Idols Crashing Down

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In Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts, she talks about giving thanks for all things.  She spends most of the book focusing on gratitude for the small things like the moon and flowers and chocolate, but she includes the exhortation that is is necessary to give thanks even for tough circumstances.  She calls this hard eucharisteo.  It is hard to give thanks for the tough things.  How do we give thanks for a chronically sick child or a dying friend or financial devastation?  How do we go about actually feeling gratitude for those things?  Voskamp suggests that we begin with the words and the feelings will follow.  Gratitude opens our eyes to good.

If you are struggling to be thankful for hard circumstances, start by thanking God for the fruit.  When God brings you something that you do not like, something hard, we know that it is for our good.  As we thank Him for our circumstances, our eyes are opened to fruit in us that He is using this hardship to grow.  Pruning, although painful, produces a generous harvest.  But you may still struggle to see the fruit because it takes time to grow.  If you struggle to see fruit, give thanks for the idols that you see crashing down. I have often found my hardships to be perfectly aimed at my own personal idols.  I have found that God brings hardship to the area of my life which I have started to love more than Him.  The hardship tears my idols apart, until only God is left to bring me joy.

Before I had children, I loved saying yes to everything.  I loved being involved with every event that I could, I loved running events, I loved being involved with my church and school.  If there was something to sign up for, my name was on the list.  While this is not a sin, I began to make an idol out of it.  I found so much self-gratification out of serving the community this way, that it drove many of my decisions and even friendships.  I took great pride in being dependable.  Then God gave me a baby that needed more from me than I had imagined.  I found that it was nearly impossible to commit to anything.  I was home most of the time trying to figure out nap schedules and nursing and swaddling and how to comfort a colicky baby.  I was lonely.  I felt like I was not doing anything worthwhile because nobody could see anything I was doing.  God took my idols of “community involvement” and “people pleasing” and smashed them.  I had to look to Him for joy and value.

Seasons of life bring their own unique challenges and hardships.  We can welcome the hardships because we know that God uses hardships like a sword, tearing down all the things that stand between us and Him.  Give thanks for all the things that are falling.  Maybe you have are gifted athletically, but you have an injury that will take months to heal.  Give thanks that God will not let you make an idol out of fitness.  Maybe you have always wanted to be married, but the circumstances have not worked out that way yet.  Give thanks that God will not let you make an idol out of marriage.  Maybe you excel in hospitality, but chronic illness is keeping you from opening your home.  Give thanks that God will not let you make an idol our of hospitality.  Maybe you extremely talented in your field of work, but babies or aging parents are requiring you to spend more time at home.  Give thanks that God will not let you make an idol out of work.

 It is not uncommon for the Lord to test us on the things we love the most.  When He asked Abraham for the life of his son, He wanted to see Abraham’s devotion to Him.  God wanted to see that Abraham loved Him with his whole heart.  God wanted Abraham to see that he loved Him with his whole heart.  When you are asked to lay your most prized possession on an altar, prepare to see all your idols crashing down around you.  No matter how much joy they may bring you, when your idols crash you find that God is your only comfort, and that is the sweetest place to be.

Helping children fight fear

 

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This spring has been cold and snowy, just like our winter.  Just this morning there was frost covering the car, and now I have a child with a cold napping on my lap as I write.  It definitely doesn’t feel like spring.  Just a few months ago I took this little sick girl in for a doctor visit (a well-child visit, ironically), and she was so afraid that she had a hard time getting out of the car.  It can be difficult to help a child with fear because even if you can get them to obey, there are many emotions still lingering.  I decided I needed a system to help my kids gain courage.

First, we obey.  I tell them not to think about how they feel, but just to obey.  It doesn’t matter if they feel like it will be scary in the doctor’s office, they need to obey me and walk in.  It doesn’t matter if they have butterflies in their tummy, they need to obey my instructions.  That is the first step.  Obedience even when the emotions are not there.  I have to explain to them that sometimes we should not listen to ourselves.  Sometimes our emotions are wrong and when they are telling us to disobey, we have to act against them.

