Saturday, August 25, 2007

How to Learn Contentment

Reading and meditating on Jeremiah Burrough's work, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, has been a tremendous challenge and encouragement to me. In the last two chapters he delineates how one attains a contented heart. He reminds us of several considerations and directions that should be done for directing the heart in contentment. Here, I'll mention a few.

There are several considerations for contenting the heart in any trial. Essential to our development in this virtue is focus of our thinking. In Colossians 3:2, the Aopstle Paul exhorts us to "Set our minds on things above, not on earthly things." Burroughs calls our attention to some of these heavenly thoughts that should we should make a practice of considering. First, we should consider the greatness of the mercies that God has given compared to the "littleness" of the things we lack. Paul says, "I consider that the present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18).

Second, we should consider the abundance of the mercies that God grants and we enjoy. There is an immeasureable wealth of spiritual blessings that can fill our thoughts throughout every day (Ephesians 1:3). Burroughs uses a word picture to convey this truth: "If you pour a pailful of water on the floor in your house, it makes a great mess, but if you throw it into the sea, there is no sign of it. So, our troubles considered in thenselves, we think are very great, but let them be considered with the sea of God's mercies we enjoy, and then they are not so much, they are nothing in comparison."

Third, Consider the way of God towards all his creatures. God allows and determines all kinds of situations and circumstances for all his creation: "we do not always have summer, but winter succeeds summer; we do not always have day, but day and night; we do not always have fair weather, but fair and foul." Why should we think it strange that there are a variety of circumstances with us, sometimes in the way of prosperity, and sometimes in the way affliction?

Fourth, consider that we have a very short time in this world. the trials and troubles that we endure are but for a moment in the great expanse of eternity. "Do but shut your eyes and soon another life is come." The Apostle Paul put it this way, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light an momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Fifth, remember others who have been faithful in great adversity. Hebrews 11 gives a list of faithful men and women who believed God in spite of intense opposition and trial. Some experienced in their lifetime the deliverance and miraculous provision of God. "Others were tortured and refused to be released, . . . some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated." Since we follow great heritage of faithful men and women, Jesus included, let us joyfully keep our focus fixed on the goal and "scorn the shame" that this world heaps upon us.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Beautiful Scenery of the Christian Journey

I was flipping through some of my old ministry journals today and came across a quote by Charles H. Spurgeon that reminded me of Denise, my wife. For the past 15 weeks she has been on a cross country journey walking from Burlington, ON. back to our home in Melfort, SK. She will be home in five more weeks! At present she is walking across the Canadian prairies that stretch out as a vast flat land. She is enjoying the change from the curves and hills of the Northern Ontario Canadian Shield. These long days of walking gives plenty of time to reflect on the blessings of God. Spurgeon observes that although the journey of life may be long and tedious it is never boring or empty when a person considers the immeasureable blessings of God.

I heard a gentleman say yesterday, that he could walk any number of miles when the scenery was good; but he added, "When it is flat and uninteresting, how one tires!" What scenery it is through which the Christian man walks - the towering mountains of predestination, the great sea of providence, the mighty cliffs of divine promise, the green fields of divine grace, the river that makes glad the city of God - Oh, what scenery surrounds the Christian, and what fresh discoveries he makes every step! (Flashes of Thought, Charles H. Spurgeon, Passmore & Alabaster, 1883, p.19). See the Spurgeon Archive for a wealth of insightful writing.

Denise, with every simple step you take on this incredible journey, I pray that you will be encouraged and empowered by the limitless blessings of our faithful God.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Stability and Security of God

This summer I have been preaching about the attributes of God. I’m approaching the subject from the perspective of knowing God rightly. Every week I recall the words of A. W. Tozer who writes in his book, The Knowledge of the Holy, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” The danger that we all face is the tendency to fashion a god after our own preferences. This is idolatry and folly. I want to know the living God intimately and, therefore, I must know him rightly.

