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)

Steps to Contentment, part 1

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Learning to be content and completely satisfied in Christ is certainly a life-long process and a lesson that we are always learning, and always being tested on.  As I am learning and wrestling against discontent, I am always looking for practical and tangible ways to set my course towards joy and peace.  In his book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, the puritan Jeremiah Burroughs gives many recommendations for how to achieve a content heart.  While he has many wise things to say and many of his ideas have influenced my list, I would like to offer my own version of steps that we can take to stay on course and to be continually growing in contentment.

  1. Accepting that we will never be 100% satisfied in this world.  C.S Lewis wrote, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”  The truth is that we will never find anything in the created world that will make us completely happy.  There is something so freeing about believing that – we can stop striving, stop trying so hard, stop being disappointed when things are not exactly how we want them.  We won’t find the fulfillment of joy until we are with the Lord, and understanding that we are not supposed to find it here can help us to have patience and to be satisfied with continually longing for more.  We are supposed to have a longing, a hope for something better, eyes that look beyond this life.  Eternity is written on our hearts.  We have work to do here, but we will not find complete satisfaction in a world that is under a curse, and we can find contentment more easily when we stop expecting satisfaction from this world.
  2. Understanding our desires.  Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart”.  One of the biggest reasons why we struggle with contentment is because we want something that we do not have.  Our desires are not equal with our circumstances.  We want a house, but we have an apartment.  We want children, but we have not been able to conceive.  We want to be healthy, but we struggle with sickness.  There are many, many circumstances that quickly steal our joy because we do not have what we want.  It is easy enough to say that we should just stop wanting the things that we do not have, but I do not believe that the Lord wants a people who are void of desires.  When we want something that He has not provided, as long as that thing is not sinful, our job is to wait and believe that He will be faithful to His promises.  Our job is to find joy and delight in God, to worship Him and offer thanksgiving to Him, and to continue to pray for that which we want.  We can find so much peace and contentment just in knowing that when we turn to Him He will hear our prayers, and that the desires of our hearts are not in vain.  He hears us and He loves to fulfill the desires of His people. Like with Abraham, He wants to see us willingly open our hands and be ready give up our greatest loves, but He will always ultimately fill us with more than we can hope or desire.
  3. Remembering our sin.  It seems counterintuitive to focus on our depravity when we are seeking after joy.  So, I am careful not to say that we should look to our sin and keep our eyes there.  That would destroy us.  But when we really understand how grievous our sin is to the Lord, when we really see ourselves as a created being who has greatly sinned against our Creator, then we start to see what He has done for us.  When we see our sin for what it really is, we understand the hugeness of His love in covering it.  We were like scarlet, but now we have been made as white as snow.  The contrast is stark.  When we know how much we have been forgiven and how much we are loved, we can not help but to trust that everything else God does for us is out of great love.  This safety that comes from knowing how loved we are by God and the peace that comes through this trust will bring deep contentment.  Remember all the horrible things you have done, remember how He has forgiven you completely for each one, remember how much He must love you to look past that sin, and know that He will always love you and that you can trust Him.  This is peace that brings contentment.
  4. Accepting the thorn.  In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul writes “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” There are many difficulties in life that have no end on this earth.  There are struggles and pain that we know will always be with us.  This is hard and it can make it particularly hard to find peace and contentment with our life when we have these burdens.  But the good news is that it is possible to find contentment even in the midst of these hardships.  Paul says that he had a thorn which the Lord refused to take from him.  His response is not to despair, because he understands that God will take all crooked things, all
    the painful things, and He will turn them into power and strength.  This is hard for us to understand, but when we really believe that Christ is reversing all the evil in creation then we can find contentment knowing that He will redeem the evil in our life too.  He will take a great weakness and a great pain and turn in into something powerful.  We have to be content with knowing that He is doing more than we can see.
  5. Working. When things are not exactly how we would have them, it is easy to spend our energy and thoughts complaining about the situation.  We have to learn to change our thoughts and find our duties. Work is a great kindness from the Lord, and just doing what needs to be done can change our attitude.  Are you tired of small apartment living? Decorate it, make it lovely.  Are you tired of being single? Help a busy mother with her children.  Are you tired of having to work overtime? Be creative in thinking of ways that your company can improve.  Are you carrying a burden of emotional pain? Find others with the same pain and help them in ways that you have found helpful.  In every situation there is something that needs to be done.  Sometimes this means just cooking a feast and setting a beautiful table because the whole family has been under a lot of stress.  Just look for ways to work within your current situation, and spend your energy and thoughts thinking of ways to improve what you have right now instead of thinking of ways that something else would be better.  This kind of work will not only make a tough situation easier for you, it will make a tough situation easier for everyone else around you.