Second, we remember.
  We remember all the times we have been to the doctor and come out alive.  We remember all the ways that doctors have helped us.  We talk about times we have done scary things and everything turned out well.  We remember when we went to the dentist and it didn’t hurt one bit.  They may be too young to remember some of these times, so I tell them stories.  I tell them about how they were sick as an infant and God protected them and brought them healing.  Or if they are afraid of something else, like the dark, we talk about all the times God has protected us in the dark.  We remember that He watched over us through thousands of nights.  I have to show my child how to talk truth to themselves.  The truth is that God cares about us and is constantly watching over us with care.  I need to help them remember that so they can fight their fear.

Third, we give thanks
.  We give thanks for all the kind mercies along the way, even if the experience is hard.  We look at reality, which is often less scary than our imaginations and worries.  We give thanks for the stickers and the prize box at the pediatrician’s office.  We give thanks for the free ice cream coupons after shots.  We give thanks for the funny looking hospital gown we have to wear and we take silly pictures in it.  I remind my child that God does not give us hard things without giving us gifts in the middle of the hard.  We look around for the gifts and give thanks for them.  On scary dark nights, we give thanks for nightlights and flashlights and CDs with our favorite stories and fuzzy pajamas.  I can’t just tell my child to stop being afraid and obey.  That is only the first step.  I have to help them replace their fear with gratitude.  I have to show them what courage looks like.  If they are going to gain victory over their emotion of fear, they need to know what other path to take.

Remembering

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I would apologize for my long absence from writing on this blog, but in all honestly I’m not really sorry. I have been putting all my energy into getting hot dinners on the table, keeping school uniforms clean, corralling the crayons, surviving a thousand winter illnesses (isn’t that always what happens the first year of living anywhere?), and working on a bigger writing project. But here I am, back again, with some thoughts from Psalm 136.

Psalm 136 is a song of gratitude to God for His mercy. The Psalm opens with “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever.”   The last line (for His mercy endures forever) ends every verse in the Psalm.  The writing walks through the history of creation, through the deliverance from Egypt, through the victories against the Amorites, and through God’s direction in leading the Israelites to their new home.  This was written as a song that the people of God could sing in worship and it acted as a reminder for all the the Lord had done for His people in protecting and guiding them.

One of the common enemies of Christians is fear, anxiety, and worry.  This isn’t a new struggle.  When God’s people first came to the promise land, the spies (with the exception of Caleb and Joshua) were too afraid to pursue the promise because the people dwelling in that land were strong and terrifying.  We still struggle with this.  We are afraid of financial devastation, of illness, of terrorism, of death.  It cripples us.  We are even too afraid of what others think of us.  We worry about the present and the future.  We worry about the past and psychologically our culture is infatuated with defining people by their past trauma.

This is where Psalm 136 comes as a glorious example to us of how to break free from the sin of fear.  We have to remember.  The Psalmist remembers all that God has done and writes a song so others can remember too.  When we look back on our story with eyes of gratitude, scanning our chapters for moments of His mercy, we are reminded of how good He has been.  What if you wrote the story of your life like the Psalm 136?

I was born into a Christian family, with my whole body functioning perfectly, for His mercy endures forever.

I was given nourishing food, education, and siblings to be my friends, for His mercy endures forever.

I was given a spouse to sharpen me and love me and care for me, for His mercy endures forever.

My body was sustained through pregnancies and c-sections, for His mercy endures forever.

I could go on and on.  He has shown mercy to me in a thousand ways.  When we remember all these mercies, the big ones and the little ones, it gives us the faith to have courage in the future.  Remembering His mercy is the arrow that pierces fear.  Remembering is our shield to face the future with the assurance of His protection.  Remembering His mercy is the lens to look at the past without regret or bitterness.  Cling to the good things He has already done and you will find faith that He will be good on every day in the future.

