Content, But Not Complacent

If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.11 But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 

1 Timothy 6:3-12 (NASB)
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“Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6) We are entering a season of Thanksgiving and Christmas, and it can be a wonderful time to count one’s blessings and give praise with a humble and thankful heart. But it can also be a season of discontent, envy, overspending, and even depression. Many people are restless. They want “more”– more stuff, more respect, more power, more popularity, better health, a bigger house, trendier clothes…the list can be endless. Advertisers work hard to stir up this kind of discontent in the hope that people will buy their products. Politicians stir up discontent and fear to get more votes. Even religious leaders can stir up discontent in the hope of gaining influence, respect, and money.

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God will not stir up discontent in our hearts. Instead, He wants us to learn to be content and grateful for the blessings we already have, and to trust Him for the things we both need and desire. He will see to it that we get what we need to live a Godly life, even if it seems meager compared to others who boast of their circumstances. Those who trust in their wealth or power will find it is never “enough.” Discontent breeds more discontent– envy gives rise to anger and bitterness. Greed gives way to dishonesty and violence. It is the enemy of Godliness and Humility. It is the enemy of the Christian Walk.

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But there is another danger to the Christian. We should desire to develop a spirit of contentment, but we must be careful not to let contentment become complacency. The Apostle Paul does not stop in his message to Timothy, but reminds him to both “flee” the temptation of greed and discontent, and “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.” Contentment is not an excuse for complacency. We are to “fight the good fight of Faith.” We are to be content with what we have, but not complacent about where we stand or how we live.

Discontent says– “I don’t have enough. I need more! (Even if I must take it by force or manipulation)”. Complacency says–” I have everything I need. I am an island of self-sufficiency. I don’t need anything (including God!) Both attitudes are conceited and fail to acknowledge God’s provision and His Sovereignty. The discontented, greedy person will be at war with God’s laws. The complacent person may not be fighting against God’s laws, but s/he will ignore God’s will, and refuse to stand up for justice or mercy. The complacent person is complicit in evil, even when they are not the ones doing it. The complacent Christian is ungrateful, and has only half-hearted praise for the Author of the blessings they enjoy.

There are many “Christians” in both categories. Many who claim to follow Christ, but are really following what they think will bring them power, wealth, health, or popularity. Many are being lulled into complacency by their blessings and comfortable circumstances. Both groups have lost their focus. God is to be the center of our lives– not our own comfort or our own pursuit of it.

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This season, may we be content, humble, and willing to give God the Thanks, Praise, and Worship He deserves. And may we not become complacent about doing good, standing firm in the Faith, and helping others.

Blessed Are the Poor In Spirit

I want to spend some time this month exploring the Beatitudes and how they relate to our prayer life. Today I want to look at Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”

How do I approach God’s throne of Grace? Do I come with a list of what I want, and what I’ve accomplished for God? Do I come reluctantly, grudgingly, holding back some part of who I am or who I have been? Do I come flaunting my self-righteousness? Or do I come empty of all but my desire to be in the Presence of my Maker?

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Many people have interpreted (and misinterpreted) this phrase. Jesus does not insist that we be financially destitute, or drained of all enthusiasm or emotion. But He does require that we come recognizing our need of Him. We may not be physically needy in the moment– we may be well-fed, comfortable, or even wealthy by human standards. But we are all in need of God’s presence and His provision. On my own, I may believe that I have earned all that I seem to possess, but I cannot supply the air that I breathe, or guarantee that my health will remain perfect, or that I will be able to keep what I think I own, or force others to accept or respect me. “Man supposes, but God disposes” is an old phrase, but an accurate one.

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When I approach God in prayer, no matter how rich or poor I may seem, I am dependent on God for everything. And this is true for every one of us. So I don’t approach God as someone “needier” or “less needy” than my neighbor. And I don’t approach God with any power to bargain or demand, or even to request– except that God has invited me and sought me out in His Love and Mercy!

And this is the rest of the Beatitude– “for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” God has opened up Heaven and invited me to walk with Him, to learn from Him, to receive His blessings, and to live with Him throughout eternity. His riches! His Glory! His Presence! Every time I pray, I trade my poverty for God’s bounty. I trade my confession for His forgiveness. I trade my helplessness for His Wisdom and Power to triumph over adversity and confusion, grief and doubt, sickness and lack.

