A Life-Long Course in Contentment

Phil4_11Pix“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Phil 4:11 ESV

We start learning contentment as growing babes who cry and whine when both our needs and our wants don’t get met.  The more life God grants us, the more refining trials get and the more we must learn the lessons of contentment.  The purpose of His birthing a soul into new life in Christ is to bring Him glory, not earthly prosperity.  He sees beyond our temporal cravings and gifts His children with unending pleasures in Him.  The joy that burst froth is pure and rich fruit that naturally springs from the Spirit’s birth within the believer.  True joy from the Spirit is not based on our ever-changing circumstance.  It is as steadfast as the character of God because it is from Him that it’s sustained and kept alive.  “True contentment comes only from God, enables believers to be satisfied and at ease in the midst of any problem.” (John MacArthur)

It was a dark stormy day.  I was driving from home to church thinking through my husband’s puzzling diagnosis. The doctor didn’t really seem sure. Could it be possible? The best case scenario was that it was an awful mistake.  The worst-case scenario was death within five months. It meant losing my beloved, the father of my boys and my best friend.  We had many unrealized hopes and dreams of the future for our family and the church.  The most terrifying for me personally was the reality of becoming a single mom for the second time.  Those days had been the most agonizing ones of my life as of yet and at the same time the most blessed.

The memory of its blessedness, helped me have a proper perspective.  Merriam-Webster defines blessed as bringing contentment.  While grief and discontentment are different, dealing with grief in a Christ-centered way cultivates contentment. The grief is still painful and to some degree will always be there.  However, it will also forever be a sweet reminder of God’s incomprehensible love and faithfulness.  “In grief, you run to the Lord for comfort, protection, and healing, trusting that He is and good and will work even this affliction to the benefit your soul and for His glory.  A godly grief looks for its duties in the midst of the trouble, pressing on.”  (Learning Contentment, Nancy Wilson)  The immediate duties that propelled me to swim despite the powerful waves were our children and church.  I continue to make strides in a sea of unknowns, and strain to set my ambition toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  In all of this, I give thanks to God for His grace and strength that enables us in weakness to soar with wings like eagles to display His splendor.

Heavenly Father, you are all-wise and always good.  Thank you for the most precious blessing in your Son’s atonement for our sins.  Forgive us for our insatiable appetites for earthly things above the satisfying heavenly ones.  Please fully align our desires with yours.  Lord, grant us the filling of your Spirit to overflow our cup with joy no matter what we face in this short life.  In Jesus’ name.

A Fitting Dance with the King

8959A34E-98B4-4020-AC99-04BF986C07DE“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” James 1:19-20 ESV

Public speaking ranks number one of most common fears according to IBM, where fear of death ranks at a mere seventh place.  Josh used to jokingly say that people would rather die than have his job as a preacher.  Why are people deathly afraid of speaking in front of a group of people? If we are honest, we realize that in the matter of speech we tend to blow it—big time!  Since we tend to stumble in our speech, who then wants to have the spotlight while speaking and risk public humiliation?   Moreover, there is a right kind of fear of speaking… fear of offending a Holy God with careless words.  “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak…” (Mt 12:36)  It would be helpful to imagine the real spiritual realm by which God himself and the heavenly host are listening to our every word.  Satan wants to find fault and accuse us.  Rather than being quick to jump the gun with our speech, we must be still and know that he is God and King.  We can think of it as a dance and being in step with God as our lead. “James’s order of response sounds like a dance step: quick, slow, slow; quick, slow, slow.  We must be: quick to hear and obey God; slow to speak, since.” (Linda Killian, Developing a Heavenly Mind Control)  This holds especially true when hearing from Him personally through the Bible.  He is God Almighty who created everything out of nothing, holds the universe together, and is God only wise…we ought to be attentive to what He has to say! It makes perfect logical sense.  However, our sinful sense drives us mad!

Madness is was drives us to hell.  It is our bent toward having our own way rather than accepting God’s redemptive plan.  It’s not believing He is good even though he demonstrated His great love in the most heroic and selfless ways when he gave up His glory in exchange for taking our shame, our punishment and our rightly deserved wrath on the cross.  Anger in the human sense goes against God and His righteousness.  Therefore, we must imperatively put it off.  If we listen to His voice through the Spirit and the Word instead, we stand a chance at winning the battle over our speech and hearts in a sanctifying way that yields the fruit of wisdom.  “Anger, filthiness and wickedness impede the right reception of the word and are the attitudes that must be ‘put off’.” “When rightly received, the word that has been implanted by the gracious God in the soul of the believer is able to save our souls. This expression does not refer to the initial act of salvation, as it is often assumed, but to the ongoing and continuous work of restoring the inner life of the believer.” (William Varner, The Book of James)

Heavenly Father and King, praise and adoration are the pure and right words becoming of ones you’ve saved from the fiery hell we got ourselves in.  Forgive us for our sinful speech and the ways we allow anger to fester in our hearts.  Thank you for Christ and His free offer of righteous in Him.  May we embrace it with thankfulness, realizing everything we do and say has a public audience that can either bring shameful reproach or the fitting glory that is due to the name of Jesus.  In whose name we pray.