Snares

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There is a spot on the corner of our couch where I can see the very top of Moscow Mountain peeking over the neighbor’s roof.  I love to sit here in the mornings and watching the first light hit the very top of the mountain on a clear day.  Last week, with coffee in hand I watched the mountain slowly glowing and read Hebrews 12, a favorite passage:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

I often think I am strong enough to get through a day without sinning, but this is false.  I need forgiveness daily.  I often forget to foresee all the entanglements I will face each day.  I make a list of things I need to do, but do I make a list of all the snares that are waiting for me as I try to do those things?  No!  Instead of recognizing the snares that so easily entangle me, I often just stumble along through my days carrying around weights of small unnoticed sin, feeling it pull me down, but not always able to realize what is bothering me.    Paul says that carrying the weight of sin keeps us from being able to run with perseverance.  I see this all the time.  I feel tired, I feel like complaining, I feel like crashing into bed at the end of the day and just trying not to think about all the hard moments that I glazed over.  But that isn’t perseverance!  Perseverance is strong and works hard and looks for opportunity to grow.  Perseverance doesn’t mean just stumbling through the day putting one tired foot in front of the other, perseverance means I am ready for the next thing.

Whenever I take my kids to a new place, or when we do something that I know will be hard for them, we have a talk about what is expected of them and what temptations they might struggle with.  If we are going out shopping, I remind them how they should act in the store and how they may not act.  When we go to church, I remind them to sit still and be quiet and to stay in the designated area after church so I can find them when it is time to go.  But I find that I am lazy to do this for myself.  I am lazy to look ahead to various situations that I face in order to look out for the snares.  Instead what happens is that I often allow temptations to creep up without even noticing, until by the end of the day I am weighed down and entangled.

When I am dressing in the morning, what kind of temptation might I face?  Discontent with my mother-of-three body.  Envy or covetousness towards women with a more extensive wardrobe selection.  When my kids stumbled out of their beds, grumpy and whining, what kind of temptation might I face?  Annoyance or laziness because I am not quite awake enough to deal with their sin.  When a friend says or does something unkind? What kind of snare might be waiting for me in that situation? When I am paying bills? When I am folding the millionth load of laundry? When I am running late for an appointment because someone can’t find their shoe?  When my child disobeys again after I have already corrected them several times?  When I have a headache? When the car breaks down?

I need to look at these situations daily and ask myself what temptations I might face during these times: fear, frustration, impatience, taking offense, despair, complaining, loving things or myself more than others.  I need to anticipate temptation more and put a hedge of prayer around me.  Even fun events, like family holidays, can present a number of temptations that if I am not ready for them will quickly weigh me down with sin.  But if I think ahead and look for the temptations I might face, then I am ready to cast the weight onto Christ when it comes.  I am ready to persevere like running a race, instead of trudging along with a limp.

 

Worry

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I have been thinking recently about the nature of worry.  It is a sin that we are pretty quick to excuse, sometimes perhaps because we confuse worry with concern.  Concern is often on some else’s behalf and it often has a conclusive action on our part.  If I am concerned for my friend because she looked really tired, I can offer to watch her kids or take her a meal.  If I am concerned for my child because they are sick, I can take them to the doctor to get them medicine.  But worry doesn’t have an action that is helpful.  Worry is caught-up in the what-ifs.  Worry is us telling ourselves a bad story.  Worry is usually about our own well-being instead of some else’s.  Here is the interesting thing about worry that I have been meditating on: worry is telling ourselves a story where we sin in the future.

I worry about not having any money because I am afraid of not having food or clothing or a home.  I am worried that I might be discontent in the future.  I worry about illness because I won’t be able to do the things I love to do.  I am worried that I might be selfish in the future.  I worry about loosing someone I love because I will be in the pit of despair without them.  I am worried that I might wallow in self-pity in the future.

Do you see what I mean?  Worry is telling myself that I will have a live a hard story and I will just be sinning up a storm in the middle of that story.  It is telling myself that in this bad, hard story I will not be rejoicing and I will be discontent and I will not be loving others or loved by them. But what about the fact that I am sinning in my current story with all this worry?  No wonder Christ told us to stop it. I am telling myself that if disaster comes then I will not have the strength of the Holy Spirit and I will not have the support of the church.  Worry is telling myself a lie.  Worry is telling myself that I will not have a Comforter or a comforter.  It is taking the worst case scenario about tomorrow and robbing it of all God’s graces and mercies.

