A Comfortable Discontent
The Leprosy of the Affluent Christian
“Almighty God, our heavenly Father, seeing that since antiquity it has always pleased You to extend Your grace toward Your people, as perverse and rebellious as they were; and that You have never ceased to exhort them to repentance, but have always taken them by Your hand through Your prophets; grant us also Your grace today, that Your same Word may resound in our ears; and, if at first we should not profit from Your holy teaching as we ought; nonetheless, do not reject us; but by Your Spirit subdue and so reign over our minds and affections, that being truly humbled and brought low, we give You the glory that Your majesty is due; so that being clothed by Your love and fatherly favor, we may submit ourselves totally to You, while at the same time embracing that goodness which You have provided and offered us in our Lord Jesus; that we might never doubt again that You alone are our Father, until that day that we rejoice in Your heavenly promise, which has been acquired for us by the blood of Your only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.” (A prayer of John Calvin’s during a sermon on Micah)
1Co 2:12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God,
1Co 2:13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.
1Co 2:14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
Contentment is the end which we seek.
Provision is the means by which we attain it.
Worldliness and Godliness are the conditions of our heart. They determine where and how we will seek provision, where we find our contentment.
From Affluence to Affliction
We live in a society that perpetuates a sense of discontentment so that its economy can thrive. Discontent is the engine that drives the market in this corporate, commercial empire we live in. But as Christians, we are called to live as pilgrims (or sojourners) in this world. We are here for a time, but we should not give ourselves to this world, for the only thing it offers us with certainty is death; instead, we should live in such a way that our eyes are fixed on heaven, so that our certainty rests on its promise: eternal life in Jesus Christ.
Php 4:11 Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.
Php 4:12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.
The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians does not just say he knows, but that he has learned. I think that this is an important distinction and communicates that this is not something that comes easily or naturally, but is the result of a progressive work. I like what Thomas Watson says with regards to this use:
The apostle does not say, “I have heard, that in every estate I should be content,” but, “I have learned.” Whence our first doctrine, that it is not enough for Christians to hear their duty—but they must learn their duty. It is one thing to hear and another thing to learn; as it is one thing to eat and another thing to cook. Paul was a practitioner. Christians hear much—but it is to be feared, learn little. There were four kinds of soils in the parable, (Lu. 8:5) and but one good ground. This is an emblem of this truth—many hearers—but few learners.
I pray that we will all be learners.
As members of one of the most affluent societies the world has ever known, we are in a constant battle between what God teaches us through His holy word and what the world seeks to communicate through its many devices. The success we enjoy, both the root and the fruit of it will come from one of two sources. The question that I hope haunts us as we study this subject and continue to learn what God has to teach about contentment is this: Where do I go to seek my provision?
Where do I go to seek my provision?
Where we go to seek our provision tells us something about the conditions of our hearts. What we heap upon our plate and pour inside our cup reveals the truth about our appetites. Are we satisfied with what God has provided? Or do we live in state of subtle discontent, perpetually unsatisfied and seeking other provisions on our own?
The Israelites were not long in the desert before they began to complain about the Lord’s provision. Many of them were ready to go back to Egypt even after they had heard His voice and were aware of His promise. They were a grumbling, murmuring, unsatisfied people. They were rebellious and short-sighted. God took them out of their oppression, and vowed to do a mighty work on their behalf. He only required their love, their devotion, and their obedience. In the grand scheme of things, He left them with the easy part: love and trust God; follow His commands. God would do the rest; the part that in their own power they would never be able to do. But even in this, the people were full of discontent. They were dissatisfied with His timetable, dissatisfied with His provision, and dissatisfied with His commands.