Stayed Steadfast Beneath our Shelter

4779C697-E1B0-4551-891C-4AC8F9B80F1F“Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.” Psalm 71:3 ESV

Through the terrible storms our family has had to withstand, God has been a sweet shelter.  This verse is one God has pressed upon and given me the grace to hold fast time after time.  It is one I rehearse when I’m struggling.  It is also one I pray to cling to at my deathbed, especially after watching my husband suffer during his last days.  It was painfully sobering to witness my husband’s young body waste away like an old man.  My heart was poured out to God in prayer for deliverance, and to be strong enough to be a support and encouragement to him at his bedside.  As I would see him gasp for air and struggle to breathe I knew it had to be such a fierce test of his faith.  He strained to see clearly, got frustrated that he couldn’t communicate and found no relief from the physical and emotional agony.  Thankfully, my husband knew God’s Word well; he read, studied, mediated, preached and lived it out.  Moreover, he intimately knew Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.  This is what kept him at his most trying hour.  Not only did he finish strong, but he got to pray and witness to others with his last words.  By grasping onto our Rock, may we never be shaken by such a weighty trial or even possible torture as some of the martyrs had to endure.  “A Christian who is patient in suffering hardships knows that what has been redeemed by the blood of Christ, such as the bodies of the martyrs, will not perish even if they seem to be destroyed in this life.” (Augustine)

To think…the commander of the Lord’s army has given orders to save me! From the beginning of time, He set his loving eyes on me while I did nothing to make him attracted to me.  Even in my sin and helplessness, He purposed to redeem me through Christ; and set His love and affections on me forevermore.  Early on in my Christian life, I started rehearsing this verse every day during my time with the Lord.  It has become my personal life verse.  It is quite fitting since the entire Psalm is about finishing strong.  The psalmist believed in God’s righteousness and had seen Him walk besides him throughout his life.  Therefore, even when the enemy seemed to prevail and overpower him at his weakest moments, he knew he could trust the Lord until the end of his life.  Likewise, may we remember His faithfulness and be driven in everything to make it be our ambition to finish strong!  “The psalmist cried, ‘Be my rock and refuge’ (Heb. maon, ‘dwelling place’) He reaffirmed that God was the permanent home for his soul to which he could always go to find strength and protection.” (Steve Lawson)   We are reassured that no matter what we go through in this life or how traumatic of experiences we face, if we’ve trusted in Christ as our Savior, God will be a steady shelter for our ailing souls.

Father God, our solid rock and mighty refuge.  Thank you for the riches of your word.  Forgive us for any creeping doubts, and renew our faith when we grow weary.  When waves of doubt and fear assail us, lead us to the rock that is higher than us.  May we grasp on to the spiritual blessings reserved for us in the heavenly places and come running to your burly arms in time of calamity.  In Jesus name.

Praise the Lord, Our Protector!

 

 

“Sing to God, sing praises to his name: lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the LORD; exult before him! Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.” Psalms 68:4-5 ESV

May 4th commemorates one year since my husband Josh went home to glory.  This past couple of weeks have been an emotional battle for our whole family.  The howling winds of change and the roars of fear threaten to take me down at times when I am left feeling utterly defeated.  In my cries for deliverance, the Lord has been answering prayer.  He has displayed His faithfulness, loving-kindness and steadfast love over and over again.  This has been the sweetest of victories!

In this Psalm written by David, likely after a battle, we hear a call to worship the Lord for the great way He delivers the weak and weary.  The Psalmists gives all the credit and glory to God.  He reveals it is He who gives victory to those who trust in Him.  We may find ourselves in confusing situations or dark circumstances where the enemy seems to triumph.   If we look to our own wisdom, hope seems far from grasp.  We might be out of recourses, friends or shields to meet challenging hurdles.  However, we can entrust ourselves to God Almighty to fight for us.  Truly, He is the only one fully empowered to do so.  Our battles are not against people, but against spiritual forces behind the scenes enticing us and others to sin.  “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6:12)  Therefore, God is the one who has the power to break through and bring about deliverance in our own battle against sin and the wrongs done against us.

The NASB translates the verse as “a judge for the widows”.  “Father and Judge seem to bear the general sense of defender, protector, vindicator; the first best expresses the pity and tenderness of God; the latter, his authority and ability to protect.  His holy habitation may mean either heaven, where God sits as Judge forever…” (William S, Plumer, Studies in the Book of Psalms)  A widow left without a man to defend or vindicate her when wronged is dependent on the mercy of others.  That may be where God wants us all to be in order to send us a stronger deliverer in Christ and depend not on ourselves or on man, but on Him and His church.  Recently, I had a leak and a plumber came to my house and charged me $75 and did nothing but tell me a part was missing so the insurance company would not be obligated to fix it.  Thankfully God sent a church friend’s husband, who’s a plumber, to fix the small issue which were misdiagnosed and write a letter to the company so I can get my money back.  The Lord is commander of the most powerful army in the universe and He sends help to the destitute that cling to Christ.  He sees every wrong done and executes justice from His holy habitation.

Heavenly Father, our deliverer, and defender– you are to be praised for you are our Savior! You are our stronghold and refuge!  Thank you for being our valiant warrior! Thank you for Jesus and proving in Him the ultimate sacrifice for our sin and winning the worlds greatest battle!  Our fight is not against people, but for people.  Lord, you saved us while we were dead in our trespasses and sins.  May you not only recuse us from our earthly battles but also give us a great awe and love for you and for our neighbor! Use us to send others deliverance and set captives free.  In Jesus’ name.