God has revealed to us that he is unchanging. “I the LORD do not change.” (Malachi 3:6). In this character quality, we as humans are radically different from the eternal God. In my study of the attributes of God, I have gained great insight from the writings of Arthur W. Pink. In his book, The Attributes of God, He brings out the vast difference between the Creator and the creature. Since God is both all-knowing and all-powerful there is never any need for him to revise or alter his plans in any way.

Herein we may perceive the infinite distance which separates the highest creature from the Creator. Creaturehood and mutability are correlative terms. If the creature was not mutable by nature, it would not be a creature; it would be God. By nature we tend toward nothingness, since we came from nothing. Nothing stays our annihilation but the will and sustaining power of God. None can sustain himself a single moment. We are entirely dependent on the Creator for every breath we draw. We gladly agree with the Psalmist, “He has preserved our lives.” (Psalm 66:9). The realization of this ought to make us lie down under a sense of our own nothingness in the presence of him in whom “we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28).

One of the elders in our church family shared a verse with me that I’ve been thinking about for the past few weeks. “Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?” (Isaiah 2:22). I have been aware of how people are responding to the way I have been dealing with a problem. As a result I think the sin of pride has risen within me. Why should I be so concerned about people’s opinions? They, like me, are but a vapour: changing and temporary. To know God rightly, is to know the One who never changes. Again, Pink reorients my thinking about the character of God.

Herein is solid comfort. Human nature cannot be relied upon; but God can! However unstable I may be, however fickle my friends may prove, God changes not. If he varied as we do, if he willed one thing today and another tomorrow, if he were controlled by caprice, who could confide in him? But, all praise to his glorious name, he is ever the same. His purpose is fixed, his will is stable, his word is sure. Here then is a rock on which we may fix our feet, while the angry torrent is sweeping away everything around us. The permanence of God’s character guarantees the fulfillment of his promises.

I want to be motivated by the same perspective of the Apostle Paul, “It matters very little to me what you think of me, even less where I rank in popular opinion. I don’t even rank myself. Comparisons in these matters are pointless. I’m not aware of anything that would disqualify me from being a good guide for you, but that doesn’t mean much. The Master makes that judgment.” (1 Corinthians 4:3-4 The Message).

For more of the writings of A. W. Pink see or Christian Classics Ethereal Library

Friday, August 10, 2007

Faith: The Gaze of the Soul

I've found A. W. Tozer's insights on faith to be a great encouragement and challenge to me in my desire to please God. In his book, The Pursuit of God, he describes faith as "the gaze of a soul upon a saving God." Jesus used a dramatic Old Testament story to illustrate saving faith in himself. God told Moses to elevate a brass serpent on a pole for all the poisoned people to look to for deliverance from death (Numbers 21:4-9). Tozer points out that look and believe are synonymous terms.

Believing, then, is directing the heart's attention to Jesus. It is lifting the mind to "beholding the Lamb of God," and never ceasing that beholding for the rest of our lives. In my struggle with the sin of pride I find this liberating. For this perspective of faith is so selfless. Tozer observes, "Faith is the least self-regarding of the virtues. It is by its very nature scarcely conscious of its own existence. Like the eye which sees everything in front of it and never sees itself, faith is occupied with the Object upon which it rests and pays no attention to itself at all. While we are looking at God we do not see ourselves - blessed riddance. The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his own soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ, the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do.

"Faith is not in itself a meritorious act; the merit is in the One toward whom it is directed. Faith is a redirecting of our sight, a getting out of the focus of our own vision and getting God into focus. Sin has twisted our vision inward and made it self-regarding. Unbelief has put self where God should be. Faith looks out instead of in and the whole life falls into line."

Lord, I hear you calling me to look away from self to gaze upon You and be satisfied. My heart longs to respond, but the sin of pride has clouded my vision so much that the sight of You is dim. Please cleanse me with the powerful blood of Jesus, and make me pure so that I may have a clear vision of You all the days of my earthly journey. Amen.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Mystery of Contentment

The spiritual journey that we are called to follow as disciples of Jesus is the path of many apparent contradictions. For example, Paul says that he has discovered that it is only in his sense of weakness that he discovers true strength in Christ (2 Corinthians 12:10). Another is Jesus’ instruction that the greatest people in His kingdom are the ones who are servants of all (Mark 10:43-44). Peter tells us that the road to recognition is the path marked by humility (1 Peter 5:6).

