Contentment – Part 1

Recently I had a question posed to me about living a life of contentment. I expect this is something with which we can all easily struggle to one degree or another. Sometimes our lack of contentment is in material things, but often it revolves around spiritual desires—areas we know would be God-honoring if they were changed.

Here is what this mom writes:

It seems I am NEVER content with anything. So I decided to write a gratitude list, and it was huge. Then I tried to write a contentment list and there was NOTHING. So I wrote a discontentment list. They were things that I don’t think the Lord would be content with either.

I am grateful that my children’s behavior is improving, but I am not content with their behavior. I am not content. I don’t have a church. I am not content. I don’t have a godly husband. I am not content watching TV every night with my husband. I am not content. We live in such a remote place. I am not content that I’m not more self-disciplined.

For each of those things, there are areas I’m thankful about, but I am never content. I always want more. Just because they’re godly things I want more of, does that make it all right to live so discontented? The Bible tells us to be content. It also tells us to run the race. I don’t think I’m getting it! A mom

Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11-12 what his experience with contentment has been. “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” Paul could relate to our struggles with contentment, and then some! Let’s look at the circumstances Paul faced that were a part of his road to learning contentment.

“. . . in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).

How could a man walking in obedience to Jesus Christ, who experienced these trials because of that obedience, say he had learned to be content “in whatsoever state I am”? What can we glean from him about contentment? What is Paul’s secret? What is it that helped him to accept the negative circumstances God allowed in his life?

Paul tells us in his own words, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). It was Paul’s relationship with Jesus Christ that made him content. Our contentment does not come in our circumstances or lack of them, but rather in our relationship with Jesus Christ. “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2).

In Paul’s life, it appears that his contentment was rooted in his total dependence on Jesus Christ and obedience to His will. Living in prison, being beaten and shipwrecked certainly could not have been pleasant experiences. However, Paul knew he was doing exactly what the Lord had told him to do. Therefore, he was content no matter what happened.

Dr. Adrian Rogers clarifies this further for us in his book The Lord Is My Shepherd. “Perfect contentment, the kind David discovered, only comes when a person puts his or her complete trust in the Shepherd. You will never have true satisfaction until you can say, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ and mean it. Then, and only then, can you confidently say, ‘I shall not want.’”

Vine’s Expository Dictionary defines the word “content,” used by Paul in Philippians 4, as “to be sufficient, to be possessed of sufficient strength, to be strong, to be enough for a thing.” Contentment as defined here is the ability to accept and withstand the circumstances, even negative ones.

One thing we may be dealing with is a difference between what biblical contentment truly is and what we, in our culture, think of it as being. We tend to define contentment as being happy with the way things are and having no desire for change. I don’t think that is the kind of contentment Paul means. Paul’s contentment was rooted in trusting his sovereign God in the situations he was experiencing. However, I expect Paul was happy to be out of prison when he was released.

How does all this relate to contentment in our lives as Christian wives and mothers? For a practical example, let’s take one area from the discontent mom, who shared her heart with us. Since we can probably all relate, we will consider our children’s behavior and find an analogous situation that Paul faced. “Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28). We see regularly through Paul’s writings that the churches had problems and struggles. They needed to learn and grow. This is true of our children as well.

Did Paul’s contentment mean he did nothing concerning the churches, that he had no desire to see them change? No! Paul prayed for the churches, he taught them, he lived in their communities, and he admonished them. Paul did what the Lord directed him to do in relation to his work with the churches. However, his contentment did not mean he didn’t want to see these churches change. Rather, his contentment was an ability to trust the Lord to work.

Our goals for our children would be similar to Paul’s goals for the churches—that they would walk worthy of the Lord (Colossians 1:10). We obediently do what we are called to do by bringing our children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). We pray for our children just as Paul prayed for the churches. Daily, always, in every prayer, without ceasing: these were some of the words he used to describe his prayers for the churches. Through Christ’s strength, we resolutely disciple and teach our children.

