Finding the Secret to Contentment and Joy

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13)

The Apostle Paul writes from prison these words that show at least that contentment is not dependent upon circumstances. Instead, contentment comes by learning a secret for living in God and also deriving strength from God. Both the secret and the strength come through Christ.

The reference to contentment here supports the driving theme of this letter, which is joy in the Lord, as Paul writes: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). All through the letter we actually see how adverse circumstances may teach us how to learn contentment and joy. How can this be? How do we discover and learn this?

Paul’s revelation here is that there is another source of contentment and joy that can pervade one’s life. It does not come from within us but through God. By reaching out to God, resting within him, with living faith as our source for living, we can experience a rich strength to rejoice regardless of what may come.

This does not disconnect us from the suffering of life, which is still real, but roots us in the unchanging character and being of God through Christ, enabling us to face real suffering with an entirely different outlook and character. This is not a “pie-in-the-sky” attitude but something more robust that comes from the life of God who Himself has walked through the fullness of human experience in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

God Himself strengthens us amidst real trials and hardships. It is through Him that we can find the secret and strength for living. Only something more durable and meaningful can bring real contentment and joy in adverse situations, and this comes from God.

Lord, teach me that secret and take me into Your strength that I might truly live filled with contentment and joy in You.

The Soul-Satisfying Love of God: a reflection on Isaiah 55

Glass of Water

Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David. (Isaiah 55:1-3)

Are we thirsty? Are we in touch with our thirst? Are we penniless? Do we know just how empty our pockets and storehouses are?

For a moment, if only for a moment, let us come into contact with the depths of our insatiable desires and our utter incapacity to truly satisfy those desires by our own efforts. There is so much available to us from God, as represented here in Isaiah 55, but the simple key to access it is our decision to come to God and find life. Such an apparently simple action seems difficult in one way yet easy in another way.

Deciding for God and the satisfaction that He offers is difficult because it costs us in at least two distinct ways. First, it costs us because we must open our live, admitting our great need and dissatisfaction. We must say, “Yes, it is true. I am not as satisfied as I suppose or portray. I actually desire something much more than I can attain for myself.” In a culture set on personal freedom and capacity it may seem like a cardinal sin to admit our lack of contentment with all that is available to us. Second, and related, coming to God is costly because it leads us away from all other things we have attempted to use as means to satisfy ourselves. It costs us our other gods, our delightful soul-sweethearts, leading us out of their embrace and into the jealous embrace of the God sho is the true Lover of our souls. Turning to God will be costly in at least these two ways, making the journey of coming to God one that is challenging for each and every one of us.

In another way, however, coming to God is easy. The God of the universe steps forward with His arms open, promising to satisfy us with true life. He takes both the initiative and pays the cost necessary to make such an offer possible. We want what God has for us. We come with nothing to offer—no payment for the price necessary—and yet the offer is ours for the taking. The reorientation of our lies to this God and His great promises of love and life are something we simply step forward to receive through the response of faith. Certainly, it is the beginning of the journey with God that involves continuous letting go of that which is not life, and grabbing ahold of God and what is truly life. Yet, the satisfaction of our desire and the filling of our need by God is also ever-new. In fact, we are told that God’s steadfast love is new every morning and His faithfulness exceeds our expectation (Lamentations 3:22-23). The turn toward God is easy because, in comparison with the cost, the sheer gift of falling into the satisfying embrace of God is pricelessly valuable.

So, let us come to Him and find life. Let us shed our idolatrous soul-sweethearts and encounter the Lover of our souls—not once, like some fling, but again and again within the covenant of love.

Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.

The Weekend Wanderer: 15 June 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

nyt - sbc annual convention“Southern Baptist Convention Vows to Address Sex Abuse in Its Churches” – A lot of attention has been given this past week to the Southern Baptist Church, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, as they grapple at their annual convention with the appropriate response to the sex abuse scandal within some churches. The New York Times: “Thousands of pastors voted late Tuesday afternoon to address the problem in a concerted way for the first time, enacting two new measures they say are a first step to reform. Outside the arena where they were gathered, victims and their families protested what they considered an inadequate response.” You can read more at Christianity Today with Kate Shellnutt’s “Southern Baptists Vote to Name Abuse as Grounds for Expelling Churches” or at The Atlantic with Jonathan Merrit’s “Southern Baptists’ Midlife Crisis.” It is also worth taking a look at the recent attention in The New York Times given to negligence in dealing with sexual abuse claims at The Village Church, a multisite Southern Baptist megachurch in Dallas, where Matt Chandler serves as pastor.

 

84323“Questions Skeptics Pose” – Here is Ravi Zacharias outlining and responding to what he says are the nine toughest asked by nonbelievers. “What questions are they asking? Here are the ones I have been asked most often. By developing a clear response to each, we can increase our ability to talk with those who are not Christians. It is important to note that while these are the attacking questions, as the conversation goes on, the questions become kinder and more personal, till one can focus on the Cross and present the gospel in its simplicity and beauty. This has happened in every venue in which I have spoken.”