The development of the virtue of Christian contentment is also an apparent paradox. In his book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Jeremiah Burroughs describes the growth of contentment as a mystery. He suggests seven ways that we come to maturity in this virtue. Here is my attempt at paraphrasing his insightful counsel:

First, it may be said of one that is contented that he is the most contented man in the world, and yet the most unsatisfied man in the world. A little in the world will content a Christian for his passage in this life, but all the world, and ten thousand times more, will not content a Christian for his portion. A soul that is capable of knowing God can be filled with nothing else but God. The human heart that has been enlarged by the grace of God to be capable of knowing god, and enjoying somewhat of him, can be filled by nothing in the world; it must only be God himself.

Second, a Christian comes to contentment, not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction. This comes not by adding more to a person’s condition or circumstances, but rather by subtracting from his desires, so as to make his desires and circumstances equal. The world is infinitely deceived in thinking that contentment lies in having more than we already have; but the Christian has an unhindered way to contentment, that is, he can bring his desires down to his possessions. Here lies the foundation of all contentment, when there is an evenness and proportion between our hearts and our circumstances. The way to be rich is not by increasing wealth, but by diminishing our desires.

Third, a Christian comes to contentment, not so much by getting rid of the burden that is on him, as by adding another burden to himself. The way of contentment is to load and burden your heart with your sin; the heavier the burden of your sin is to your heart, the lighter will the burden of your affliction be to your heart. If a man’s circumstances are heavy with trouble; how shall this man have contentment? By the breaking of his heart. God has broken your circumstances; Oh, seek him for the breaking of your heart as well! Indeed, broken circumstances and a whole, hardened heart, will not join together. But broken circumstances and a broken heart will so suit one another, as there will be more contentment than there was before.

Fourth, it is not so much the removing of the affliction that is upon us as the transformation of the affliction, so that it is quite changed into something else. I mean in regard of the use of it. There is the power of God’s grace to turn this affliction into good. Ambrose said, “Even poverty itself is riches to holy men.” You do not find one godly man who came out of an affliction worse than he went into it; though for a while he was shaken, yet at last he was better for an affliction. But a great many godly men, you find, have been worse for their prosperity. It is the nature of God’s grace to turn water into wine, that is, to turn the water of your affliction, into the wine of heavenly comfort.

Fifth, a Christian comes to this contentment not by making up the wants of his circumstances, but by the performance of the work of his circumstances. A worldly heart says, “I must have my wants fulfilled or else it is impossible that I should be content.” But a godly heart asks, “What is the duty of the circumstances that God has put me into?” Others spend their thoughts on things that disturb and disgruntle them, and so they grow more and more discontented. But the godly person sets his mind on thinking about what God requires him to learn and do.

Sixth, a gracious heart is contented by the melting of his will and desires; by this means he gets contentment. In the making of our will to be at one with God’s will, we shall be satisfied. We can be constantly frustrated in attempts to fulfill our own purposes; but we will be satisfied by allowing our will to be swallowed up into the gracious will of our heavenly Father. As the psalmist is glad to sing, “[The LORD] chose our inheritance for us, . . . whom he loved.” (Psalm 47:4).

Seventh, the mystery of contentment consists not in bringing anything from outside to make my condition more comfortable, but in purging out something that is within. The way to contentment is to purge out our lustful desires and bitter attitudes. “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” (James 4:1). The worldly person longs for something outside himself to be content; however, the godly person seeks to get the evil desire out of himself to be content.

Without the understanding of these things, and the practice of them, you will never come to a true contentment in your life; Oh, you will be bunglers in this journey of following Jesus. But the right perspective of these things will help you to be guided in it.