It is when I come to Christ believing that I possess or control all that I suppose to be “mine,” that I lose the Blessing of His sufficiency and His perfection.

“Thank you, God of Mercy, and Ruler of All, for the privilege of coming to you. I come empty and spent–show me where I am holding on to something less than You, or trying to claim Your wealth as my own. Teach me to rest in the sufficiency of Your kingdom, even as I continue to serve you here on earth.”

Finished!

God always finishes what He starts. He always completes His tasks, fulfills His promises, and wraps up the loose ends.

As I look back over the past year, I see many tasks that I wish were “finished.” I would like to know that my days of washing dishes, sweeping floors, folding laundry, returning phone messages, etc., were done! Of course, that would mean that my daily life was also finished here on earth! Some tasks here just don’t “end.” I also see many tasks which should be completed, but aren’t–projects started and abandoned, tasks on pause until I can get the right supplies, or tasks left behind because something unexpected and more urgent came along.

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God is faithful in all things. So it is possible for Jesus to say, “It is finished,” as He breathed His last on the cross– even though we still experience life in a fallen world. His word is trustworthy and true, so we know that the work is/will be accomplished and completed. But God is also faithful in the daily tasks that He does– sunrises, seasons, Mercies that are “new every morning.” He does not abandon the work of forgiving, redeeming, sustaining, or transforming lives.

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We are NOT God, but we should strive to finish what we start. Part of that is recognizing our human limitations. We may not finish everything we dream of doing today. But we can work to finish each task, and take each step in faith and dependence on the One who does all things well. And we can purpose to run our race with courage and confidence, knowing that God will give us what we need to keep moving ahead.

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“Father, today I pray that You would help me to finish those tasks that are necessary– both the daily tasks, and the long-term projects You have for me to do. Help me to be diligent in the things I can do, and to trust You in the things I cannot do on my own. As I look forward to another year, help me to learn from Your example, and to seek Your wisdom each day, from start to “finish!”

Casting All Your Cares..

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5:6-7 (ESV)

I grew up hearing the verses above, especially verse 7– it was a memory verse in Sunday School and Bible School. It was the subject of many a sermon. I have known these verses most of my life. But I started thinking about them differently in the last week or so. The verses haven’t changed. Even in different translations, the familiar words are almost the same..”cast your cares:” “give your worries;” “cast your anxieties…” “ON HIM.” Over the years, those words created an image of me handing over a bundle, or passing off a heavy coat into the waiting arms of Jesus. There is nothing wrong with this image, but I think there is more to this verse.

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Peter–the author of this Epistle, was a fisherman. And one of the things I’ve learned being married to a man who loves to fish is that the “cast” is very important. No fisherman simply drops a line or a net into the water at random. Instead, he or she takes aim and hurls the net or line away from themselves and the boat (or dock or fishing platform). A good cast is intentional, directional, and takes commitment. And then, the fisherman, having made the cast, waits. Sometimes, it may take several “casts” before the fisherman gets a good “catch.” But a bad cast– or an impatient caster who can’t wait, but reels in and casts without intention– rarely gets good results.

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I’m afraid I’ve learned more about fishing in the past few years than I have about trusting God in a lifetime. All too often, I try to bring my cares and worries to God in pieces and parts, in short bursts and limp tosses. I do not “cast” my cares on Him– I try to hand over those bits I know I can’t handle, and explain away the rest. Or I try to drop my net close to the boat. And if I don’t get an answer on the first “cast,” I give up, and reel all my cares back in, or wear myself out with fruitless prayers about the same worries, as if God didn’t hear or couldn’t understand them the first eight or nine times!

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Casting our cares is more than just “handing” them over to God. We can hurl them, fling them, throw them, and toss them into the sea of His compassion and wisdom. As often as necessary, as desperately as necessary, as committed to getting rid of them as a fisherman is committed to getting a big “catch.” And we can trust that, at the right time, and in the right way, God will send us the “catch”– maybe not what we expected or imagined, but what He knows is best.

Fishing trip (with our daughter and some of our “catch.”)