It is easy for us to read the history of the Israelites in the books of Moses and say as a friend of mine once did, “What was wrong with those guys that they just didn’t get it?” God delivered them from Pharaoh’s hand, made them a promise, gave them manna, brought out water from a rock, provided them with the Law and the Prophet… yet they were constantly complaining and wavering toward the Almighty. It is easy I think to look at the Israelites and shake our heads. It is easy to forget that we complain and grumble about God’s providence as much if not more than they did. We complain about so many inconveniences, and circumstances that are quite beyond our control. We complain about the weather. We complain about our parents. We complain about our children. We complain about our spouses. We complain about our friends. We complain about our jobs. We complain about our income. We complain about our houses. We complain about our neighbors. We complain about our bodies. We even complain about our churches and our brothers and sisters in Christ! And yet are these not all examples of God’s provision in our own lives? We confess with our lips that He is sovereign, and if we believe this is true then we must recognize that we did not provide those things for ourselves, nor did the world provide them. They are God’s provisions and are determined by His providence!
Does He need to lead us into the desert and strip us of every other means before we learn to see what He has given us as coming from His hand and to learn (as Paul did) to be content with what we have been given? And for all our complaints against God, how often do we complain about our sin? How often do we complain about our selfishness? How often do we complain about our lack of faith? How often do we complain about our attitude? And here is the main question we ought to consider: How often do we complain about those things which only God can control while we completely ignore and excuse the very things that we ourselves are responsible for? What is the condition of your heart? Are you at enmity with God?
We live in a society that is probably more threatening to God’s people than any time of severe persecution in the Church’s past. That is because it lulls to sleep the Christian who succumbs far too easily to the creature comforts this world has to offer.
One of the rather subtle downsides to our comfortable culture is that we have lost the value of words. Even as we have grown in our ability work with abstract concepts, we have lost the value and sense of connection to the meaning of the words we use so carelessly. Words like provision, sacrifice, sin, and affliction. We understand these words at an abstract level but are so far removed from having any real connection to them. This is one of the main reasons that relativism is so popular.
We are too comfortable in our culture. The world will gladly provide us anesthetic for every affliction, and hand us a band-aid for every sin in our flesh. And we are all too eager to make excuses for our sins and trophy cases for our sacrifices. The patterns of this world encourage us to seek comfort and cover instead of conviction, and to unapologetically pursue affluence over affliction.
We enjoy the convenience of grocery stores. We are able to buy food with little thought or effort, which I would guess is one of the main reasons we either don’t pray or don’t pray deeply with thanks anymore for the food that we eat. We live in nice, safe houses in nice, safe neighborhoods and drive nice, safe cars to our nice, safe jobs… we just live in a nice, safe world. Or rather, we live in a nice, safe bubble inside the world. We avoid as much as possible anything that infringes on our comfort or that threatens the safety of our bubble. Sure, we’re all in favor of sending brave souls out to do missionary work on the other side of the ocean (and will even help to fund it), so that the gospel may be taken to the lost in places of poverty and severe destitution. Meanwhile, we ourselves ignore those people on the other side of town.
How can this be? Is it possible that we have adopted a grocery store mentality in our faith? Do we run to the Bible like we do to the grocery store? Only when we’ve run out of some key ingredient we need, and then find it toilsome to walk the aisles and wait at the checkout counter to purchase our item? We take it for granted and too often we use it selfishly and without true reverence. We use it to buffer ourselves, not to buffet ourselves. We have become as disconnected to the means of provision at the grocery store as we have in God’s holy word!
If we had to turn the soil ourselves and plant seed for our vegetables, or raise a calf from a weanling to a bull, would we feel more connected to our source of provision? If we had to pull the vegetables from the vine or out of the ground by the sweat of our brow, would we think more of them? And what if we only ate the meat of that bull we raised from his birth after we killed and butchered him with our own bare hands? What if we had to separate his meat from his bones, and his hide from the meat so that we could provide both food and clothing for our family? Knowing these things came from God, would we feel a greater sense of connection with the source of our provision? Yet to our minds in this day and age, just the thought of slaughtering an animal we have raised from a babe seems far more savage than sacred. But it was not always so. When the books of the Bible were written, there were no grocery stores. There were no slaughterhouses. That was the reality. It was more gritty and less pretty, but provision was not an abstract concept that was so far removed from reality as to be almost intangible.