We don’t become weary when the task of raising our children is long and difficult. Our contentment is in our relationship with Jesus Christ and joy in Him rather than in what is or isn’t happening in our children’s lives. Contentment, then, means we rest in the Lord’s working in our children’s lives. “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). We keep our eyes on Jesus and trust Him.

In conclusion, I would like to share a story about a group of people who have had to flee their homes because of government military persecution. They have been forced to leave their lands, homes, and jobs. Many have lost lives as well. These people are living impoverished lives in refugee camps, in a country not their own, with only the barest necessities provided. They have been given no hope of a change in the future. However, here is the report of a visitor concerning some of the Christians in this refugee camp.

During this time in the camps, he heard singing constantly. Any time day or night, the Christians were singing or studying the Scriptures. They would study into the night and fall asleep at their table, then wake to study some more. At 11:00 at night people were singing. At 3 a.m. he awoke to hear people still singing. Before dawn and throughout the day, everywhere he went, people sang praise to God.

There is nothing in their circumstances to make these people content, yet the sound of their singing expresses contentment. They have nothing, and yet, because of Jesus Christ, they have everything!

As we desire to be the wives and mothers Jesus Christ would have us be, may we daily be content exactly where He has us. May we serve, love, and minister with hearts learning, as Paul did, “. . . in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11).

Can Dads Influence Their Children’s Spiritual Outcome? – Part 3

(Read the first parts of the series here.)

If you are like Teri and me, the issue of how children are exposed to the world is critically important to you. This topic is where the rubber meets the road in parenting: we either win or we lose after years of raising the child. We can do what appears to be a wonderful job in raising our children, and when we are close to the finish line, all can be lost.

We’ll re-look at part of what the father wrote in the second part of the series: What I am seeking is good, practical advice on how and at what age to expose my children to the world. And how to keep from losing them to the world. (I’ve got a seven-year-old daughter, four-year-old daughter, two-year-old son, and one on the way.) This isn’t the first time that I have heard people speak of sheltered kids getting out and “going nuts.” It seems to me that it would be best to expose them to the results of sin (chapel for recovering addicts, jail, etc.), as compared to them seeing “all of the pleasures and none of the guilt,” such as is seen at the mall, etc. Maybe even working this into some kind of a family ministry (although my children may be too young now; that is part of my question). This recent comment about the backsliding grandson has got me seriously considering self-employment and some kind of family businesses.

Last month I shared what I believe to be a critical attitude for our children and ourselves and how important it is in regard to our association with the world. I discussed how I believe that we would all benefit from the attitude that any one of us can fall into sin. We must own the fact revealed in Matthew 15:19: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” This is just as important a truth for us as it is for our children. If we accept the fact that any of us can fall, and if we don’t really want to, then shouldn’t we welcome something that will help us avoid falling?

This month I want to share about something that I believe is at the center of parenting, although there is far more than can be written in one or two Corners. In a way this is a mini reflection of the essential element in our relationship with the Father. “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37). The Lord wants our hearts because He loves us and desires fellowship with us. Also, when He has our hearts we are far less likely to be drawn away by the idols of this world. The blood of Jesus enables us to enter into a heart relationship with the Father. When we are born again (John 3), we become the children of God (John 1:12-13). Notice how God uses “family” terms so we will understand heavenly truths.

This is a beautiful picture of, ideally, how our relationship should be with our children. In the Bible, we see a God Who loves His children so much He died for them. The Father desires, more than anything, fellowship with His children. He wants to spend time with them, listen to them, teach them, guide them and—in return He wants our hearts. The more we give Him our hearts, the more wonderful that relationship becomes.

This is true for the parent-child relationship as well. As parents we are called to sacrifice for our children, love them, spend time with them, listen to them, teach them, guide them and . . . We may be tempted at times to think we will be satisfied with mere outward conformity, but we really want their hearts. When we have our child’s heart, the older the child becomes, the sweeter the fellowship.