 

A note for our single sisters

DSCF3879This may seem like it is coming from someone who doesn’t understand what it is like to live for years as a single woman.  I married my husband six months before I turned twenty-four, which is still pretty young.  Within the next few years we had a daughter and now, eight years later, our home is bustling and noisy with people. It seems so long since the quiet apartment years, where my decisions to sleep in on Saturday depended entirely on whether or not I was tired. Even though they did not last long, I do remember those years and I remember feeling very insignificant.

When I graduated from college, I wasn’t sure how to live.  If I wasn’t going to get married (and at that point, marriage was the last thing that was happening), then should I pursue more school? a career? should I move away from my home town? keep working the mishmash of jobs I had accumulated in college?  I had some plans, but I questioned all of them.  I had many friends getting married, having children, moving on to a new stage of life and making new friends.  I felt a little bit stuck.  I also felt like it didn’t really matter what I did because I wasn’t doing it for anyone.  If I worked hard and saved money, what was it for?  Travel? by myself?  It sounded fun, but ultimately felt fruitless.  I remember thinking from time to time that I was just waiting for my life to start, and I couldn’t start it without someone to work for and to love me and work with me to create life.  But I wasn’t stuck; I was growing.  And now I know how silly it was to feel that way.  I was growing in ways that I didn’t know then and I was growing in ways I didn’t think I needed to.  I was learning how to serve others in ways that didn’t feel like serving.

Maybe you are feeling stuck, maybe not.  Maybe you are happy to be single and that is why you are, maybe you would really like to get married but the timing hasn’t worked out.  Maybe you are feeling desperate, or maybe incredibly content.  But no matter where you are, I am always immensely encouraged to meet single women in the church.  As a single woman, you are not bearing fruit in the same way that many married women do.  You are not raising children yet or helping a husband, and it can feel like your fruit is not as important.  But that is absolutely not true.  As a single woman, you are bearing fruit in a way that most wives and mothers are not able to.

During this stage of your life you will be able to find quiet, something any mother will tell is almost impossible after a couple of children.  You are able to create your own schedule and into it you can build times to study and pray and read Scripture.  You can go for a walk alone and memorize Psalms.  You can pray, uninterrupted for longer than a few minutes.  The church needs those prayers.  You can read books, the long books, and study them and research and grown in knowledge and understanding.  Paul says that married women are often distracted with thinking about how serve their husbands, but unmarried women can focus on how to serve the Lord without that distraction.  It is true that our situation is different than the Corinthians at that time, but the practical principle still stands.  A woman without children can sit through an entire sermon on Sunday mornings and can grow in understanding the Bible at a rapid pace.

On a similar note, single women are able to serve in the church in a way that many married women can’t.  Single women often have their evenings free unless they are taken up with homework, but even then there are usually Friday nights and Saturdays and Sunday evenings.  There are so many things in the church that need to be done that many church members who are raising families don’t have the time for.  There are events that need to be planned and executed, there is building maintenance, there are mothers with new babies, there are elderly who need groceries and freezer meals.  You can organize Bible studies and prayer groups.  One of the most amazing meals that was delivered to me after a baby was made by a lovely single woman in our church.  She brought dinner and homemade granola bars and others snacks that we could eat through the week.  Another one of my single friends sent me boxes of clothes that she found on sale when my husband and I were going through a tough time financially.  Don’t be tempted to think that these things are not fruitful – anything that you do to build and encourage other saints is fruit that Lord sees and fruit that He will reward.  Just because you don’t have your own husband and children to help and serve doesn’t mean you can’t be a huge blessing to all the families around you.  Whatever God has gifted you with, use it, give it away, bless others with it.

I know that many of you have full time jobs, and many of you are also in school.  I know that many single women do not have extra money.  This can make it feel like you can’t give much.  You are tired on the weekends, just like the rest of us.  You are busy until late at night and you are up early the next morning.  You might not have the time to plan church events or to attend Bible studies.  But there is something else you have to understand.  Your job or school, whatever it is that is keeping you so busy, is a huge blessing to the rest of us.  If you are a chef, think of how many families you have blessed with your food, how many mothers are thankful that they didn’t have to do the dishes for a night.  If you are a nurse, think of how many people you can serve by caring for their physical needs.  I am always thankful to find female medical professionals for my daughters.  If you are a teacher, you should know that there are incredibly thankful moms behind each of those students because teaching is very very hard work  If you work at Target, bless you.  Families needs Target.  If you clean houses or file insurance papers or clean teeth, thank you!  By your work, you are serving all the families in your church and community.  Houses need to be cleaned, insurance papers need to be filed, teeth need maintenance, and where would we be without all of you who have this stage in your life to do those things?  Your work is a service and it is important.