Peter was a fisherman. After he walked with Jesus, he became a “fisher of men.” He learned how to “cast” all his cares on the one who performed miraculous deeds– walking on water, feeding the five thousand, raising the dead–even helping Peter and his friends catch fish! I’ve learned a lot about fishing. It’s time I learn more about “casting” my cares on my bountiful Father!

Even the Queen Has to Pray

I’m not talking about the current Queen of England–though it’s my understanding that she must, and does, pray as well as the rest of us. Sometimes we forget that even royalty have very human needs, and their power and authority, while greater than ours, is limited. God is still the ultimate authority. Instead, I’m thinking about the old testament Queen Esther/Hadassah.

Queen Esther’s position was one of great power– and of great peril. Her husband, Ahasueras, the King of Persia, had chosen her from among a host of women to replace the disgraced Queen Vashti. But Ahasueras was not a man of character and integrity. Vashti’s disgrace came after the King had been banqueting and drinking for a solid week, and this after six months of entertaining other heads of state! Ahasueras left the running of his kingdom in the hands of his ministers–even Vashti’s dismissal and Esther’s elevation were at the suggestion of the King’s counselors (though the King made the particular choice of Esther over all the other contenders). Ahasueras was unpredictable, capricious, vindictive, hot-headed, and easily led. He also had “unlimited” power– his word was, literally, law.

Even though Esther had risen to a place of prominence and (limited) power, she still faced danger, in the guise of her husband’s Prime Minister, Haman. Haman’s power was second only to the king, and he intended to use that power to rid himself of his enemy, Mordecai, a Jewish exile, who just happened to be the foster-father and cousin of Queen Esther! Not content with simply having Mordecai executed, Haman suggested to the gullible King Ahasueras that all the Jewish exiles throughout the kingdom should be slaughtered and plundered within a single day.

Queen Esther’s only option was to get the king to reverse his own edict– even if she managed to escape the genocidal plot, her silence would spell the doom of the entire scattered nation of her own people. Queen Esther could not trust in her own limited authority, nor in the beauty that had brought her to the throne. Only God could capture the heart and mind of such a king. Queen Esther began to pray.

And she didn’t just fall on her knees in silent despair She asked others to fast and pray for three days before she would approach the king. And she paved the way with another banquet, during which she flattered both the king and his arrogant prime minister before pleading for her life and the lives of her countrymen.

Esther’s beauty and grace alone were no match for Haman’s treachery. But God knew the end of this story from the beginning. Esther was in grave danger, but she was also in God’s loving and all-powerful hands. Esther is remembered for her bravery and poise in the face of Haman’s diabolical plotting, but also for her dependence on God’s power over her own.

What dangers will we face today? If Queen Esther needed to pray– and ask for prayer– in her situation, how much more should we be willing to do so in ours?!

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Prayer Priorities

What’s the most “important” prayer you can pray today? Sometimes, we think it is the prayer we pray in a moment of crisis. Or maybe the one we are asked to lead in front of a congregation. But the setting or the situation doesn’t make one prayer more important than any other.

It’s almost a trick question, really. Jesus never taught that some prayers were more “important” than others. But He did teach the some prayers were more effective than others. And His answers may be surprising to some.

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The prayers Jesus praised were prayers of humble confession and needy request. God doesn’t judge our prayers– He judges the heart of the Pray-er. Jesus praised the prayer of the Tax Collector over that of the self-righteous Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14). While others might have been impressed by the Pharisee’s words and confidence, Jesus heard the desperation and the dependence of the Tax Collector. Just before this exchange, Jesus told the parable of a persistent widow, whose constant nagging resulted in getting justice from corrupt judge (Luke 18:1-8). It’s a strange parable–the woman is not meekly accepting of her situation; the judge is corrupt, initially refusing to do the right thing. Yet Jesus prefaces the story by telling his followers to “always pray and not lose heart.” (v. 1) So, the very prayers we dismiss– the nightly prayers for our loved ones, the “unspoken” request we lift up on behalf of a friend, or the seemingly unanswered requests–are no less important than any others.

Finally, Jesus praised (and prayed!) prayers that were “real.” He poured out His heart to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane; He lifted up His friends’ needs at the Last Supper (John 13-17); He said simple grace before feeding the crowds.

