luke 18 didn’t understand what Jesus was trying to tell him – he thought he had all that he needed. Even when presented with the prospect of eternal life, he didn’t understand the necessity of discontentment WITHOUT Christ. And he couldn’t imagine that Christ could fulfill him and be the place he found contentment if he didn’t have physical security, his possessions, and his stature in the community.

Even WITH/IN Christ, it takes His strength for us to rely on Him and crave Him, even when we’re in a season of blessing. The proper context for Philippians 4:13 is that it is Christ who empowers us to face any situation and be content in both the experience and the outcome, whether it be pain or pleasure. I think it might be possible that the truest test of faith isn’t where you run when you’re hurting, but where you abide when everything seems to be going your way, the path seems clear, and the future is bright.

joy in contentment

We’re working our way through Philippians in small group right now. It’s such a beautiful book. It’s not called the “book of joy” for no reason. Paul’s writing from prison, yet the book overflows with joy, contentment, and praise.

I’m jumping ahead of my small group by several weeks right now, but God’s really speaking to me today about finding contentment in Him alone. It’s an interesting thing to have the Lord say to you, “Yes, I did promise you that… but the fulfillment of My promise isn’t what you should be looking for. Look for Me, seek Me, desire ME first. And the promise will then be released.”

[Philippians 4:4,6-7,11-13

4 Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!

6Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

11 Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.]

It’s true. Regardless of any promise the Lord ever makes me, it is He that is the greatest promise and the best gift, and thus should always be my first and greatest desire. It reminded me a lot of something God said to me two years ago – that restoration can never come in the form of a person… restoration is something God does in our hearts.

In the same way – the promise may come in the form of a person, thing, situation, etc… but ultimately, God Himself is the promise. God makes lots of promises and He has never failed to keep even one. Think of Abraham and Sarah and the promise of Isaac. Even at the moment in which it seemed to Abraham that he was about to lose his long-awaited son who was promised by God, he chose to trust… knowing that God had promised him a heritage in Isaac, and understanding that God was sovereign, had a magnificent plan, and would never break His word. This the faith spoken of in Hebrews 11 – faith that believes even when it doesn’t see or understand the plan, and it was this kind faith that landed Abraham a mention in what is referred to as the faith hall of fame: Hebrews 11:8.

All throughout Scripture God reassures us of His trustworthiness. I love Habakkuk 2:3 – “But these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.”

Hold on to God’s promises. They’re true. But hold tightly to Him first. His promises come about in His perfect plan. They are never delayed. We have to seek and find the balance between asking God to “rouse Himself” on our behalf like David does in Psalms, reminding Him of His commitment to us, praying our our desires, and simply choosing to rest, trust, and find contentment in Him alone.