I was talking to a good friend a while ago and discussing the importance of keeping our children’s hearts. We agreed that we both believe it is the most important and most difficult challenge before a father. If only dads would become passionate about their children’s hearts, we would not see so many “children” being lost to the world.

Why is it that more dads aren’t concerned about keeping their children’s hearts? First, I think many would say that they are. Unfortunately, there seems to be a disconnect. It is impossible for a father to spend his time and mental focus on a number of other things (outside of work time) and have anything left for his children. There is no substitute for time, and we are lying to ourselves if we think we can just spend quality time because we aren’t willing to give quantity. It takes time and effort.

Why is having a child’s heart so important? Aren’t they going to grow up anyway? Yes, they are going to grow up whether you have their hearts or not. However, if you don’t have your child’s heart, you miss out on the tremendous blessing of your children as they grow up. You stand the very significant chance, I believe, of losing them. Keeping a child’s heart is like the shepherd who is constantly inspecting his flock. He knows the danger that comes if disease or pestilence takes root. The toll to restore the flock to health will be high, if the shepherd is even able to accomplish it. If you have your child’s heart you can quickly tell if something is drawing his heart away. You will sense a heart change and know something is wrong.

There was a time when I felt that the heart of one of my children was slipping away. During our weekly discussion times, there were more issues of increasing difficulty to work through. Instead of being able to share my concerns and know this child was receiving them, I could see this child was struggling. I was perplexed and couldn’t figure out what was going on. I began crying out to the Lord and seeking Him for answers. The Lord was faithful and showed me what the cause was. I shared this with the child, who was able to receive it. Soon, the sweetness was back in the relationship and our hearts were close again.

If I hadn’t had my child’s heart, I would not have noticed the drifting of the child’s spirit. I would have thought that it was a normal separation, due to growing older, and believed the lie that you should accept it and not worry about it. If you believe the lie, as it gets worse and you see changes in your child, you cry out to the Lord because you are concerned about the direction the child is heading. The more concerned you are, the more desperate and fearful. Finally, resignation sets in, and you now believe that everyone was right and rebellion is normal.

I don’t believe that having our children’s hearts means they instantly receive everything we tell them. At times I wish that were the case, but it hasn’t been my experience. However, I do think it means that we can talk on a very deep and intimate level, and they will listen carefully to what we say. It means they value what we say, and what comes from our hearts will weigh heavily on their souls. Isn’t this true of our relationship with the Lord as well?

There are things the Lord brings to us that we do not receive with open arms. When the Lord started telling me that I was wrong to have had a vasectomy, and He wanted to be in charge of when we had children, I was not thrilled. However, because of my relationship with Jesus and spending time with Him, I began to see why I was wrong in getting the vasectomy. However, I was not ready to accept Him determining how many children we were going to have. My spirit was troubled because I wanted to resolve the issue about more children. Finally, one day when I was home ill from work, I said in my heart, “Okay, Lord. Today is the day. I’m going to find out what you really think about children.” So I got out my Bible and concordance and began to look up what God had to say about children. I don’t remember how long I was at it, but I do remember finally being broken. With tears in my eyes, I said, “Lord, I now see how precious children are to You and that they are the best gift You can give, next to our salvation.” It appears that in a similar fashion those things that are on our hearts from the Lord will find acceptance by our children if we have their hearts.

Dads, I encourage you, no matter what the state of your relationship with your children may be, to make having and keeping your children’s hearts your highest priority next to your relationship with your Lord and your wife. If you feel it is too late and your children are rebels, there is still hope. (If that is your situation, one resource we would recommend is Dr. S. M. Davis’ audio, Changing the Heart of a Rebel). Years down the road you may well have deep remorse that you didn’t invest what was necessary to win and hold your child’s heart. Whatever it takes, do it. There is no sacrifice too great. You will never regret it.

There is another very important aspect to having our children’s hearts, and I will share about that next month as we continue to look at how to avoid losing our children to the world.