Psalm 112:7 says “They will have no fear of bad news, their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.”  It is only possible to have no fear of bad news if we believe the Lord when He says He will be with us through the deep waters, He will guide us with His counsel, He is trust-worthy.  Whatever the future holds, there God will be, ready to protect us from sin, ready to enable us to rejoice.

Loving Husbands

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I have a very dear friend that lives too far away.  We don’t talk as often as I would like, and we don’t see each other much.  But she is a treasure in my life.  She has never been afraid to tell me when I am wrong and to point me in the right direction.  She is a patient listener, but won’t put up with complaining for a second.  She always says “confront or forget and then move on”, and it is always the advice I need to hear.  But one of my favorite things about her is that she consistently reminds me what a great man I married.  Just in a normal conversation she will say something like “what a blessing that you married someone handy, who can fix things around the house” or “it is so fun to be married to someone with a great sense of humor, you know what I mean, Jon is hilarious” or “Jon is such a hard worker – he will always take good care of you.”  She is a constant reminder that I was given a man who is kind and generous and funny and hard working and handsome and loves kids.  And her praise of her own husband exceeds this.

I think this is an aspect of what Paul is talking about when he says for the older women to teach the younger women to love their husbands and children (Titus 2:4).  Not only are older women to be a good example of how to love and respect, but they can also be helpful in pointing out the good.  Remind the younger women, often and specifically, of what a great gift they have been given.  Help them to keep their focus on the great qualities of their husbands and children.  Point out how God has blessed them.  Show them the respectable things their husbands do and the adorable things their kids do.  If you notice a teenager being helpful, tell their mother.  Help her love her teenager even more.

One of the most discouraging things we can do to a young wife is say something critical of her husband.  Of course all wives know what their husbands’ faults are; women are experts at finding faults.  Criticizing her husband will only make it hard for her to respect him.  Make a point of being a fan of your friends’ husbands.  Make a point of loving your friends’ kids.  This is a huge encouragement to each other, and our words have so much power to give each other courage to be women who forgive quickly and who forget faults and who remember good.

Suffering for a little while

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Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who by the power of God are guarded through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, ye have been put to grief in manifold trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold that perisheth though it is proved by fire, may be found unto praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ:. (1 Peter 1:3-7)

I have had this verse scribbled on the white board in my kitchen for a month, and I have read it at least 100 times as I scrub dishes and chop vegetables and brown meat and roll out biscuits.  I always stop at verse 6, “…though for a little while, if need be, ye have been put to grief and manifold trials…”  Peter is still in the middle of his greeting, but he is packing in a lot of information about trials in that little statement.  First of all, trials are “for a little while”.  He is saying that we have this great inheritance that can never fade, that is eternal, and the griefs and trials are actually the short chapter of the story.  Second, he says that we will have trials “if need be”.  This means that God will not send us a trial unless it is necessary .  Necessary for what?  For our glory!  The next verse Peter says that after we have endured various trails we will be “found unto praise and glory and honor”.  God will not allow a trial to come to us unless He intends to use it for our glory.  Our various hardships that we walk through are directly correlated to glory at the revelation of Jesus.

This is hard to understand because it is hard to see.  Sometimes see now how our struggles and trials strengthen our faith, and a greater faith will bring a greater glory.  When we walk through a valley we always learn something new, and when we come out the other side still singing God’s praises, we can see how His hand of goodness was guiding us the whole time.  We learn to trust Him in new ways.  We can see these things.  But I don’t think we can fully comprehend what it means that God will use these trials to bring us glory.  That is the conversation of Job.  He never was given a reason why he had to endure so much pain, but he learned to trust that God had something far bigger going on than he could comprehend.