I want you to know how much you are needed, just as you are.  The church needs women that are not married.  We often talk about how important motherhood and marriage is – and those things are very important – but do not think that just because you are unmarried or without children, you are doing anything less important or less fruitful.  We need you just as you are, Christ needs you just as you are, without a husband, without a boyfriend, without children.  If the church is a choir, all of use have a different part to sing, and He needs you to sing your part beautifully.  For most women, being single is just a short stage of their life.  Your time to sing this part probably has a definite end that you do not know yet.  Don’t waste this time and don’t forget to sing.  We really need you and we are really thankful for your beautiful voices.

Defining Contentment

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Jeremiah Burroughs defines contentment as “that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition”

Contentment is one Christian virtue that Americans have an incredibly hard time understanding and applying.  We have such comfortable lives that we often never have to figure out how to be happy when things aren’t going our way.  And when things do go against our will, we are so prone to blame and point fingers and find someone to be responsible for our discomfort.  When tragedy hits we talk to each other about how strong we are and we think if we just put on a cheerful face then we will have things under control.   But this is not contentment.  Being truly at peace about all circumstances doesn’t come from our own strength.  I would offer this other additional definition  – contentment is believing that a good and kind Father is intricately working out the details of our lives, which results in a deep peace and quietness and strength in our souls.

Being content isn’t about being in a good mood, or having a cheerful personality.  There are so many people who appear to be happy, but their hearts are bubbling with worry and anxiety.  Sometimes a sanguine personality is nothing more than a thick cover over a soul that is constantly frustrated with their circumstances.  When someone is really at peace, through and through, their joy will come out genuinely and consistently, not just in outbursts of happiness.

A content person is someone who is happy with their whole story, with every little detail of what God is doing with them and with their life.  But it does not mean that they ignore the pain.  It does not mean that they don’t cry to the Lord like David, it doesn’t mean that they don’t seek answers like Job, it doesn’t mean that they don’t ask the Lord to deliver them every day.  We can beg God constantly for deliverance while still believing that He is love and while still believing that His timing is better than ours.  That is where we can find the joy within the trail.  When we are at the brink of disaster and the only thread we have holding us is our prayers, we will see Christ in a way that we cannot see Him without the trial.  When all our efforts have failed and we are just waiting for the Lord to fix our situation, we will feel the strength of the Spirit in a way that we never could have before.  That sweet fellowship with God is something to be thankful for in and of itself.

When someone is really content, when they have accepted that all the workings of their lives are being orchestrated by a God who knows them and loves them, all of their worry and complaints and fear melt away.  When I believe that the God who created me, who gave me all my talents and skills also gave me all my responsibilities, I can be content to let go of pursuing my talents.  When I believe that God wants me to spend the evening doing dishes, then I can cheerfully and without complaint set aside the reading and writing and drawing that I wanted to accomplish.  He made me and He knows how my time should be spent.  He is not wasting my life.

Contentment has a long view of the story.  It sees the trial as a valley with a light at the end, as just one chapter of the story.  A content person is not defining their story by their struggles, they are defining their story by their deliverances.  A content person isn’t talking about how terrible it was when the Egyptians followed them out of Egypt, they are talking about the chariots that are at the bottom of the sea.  They are not talking about how hungry they were in the wilderness, they are talking about how good the manna tasted and how sweet the quail was after so long without meat.  They know that no matter what horrible trials they will walk through in their stories, the end is always being welcomed to glory, where there are pleasures forevermore.  The content person knows that when at the end of a good story they will see the purpose for all the dark chapters.

Contentment isn’t lost by changing circumstances, it is constant and steady.  In a way, it is self-sufficient, unaffected by surroundings.  It is so easy to think that if we are just strong people we will be able to stand through anything.  That is what our culture tells us. But the truth is the only thing that is never-changing, that is truly self-sufficient is God.  If we are to find this un-changing contentment we have to be completely resting on Him as our rock, because He is the only rock.  The strength of contentment comes in the peace of standing on Christ and believing He loves us.  And when we are strong we can make the most of all our trials, we can learn the lessons we are supposed to be learning, we can help others who are going through the same trials, we can see all the beautiful gifts that God has given even in the darkest places.  But if we are constantly fighting God’s will and constantly distrusting that He loves us, we will constantly be frustrated with whatever is happening in our lives – with our health or our friends or our family or our bank account or our jobs or our possessions or our church or our school or our responsibilities.  Contentment brings the strength not to complain because we are not desperate, we trust that His timing is better than our wants.  That kind of peace brings a strength that can be a light in all sorts of dark places our trials may bring us, that kind of peace can give us the strength to turn our trials into sweet offerings that bring glory to the Lord.