 

130912030048-02-birmingham-church-bombing-horizontal-large-gallery“To Shape A New World: William Seymour and Black Faith in the Drama of Civil Rights” – Over at The Witness, Dante Stewart offers this helpful two-part historical look at how the Azusa Street revival and William Seymour relates to the civil rights movement and the shaping of of black theology. “Seymour’s impact cannot be understated. Fueled by this Resurrection Power, he indeed embodied what would be Black engagement during Civil Rights: participating with the Spirit in shaping a new world by challenging racist attitudes and social structures, spiritual renewal as foundational to social change, and participating in the Spirit’s work in the creation of the Beloved Community.”

 

20190610T1011-27353-CNS-SYRIAC-SEMAAN-THRIVE_800-675x450“New Syriac Catholic bishop hopes Christianity will thrive again in Iraq” – This news from Iraq, which has been the source of much reporting as an example of the decline of Christianity due to religious violence. “Syriac Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Nizar Semaan begins his new mission in Iraq with hope ‘that Christianity will flourish again’ in his homeland. Semaan chose the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh, Iraq, his birthplace, as the site of his episcopal ordination June 7. Still scarred from the Islamic State group and not yet fully restored, the church, Semaan said, is ‘a symbol of what happened to our cities and villages in 2014 until the liberation (in 2017) from ISIS.'”

 

US-REALESTATE-CONSTRUCTION“Are McMansions Making People Any Happier?” – Not necessarily a surprise, since we know that the human heart struggles with contentment, but still worth reading in The Atlantic: “American homes are a lot bigger than they used to be. In 1973, when the Census Bureau started tracking home sizes, the median size of a newly built house was just over 1,500 square feet; that figure reached nearly 2,500 square feet in 2015. This rise, combined with a drop in the average number of people per household, has translated to a whole lot more room for homeowners and their families: By one estimate, each newly built house had an average of 507 square feet per resident in 1973, and nearly twice that—971 square feet—four decades later. But according to a recent paper, Americans aren’t getting any happier with their ever bigger homes.”

 

060519jenkinsbrompton“Decline and revival in the Church of England”Philip Jenkins here in The Christian Century on the Church of England, with mention of Holy Trinity Brompton, where I worshipped last summer for a couple of weekends. Jenkins’ reflections offer some interesting thoughts on how this secular age impacts the church and what it might mean for the rise of religious nones, even in the US. “British media regularly re­port the latest surveys of religious faith and activity in that country, and rare is the news that is not deeply depressing. So rapid has been the process of secularization that it hardly seems far-fetched to imagine a near future in which Christian faith in the country would be confined to recent immigrants….The Church of England has long been divided between high and low church factions, between Anglo-Catholic ritualists and evangelicals. During the 1960s, a new force appeared on the scene in the form of a charismatic revival. Over the following decades, that charismatic impulse rose and fell in influence, but it received new infusions of support from the global church repeatedly. At different times, those overseas influences derived from transatlantic revivals, both in the US and in Latin America, but also from new immigrant populations from Africa and the Caribbean. These new influences reshaped many urban parishes, some of which became what an American would easily recognize as evangelical-charismatic megachurches.”

 

Artisanal internet“The Soothing Promise of Our Own Artisanal Internet” – Nitasha Tiku at Wired: “To put our toxic relationship with Big Tech into perspective, critics have compared social media to a lot of bad things. TobaccoCrystal methPollutionCars before seat beltsChemicals before Superfund sites. But the most enduring metaphor is junk food: convenient but empty; engineered to be addictive; makes humans unhealthy and corporations rich. At first, consumers were told to change their diet and #DeleteFacebook to avoid the side effects. But now, two years into the tech backlash, we know that cutting the tech giants out of our lives is impossible. So among some early adopters, the posture is shifting from revolt to retreat.”

 

false-memory“Speak, Memory” – “Julia Shaw’s book The Memory Illusion is a breakthrough in the jurisprudence of memory: the main question posed is not whether our memory is wrong on any given occasion but how wrong. It is thus essential reading for police, lawyers, judges, juries, insurance assessors, journalists … and anyone else who wants to understand why everybody else in the family “remembers” details of your family’s past differently from you. Her book discloses what modern brain science shows about how human memory functions, and where and how it is fallible. The title chosen for the German-language translation of her book—The Treacherous Memory—perhaps sums it all up best.”

Music: Buena Vista Social Club, “La Engañadora,” from Buena Vista Social Club at Carnegie Hall (Live).

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Saturday Prayer 25

I have seen You in the sanctuary and beheld Your power and Your glory. Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You. I will praise You as long as I live, and in Your Name I will lift up my hands. I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise You. (Psalm 63:2-5)

Lord, my eyes have seen You move in power both in times past and in the present. Lord, You are my hope and health and salvation. I know that Your love is better than life. In You is found my soul’s satisfaction.

Still, Lord, at times I turn away from You. There are moments where my mouth says one thing and my actions show something else. Take me deeper into the ways of life and satisfaction in You.

Lord, You are worthy of all worship and I want to praise You as long as I live. I know my best life is to be fully satisfied in You. Lead me into this reality.

[This is part of a series of prayer posts in 2012 that began here.]