For about two years I suffered from severe back and hip pain.  I sought help from a chiropractor, but the treatment that she gave me only made the problem worse to the point where it was painful to take even one step.  That is not to say that I stopped taking steps, but that most of my days for a couple of years were riddled with pain.  This seemed so frustrating to me at the time, especially with toddlers running around.  I wanted my health so that I could do good things.  I wanted to be able to move without pain so I could take care of my home and my children, so I could carry my chubby toddler without wincing.  But that was not the good work that God wanted to give me.  He wanted to give me greater glory, and greater glory meant that I had to walk through a physically painful and emotionally frustrating battle.  I don’t understand the glory.  I don’t see the full glory (except for the fact that I am far more thankful now for pain-free days).  But that’s what faith is all about.  Faith is believing in things hoped for.  Faith is being thankful for the trials because we believe that walking through them will bring greater glory when Jesus is revealed.

Many trials in our lives are like that – we don’t understand why they happen.  We have a hard time seeing the good that came of it.  There are some hard things I have had to do in my life that I still have not seen the good that God promises. (There are also many more hard things that I have seen almost immediate fruit from). But Peter tells us that when we walk through these hardships in faith, He turns our suffering into glory for us.  And that is where my comfort is.  He will not give me a trial unless it is necessary to give me great glory in the future.  These trials are short in comparison to the eternity of joy with God.

He will also not give others trials without turning them into glory.  We see friends suffer and suffer again and we pray for their relief and comfort.  We try to come up with words that will comfort them.  Our encouragement is often awkward.  We think of tangible comforts like “If you hadn’t lost your job, you wouldn’t have moved to this great new city.” Or “If you hadn’t struggled with your health, you wouldn’t be such a thankful person.”  Peter doesn’t say that we walk though trials to bring us to a point of satisfaction with our life, he says it is to bring glory and honor!    So many times there is no visible comfort to grief and loss, and it is audacious of us to try to find the “good end” in someone else’s story.  Maybe they will see how the Lord has worked this trial for good in their life, and maybe they will spend their days not knowing why they were afflicted.  The comfort isn’t always in what we see now, the comfort is in what we can’t see, the glory that is to come.  That is how we can echo the refrain of James and find joy and gratitude in the middle of various trials, seeing some of the fruit that these trials bring now, but keeping our eyes always fixed ahead.

 

 

 

 

The Key to Self-Control

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“make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
‭‭2 Peter‬ ‭1:5-11‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Peter always catches me off guard in this passage.  I am reading along about how we have been bought into the salvation of Christ, and then he says now that we believe we should keep adding to our faith.  This is along the same lines of what James says: faith without works is dead.  The faithful are known by their fruit.  Peter gets very specific here about what that faith fruit should look like.  We should first add goodness.  Easy enough.  Be good.  Say a kind word.  Cook dinner for someone in need.  Then we should add knowledge.  Study! Pay attention in the sermon!  Read your Bible.  Check.  But then he says to add self-control, and this is where I get caught up.  Unlike the first two virtues, self- control is not an action.  All the sudden Peter is telling me to stop doing something I shouldn’t do, instead of telling me to find something good to do.  The assignment just got harder.  How do I add self-control?  Peter doesn’t leave us hanging.  If you skip down to verse 8, you will find the answer, the key to self-control. “But whoever does not have (these qualities) is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.”  The key is to remember that you have been cleansed from your past sins.  If you believe every morning that your sins of yesterday have been completely forgiven, erased, forgotten, you will have the self control to turn from them.  You are no longer a mom who yells at her kids, you are a forgiven mom.  You are not a wife who disrespects her husband, you are forgiven.  Today you are a new wife, you are a respectful wife, because you have been cleansed and you can do all things through Christ.  You are not the girl who envies all the other girls at school, you are new.  You are no longer lazy, no longer angry, no longer worried, no longer afraid, all those things have been forgotten and taken away from you. Today you are forgiven and you don’t have to worry or be lazy or be angry. You are not that person anymore.

We find some pretty great motivation in verse 11 “For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  If we persevere in goodness and knowledge and self-control and godliness and love then we will be richly welcomed into the Kingdom of saints.  Richly welcomed by Abraham and Sarah, by Moses and Noah and Ruth and King David and Elijah and Peter and Paul and so many others who have gone before.  How we conduct ourselves in day to day relationships has an effect on how we will be welcomed by these saints when we enter the Eternal Kingdom.