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So often, we judge our efforts when we pray– did we say the “right” thing? Did we say it the “right” way? Did we leave something out? Forget to say something? But God knows what is on our heart and in our mind. He knows what we “meant to say.” He knows everything we need– and all the needs of everyone else we could mention! He already knows all His names and attributes! And though He loves to hear us speak words of praise, He also listens to our heart, and–26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27 NIV via biblegateway.com)

There is one caveat– because God knows our heart, He also “sees through” prayers that are insincere, proud, self-centered, and thoughtless. Some of the most “important-sounding” prayers fall short of touching God’s ears. He will not listen to the prayers of those who wish to “strike a bargain” with Him, or convince Him of their own self-worth. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t value each one of us– after all, He became Sin who knew no sin, so that we could become the Righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). But God’s love is a gift–when we try to bargain for His gifts and earn His Grace with our eloquence, we lose sight of Who He Is.

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Many centuries before Jesus walked the earth, Hannah poured out her heart in tears, wordless anguish, and groaning. (1 Samuel 1). Her prayer was such a mess, the priest, Eli, accused her of being drunk! But God heard her heart, and answered her prayer, and because of her great faith, her son, Samuel led Israel through some of its most trying times. Hers was a very “important” prayer.

What if our stumbling effort to pour out whatever is on our hearts and lift it up to Almighty God–our praise, our failings, our grief, our desperate need–is be the most important prayer we can pray today?

Risky Prayers

When I was a teenager, I read about Solomon and how he prayed for wisdom. God granted his request, and made Solomon the wisest ruler in Israel’s history. He also blessed Solomon with riches and fame, peace, and power. (see 1 Kings, chapter 3) I thought about what I should pray for in my own life– what attribute would I need as I became an adult, a wife, a parent, etc. I prayed for patience.

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When I said that I wanted to pray for patience, several wise and respected adults cautioned me NOT to pray such a prayer! “You know what will happen…God won’t “give” you patience…He’ll bring all kinds of things into you life to “teach” you patience. You never pray for such things. It’s like asking for trouble. Be careful what you pray for.”

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Looking back almost 40 years later, I would have to say that God answered my prayer. And, as I was warned, He allowed things to come into my life to try my patience and develop my patience. I remained unmarried until I was 46. I never had children of my own. Perhaps some people would wag their finger and say, “See, I told you so.” But I would not change my prayer or change my life’s circumstances. God’s answers were not what I expected, but His ways were better than my expectations. I wanted patience so that I could better handle life’s little ups and downs– so I could be the kind of wife and mother who was always composed; always at peace. Instead, I worked with teenagers and toddlers– many of whom knew very little peace at home. I wasn’t perfectly composed. Sometimes, I yelled at my class, or lost my temper with colleagues. Sometimes, I had to deal with crises–students who died in tragic accidents or by suicide; toddlers at story time whose parents were going through divorce or facing cancer. And all the while, I waited for the husband and family of my hopes and expectations.

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I had prayed for patience– and I found it ONLY when I depended on God. All those years I was single and working with “other people’s” children, I learned to lean on God’s timing and wisdom. Even through the pain and tears, and wondering why God seemed silent and my dreams seemed to be out of reach, God was there, listening to my cries, giving me strength to keep going. And He is still doing the same for me now. My circumstances and expectations didn’t change who God was. But they helped shape who I was becoming, and who I am today.

During this time, I also watched peers who seemed to “have it all.” They had beautiful families, beautiful houses, handsome husbands, and fast-track jobs. But underneath, they were lonely and unfulfilled. Many of them ended up divorced, disillusioned, or burned-out. Some of them have turned (or returned) to God; others still struggle, trying to do everything their own way, and trying to juggle too much alone.

God doesn’t demand that we pray “risky” prayers. But when we choose to follow Him, we will have to take some risky steps. We may have to let go of our expectations; we may have to go through rejection and hardship. But what God has in store for us is worth the risk.

I’m not wealthy or famous. I wouldn’t recommend that everyone pray for patience, or wisdom, or some other virtue, thinking that God will make life easier or richer. (I think that’s what worried some of the people who “warned me off” praying this way.) But if you want to know God in a richer, deeper way, it will require a leap of faith.

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What “risky prayer” have you been putting off? Today is a perfect day to take that next step. I promise, you won’t regret it.

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