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Arrived home after midnight last night after a great weekend trip to Boston. God’s blessing was evident at each step. Faces and snatches of conversations keep popping up in my mind as I recall them with a smile in my heart. Henry, Nick, Toni, Stone, Mike, Buntha, Danny.
A smile in my heart – a good opening ‘take’ on one of my favorite subjects, contentment. As I taught on “Chasing Contentment” on Sunday morning, having the good fortune of being with the kindly people of the First Congregational Church of Rowley, that was my talking point throughout the weekend. On the airplane, in a taxi and in a Lyft, I asked my traveling companions their definition of contentment. Interesting and revealing it was. Two different airplane seatmates, attorneys by trade, defined it as ‘settling’. Hmmm… so the word contentment conjured up being satisfied with much too little in terms of ambition. ‘Could it be so much more than that?’ I countered.
Of course, I was not willing to let it rest there, so asked questions, and offered up Paul’s personal testimony of learning to be content in every circumstance.1
My Lyft driver Sunday morning was Buntha, now a friend. ["Hi, Buntha!"] My son, Danny, went with me to Rowley, which was a delight! Buntha, originally from Cambodia, heard us talking about going to church, and began asking questions and engaging about God. [my greatest adventure to be sure]. ‘I want to be baptized!’ he said. And then, listen to this, rather than going back on the clock to drive, he stayed for church! At the end of the service, when I asked for those who needed a touch from God to raise their hands, Buntha, raised both his hands in the air. God smiled.
So what is contentment? First, we must define our terms. Contentment in one’s heart, mind and soul – I think of a disposition of satisfaction with joy. Paul clearly delineates that contentment is a learned attitude. Interesting that he wrote about the subject from prison, well into his years as a believer in Jesus Christ and in his service of taking the gospel ‘out’, establishing churches as he went.
Yesterday as I moved from here to there, my ever-multitasking brain kept thinking about the timing of Paul’s raising the banner for contentment. It was in his beautiful little letter to the church at Philippi. He had realized that no matter what was going on in his life, the one constant, the one steadfast strength and presence was that of Jesus Christ, who had brought him new life. And in him, contentment. He had earned the right to speak as he did—why Paul had suffered greatly by this time! Some five years earlier, he had written to another church, Corinth, “I have … been put in prison…been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.”2
It seems like Paul continued to foster his understanding of contentment, as several years later writes this to his young protégé Timothy,
“Godliness with contentment is great gain.”3
Now if that isn’t a recipe to be devoured!
Godliness + contentment = great wealth.
This does not mean ‘check your brain at the door’, ‘stop dreaming and the pursuit of a wonderful life’, but always remember There. Is. So. Much. More. For our lives are more than flesh and blood, but eternal souls that will live on forever either with God or without him. And the choice is ours.
And in Paul’s impassioned, bold way he advises Timothy, as God says to you and me:
Fight the good fight of the faith.
Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called…4
… until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ…5
“The appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ?” Yes, Sir. After Jesus’ life, death on the cross, resurrection from the dead and ascension, he left us with the promise that he would come again to take us to be with him. As I wrote a couple days ago, the gospel writer Matthew records the disciples’ question to Jesus of ‘when? When will you come again?’ Jesus answers them, “you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.”6
Friends, the war in the Middle East is a strong labor pain. It is time to look up. It is time to live our best lives … for God. To fight the good fight of faith—nay, the great fight of faith! To take hold of eternal life and pursue a life of Christian contentment while we live.
And if you are a person of influence—mother, father, businessperson, teacher, grandparent, neighbor, coach, etc., be a person who speaks life. Tell others what you have found, because no-doubt-about-it, they are looking for it!
And contentment? Paul needed to learn it, and it is a great art and mystery of godliness to be content in a Christian way.7 Hmmm... yes. Oh, yes!
Contentment in Jesus . . . incomparable, value added, inexhaustible--
check this song out: STRONG, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFk2iYq4Zjk
1 – Philippians 4.11-12
2 – 2 Corinthians 11.23-27, NLT
3 – 1 Timothy 6.6
4 – 1 Timothy 6.12a
5 – 1 Timothy 6.14b
6 – Matthew 24.3-31, link: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2024%3A3-31&am...
7 - from The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Jeremiah Burroughs....treasured book from 17th century