I’ve been meditating on self-control a lot lately, and not just for myself.  I’m still learning it, but as I do so I’m also trying to guide my children how to be self-controlled.  I don’t want my children to learn how to just suppress all their emotion.  That’s not my goal.  My goal is to help them control their actions and not act solely on how they are feeling.  Easy to say, hard to teach. But this is my starting point, my solid ground for teaching self-control that I need to continually fall back on.  If I see they are really struggling with self-control, I need to make sure of two things.  First, I need to make sure they know that they are forgiven.  I forgave them, God forgave them.  They are not my “difficult child”. They are my forgiven child.  They are not my child who bites or hits, they are my forgiven child, they are made new every time they are disciplined and forgiven.  They are not my stubborn child, they are my child who was baptized into Christ and stubbornness does not have a hold on them.  I need to make sure they know this.

Second, I need to make sure my children have the reward of a rich welcome when they act in self-control.  It is easy for me to notice when my children do not have self-control, when they throw fits or talk back or hit each other.  But it is hard to notice when they sit still in church and cheerfully eat the dinner they don’t like and walk away when their sibling annoys them.  I need to make sure that I take note and richly praise them when they are controlled.  I need to be in the habit of giving high-fives and winks and hugs when they wait cheerfully for their dinner, instead of just noticing when they are whining and grabbing my legs like they have never had a meal before.  My hope is that they will understand the reward of self-control is a rich welcome, a rich welcome here in our family, and a rich welcome into Eternity.

Three things I learned in Louisville

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Almost a month ago we left our temporary home in Louisville, Kentucky and settled back into Idaho.  When we moved to Louisville about three years ago I knew exactly two people in the whole city and I didn’t know them well.  We moved here with no money, no job and two adorable little girls who were expecting to be fed and cared for.  But even in the midst of these struggles we enjoyed the city so much.  There were so many fun things to do and I really feel like we only scratched the surface of all it has to offer.   It was challenging and pushed us to trust in ways that we didn’t want to learn.  Moving is always a definite way to see a chapter of your life closing, and as it does here are three things the Lord kept teaching us over the last chapter that I do not want to forget.

 1. God often provides for our material needs in ways that we don’t expect.  In Matthew 17 Jesus is asked to pay taxes.  He sends his disciples fishing and tells them they will find money in the mouth of a fish to pay for the tax.  The last three years have been a financial roller coaster to say the least and The Lord has provided for us over and over again in ways that we were not even looking for.  He has shown us that He loves to provide surprise gifts when we least expect it.  He is not stingy when you put your trust in Him and go fishing.

2. The Holy Spirit comes to us in friends.  Jesus tells us that He has left behind a Helper for us, which is the Spirit.  I often think of the Holy Spirit as acting strictly in a spiritual sense to comfort and encourage our hearts.  While this is something that He does, we are also told that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.  This means that other people’s bodies are also temples, and it is often within other people that we find the greatest help from the Spirit.  The Lord brought amazing people into our lives in Louisville and many times when we prayed for encouragement, babysitters, a car, food, clothing, wisdom, it was those friends who have the Spirit of God living in them that became the greatest instrument of God’s blessing to us.

3. God’s love transcends denominations. I have always known that despite various theological differences, there are strong believers in just about every denomination.  But in the last few years we have been very blessed to see it first hand.  Louisville has hundreds of strong, thriving churches where people are gathering multiple times a week and the word of God is being preached and lived out.  We spent our first year attending a large Baptist church, and while we differ on some theological points, we heard many encouraging and life changing sermons.  The last two years in Louisville, we attended a wonderful PCA church.  At both churches we met countless servants of Christ and beautiful families who are raising their little ones to love The Lord.  Maybe God is using all these different denominations to reach different groups of people throughout the world. I don’t know His reasons, but I do know that none of us have it 100% right.  I have enjoyed getting to know so many people from so many backgrounds that all love Christ and believe Him.  The Holy Spirit is strong and moving and working mightily throughout that city.  What a blessing to be able to be a small part of it.