I have taken the time to try and communicate the world of difference between our understanding of some of the very important things we are discussing here based on our interaction with them in our own society, and that of the first Christians. And I think that is important as we now turn to Scripture and read about the provision God has made for us, and the contentment we should have because of it.
Jesus Christ is the bread of life, the manna from heaven. He gives us Living Water. And yet how many of us think that we are content with Christ because we tithe ten percent of our income and give Him less than one percent of our time every week? We are completely satisfied to spend the other ninety percent of our income on sin and self-indulgence, to spend countless hours of our time shopping on-line, in stores, or in catalogs for the things of the world which moth will eat and rust destroy. We spend countless hours updating our “All About Me” web pages, facebook or on myspace accounts, talking with or texting our friends about anything and everything but God—in fact often our conversations often only serve as vehicles to complain about something God Himself has provided! How much time and money do we spend watching sports, or movies, television, playing video games, pursuing the things of this world, satisfying our lusts and our secret sins, and fleeing Christ?
He is our daily bread! He is the Lord of Heaven and Earth, the one who sits at the right hand of the Father. He is the one who will judge the living and the dead. He is the purchaser of souls who suffered the just punishment–the full wrath of God to atone for sins–that we might partake of His righteousness and inherit eternity with Him in heaven… and we give him less of our time and our minds than our own vain conceits and selfish desires! Do you thirst and hunger for righteousness or does your heart long for things only the world can provide? Do you seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness? Are you loving the Lord your God with all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your mind, and all your strength?
What greater provision has been made for you by God than the Cross of Christ? What greater contentment can there be than is found in Jesus Christ, and the fact that He gave His life that the damned may be redeemed? Is it nothing to you!?
Where do you go to be satisfied? Where do you seek your provision? Do you seek it in the corruption of the world and in worldly passions? Or do you seek it on the cross of Christ? Do you deny yourself and pick up your cross daily, seeking your daily bread in God’s holy word? Do you fill your cup with the Living Water he has promised to the faithful? Or is it filled to overflowing with the septic system of the world? Do you like someone conformed to the patterns of this world, or someone conformed to the likeness of His Son?
Brothers and sisters, we have all been bitten by the serpent of this world. All of us have been poisoned in our souls and in our minds, as the venom courses through our veins. Clearly, there is but one cure. It is not to be found in a bottle, or in a pill, nor in a therapist’s office, in our marriage or our children… nor even in a friend. How often we turn to these things with the hope that they might hinder or reverse the effect when often they only speed the delivery of the poison. The only hope we have is in Christ and Him alone. Look at our Savior, lifted up, the one who became sin for us on a Cross. Look to Him, and find contentment there. He is your provision. He is your provision for sin. He is your provision for life. Truly I say, “Blessed is the name of the Lord.”
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, Who has created us and provided for our every need; Lord, forgive us for the quickness with which we grumble. We may be saints, but we are sinners still. Lord, I pray today not for our comfort but for our conviction, for I fear that we have far too much of the one and not nearly enough of the other. Lord, may your word prick our conscience and show us our need. In affluence, so often our hearts turn to what we want, but in affliction they often return to what they need. Lord, I pray that whatever the outward circumstances of our lives may be, whatever the outward condition we find ourselves in, that the inner condition of our heart would be afflicted enough to see our need of You. Let us not seek our comfort and joy in the things of the world for as your servant John has written those things are passing away. Let us seek first Your kingdom. Give us a desire for godliness and a distaste for worldliness, and help us to live like pilgrims in this world. In all things let us seek You, let us learn to be content with Your provision, and to give thanks for every good and perfect gift that You have given us. In Jesus name, amen.