 

Steps to Contentment, part 2

6. We own everything.  Sometimes the biggest thing that is keeping us discontent is because we are not happy with what we have been given in material possessions.  Espeically in the United States it is so easy to think that we deserve everything and we are really good experts on covetousness.  Christians often react to materialism in a gnostic way, saying that we should not want things in this world because they are only material.  But I don’t think that is why we are told not to covet.  God isn’t saying “Do not covet, because I’m going to take everything away from all of you”  He is saying “Do not covet because I own all of it, I made it, and you are my child.  Everything I have made is your inheritance.”  We have a great inheritance to look forward to in the Lord.  Everything that we have in this world is like a down payment on the blessings we have to look forward to in heaven.  God withholds from us because he is teaching us, as his children, but it is not because He intends to always withhold or because He doesn’t want us to be surrounded by beauty.

7. Jesus suffered too.  It is such a comfort to know that a God who is sinless and perfect chose to take on humanity and experience all of our struggles.  Any struggle that we go through, He has walked through the valley.  We can find joy and contentment even in our struggles because we know that He suffered in order to be our deliverer.  He didn’t suffer so that He would just be able experience empathy, He suffered so that He could rescue us, so that our sufferings can be nailed to the cross and put to death.

8. We have to ask.  James says that the Lord gives wisdom to anyone who asks, and He loves to give it.  When we are struggling with discontent, with being unhappy with how God is writing our story, our first course of action should be to ask for wisdom which will bring contentment.  We shouldn’t be happy with just being able to function through a trial, we should seek and expect complete peace and contentment.  We have been given the Holy Spirit, and we should expect him to work in us.  When those who do not have the Spirit suffer, they can find ways to cope.  But we should not settle for coping.  We should ask the Lord again and again for contentment in our trials.  Everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks will find.

9. We live for God. When we are living for ourselves and thinking about everything we want in life, it is impossible to find contentment.  Even if we had everything we ever wanted, we can’t find contentment in living for ourselves.  But when we know that we have been baptized into Christ, that He has claimed us for His own, then everything we do in life we do for Christ.  It is much easier to find joy and peace with our story when we know that we are living out His perfect will for us.  He is more important to us than anything else we pursue.  We know that if something doesn’t work out, it is because He is orchestrating something else for our good.  Our jobs, our families, our chores, everything we do in service to Him and He is pleased with our work.

10. We are in covenant with God.  The story of Scripture is a story about love and promises: God’s love to His people and His promises to them.  That is a beautiful thing about the covenant that He makes with His people.  He gives promise after promise after promise and He is always faithful to those promises. Every struggle that we face has a promise attached to it.  There is no aspect of our lives that God has not redeemed and that He has not given us a reason to hope in.  There is no relationship so broken that He cannot heal, there is no sickness that he cannot cure, there is no poverty that He cannot provide for.  Even in our darkest and hardest days He has a promise for us from Isaiah 43, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”

11. Dwelling on heaven.  This so easy to say and so hard to do.  It is easy to say that we should just think about the day that we will be in heaven and all of our pain and struggles will melt away, but it is hard to remember it when we are facing every day.  When we are struggling with disciplining a difficult child or when we miss someone we love, it is hard to just look past those days.  The time seems endless until we are made new, and we still have so much to figure out here.  That is why weekly worship and daily Bible reading are so important.  It is hard to keep our focus on where we are going and it is hard to remember how beautiful the promises are.  We have to constantly be reminding ourselves and switching our thoughts to dwell on the sweetness of Christ.  When we do this it does help to put our worries and fears in this life into perspective, and to find contment and peace in our every day tasks.

12. Crying to God. We can not find contentment in ourselves.  We have to be constantly looking to Christ, seeking after God for help.  But, here is the sweet part, He loves to hear our cries.  When we pour out our hearts and tell him everything that is on our minds and hearts, He is pleased to listen.  When we are really struggling to find joy and our words fail us, we have many beautiful Psalms that we can pray.  He wants His people to cry out to Him, to ask for help and give our concerns over to Him.  And even these desperate prays have a promise, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4)