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.

The Genie in the Bottle

Among the stories of the Arabian Nights, there is the tale of Aladdin and his Magic Lamp. A young man named Aladdin finds himself in possession of a lamp which contains a powerful Genie (Djinn), a magical spirit who can grant fantastic wishes. Aladdin makes use of this magic to rise to power and win the hand of a beautiful sultan’s daughter, and defeat an evil sorcerer.

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In the Walt Disney movie version, Aladdin expresses his desire to be as powerful as the Genie. But the Genie sums up his situation in bleaker terms. “Phenomenal, cosmic powers–itty, bitty living space!” The Genie has great power, but no freedom. He can act only on behalf of whoever is “master” of the lamp; he has no power to act on his own or for his own benefit.

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There is a perception among some people in our culture that God is a myth; that He is merely a figment of the imagination, and that those who pray to Him are like those who would seek to command a Genie in a bottle. Just pray to God for the things you want, and “Hey, Presto!” God will provide. There are even some who preach such a gospel– that God wants whatever you want– God wants His followers to be happy, healthy, wealthy, and popular, and belief in Him will magically transform our circumstances.

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But God is no Genie in a bottle. Yes, He has phenomenal cosmic powers–of course, He does! He created the cosmos! But He also inhabits the cosmos, and He acts in His own sovereignty, according to His will. He does not respond to our command, nor is He confined by any limitations. The only “itty bitty living space” for God is when He takes up residence in the heart of a believer.

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20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, 21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21 (KJV)

God’s power isn’t limited to what we ask or think or imagine. It’s not even limited to something a little more than all that. God is able to do “exceeding abundantly above ALL that we ask or think” (emphasis added). And that power isn’t working “for” us or at our whim…it is working IN us! God does not primarily want to change our circumstances, remove our obstacles, or improve our situation. God wants to transform us from the inside!

In the story of Aladdin, there is no spiritual growth, no personal transformation. Aladdin defeats the evil sorcerer, and lives (we assume) happily ever after with great wealth and power. In the movie version, he experiences some personal growth, learning to “be himself.” And he uses his “last wish” selflessly to grant the Genie his “freedom.” The lamp becomes just an ordinary lamp, the genie just an ordinary spirit, and Aladdin just an ordinary guy. (except for being married to the sultan’s daughter). But God wants so much more for His children! He is not content with having us defeat a single enemy, and retire into the world of history, mythology or children’s fairy tales. He is not content with us learning a simple life lesson and making a few good decisions in this life.

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God is sovereign over the entire Universe! He has eternal power and glory! And He lavishes His love on you and me– using that awesome power in and through us to transform and reconcile a broken world back to Him. He reveals His glory to us, through us, and for us throughout this life, and the life to come.

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Today, let’s ask God, not to give us what we can ask or think for ourselves, but to work His will in and around and through us. The results will be beyond our imagination! Exceeding abundantly above our imagination! We don’t possess a genie in a bottle. Instead we belong to the Lord of all creation. Phenomenal cosmic power– infinite and eternal living space!

Blessed Are Those Who Hunger…

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.”(Matthew 5:6) I’m looking at the Beatitudes and how they can relate to our prayer life. Today, I’m looking at the fourth in the series, shown above.

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I recently found out that I am diabetic. I’m trying to lose weight and eat in ways that will help manage my body’s response to carbohydrates. And I find that when I feel hungry, I seem to crave all the wrong things! I miss pasta and chocolate and a large sized Coca Cola from the drive-thru. I don’t normally crave steamed cauliflower or unsalted nuts when I’m hungry. There’s nothing inherently wrong or “evil” about pasta, or chocolate chip cookies, or even sugary drinks. But they can crowd out the nutrients that my body needs, making me bloated and yet feeling like I didn’t get “enough” to eat. I don’t crave the nutrients– I crave the taste. I don’t hunger for the fuel my body needs; instead, I hunger for the flavors I want, or the quick burst of energy I feel from sugar and carbs.

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And the same can be said for Righteousness. Most of us do not truly hunger or thirst for righteousness on our own. We crave comfort, or affirmation, or control of our circumstances. Even in our prayer life– even as we say the words, “Thy will be done”– we are usually asking for our own wishes or desires to be fulfilled. “Help me get this job.” “Change my neighbor’s attitude.” “Fix the problem…” We want to BE righteous, but our appetite leads us to compromise and complacency. The end result is that we feel unfulfilled, even resentful and restless.

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Jesus promises that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled. We will not be left with the gnawing feelings of guilt and shame and regret, or left feeling unfulfilled and dissatisfied. What kind of diet will lead to this “filled” feeling? Chewing on God’s Word! Have you ever noticed how often in the Bible God uses food imagery in relation to His Word? “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). “How sweet are Thy words unto my taste! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Psalm 119:103) “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4b). And there are dozens of other examples throughout both Testaments.

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When I come to prayer wanting more of God and less of my own “cravings,” it changes my perspective– and my appetite. My desire is no longer for convenience or temporary comfort, but to be closer to God– to enter into His Righteousness. My other desires start to change to align with His will. Instead of praying to get a particular job, I begin to pray that God will lead me to do my best at whatever job I have (or that I will eventually get). Instead of wanting my neighbor to change, I will begin to look for ways God wants me to change my response to my neighbor. Instead of just wanting to lose weight, I will begin praying about ways I can honor God in the way I eat (and exercise and take care of my body).

So I need to ask, “What am I really hungry for today?”

The Silent Treatment

Have you ever had someone give you “the silent treatment?” Or have you ever been angry or disgusted and refused to talk to someone? It can be very frustrating. You may ask a simple question– even look the other person in the eye–only to face a wall of silence. Silence of this type can be oppressive. It is less an absence of sound than a presence of something heavy and dark.

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God spoke through His prophets, messengers (angels), and sometimes, in visions throughout the days of the Old Testament. But then, He was silent. For four hundred years! There were no new messages, no prophetic visions– just a gloomy silence. There was still noise in the world– chaos, confusion, war, debates, chattering, gossip– but no word from God. He had spoken for thousands of years, and His laws and the words of the prophets still stood, promising a coming Messiah, a rescue and a redemption for the nation of Israel. But then, nothing.

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Imagine how much more glorious it must have been when the angel hosts announced the Messiah’s birth to the shepherds! After such a long silence, they must have nearly exploded with the joyous news! The shepherds, already frightened by the sudden appearance, must have been held in thrall to hear voices from the heavenly realms– something that hadn’t been heard or even heard of for over a dozen generations!

And that’s how it often is–after a period of silence, the sound comes spilling out in a mad rush. Feelings, thoughts, announcements, all waiting to rush out in an explosion of sound and excitement. The silence is over! The heaviness is lifted. The dam has burst, and the words pour out in a great flood.

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When Jesus– the Word of God– arrived, He spoke to many. He told parables and spoke words of healing and kindness and even warning. But at His trial, He refused to answer many of the questions that were posed. He dared to give “the silent treatment” to Pontius Pilate and the Pharisees. People who had refused to listen to Him during his ministry suddenly wanted answers. But He had already spoken and told them everything they needed to know.

Not so with His disciples. He spoke to them plainly and promised them a “counselor.” The Holy Spirit would speak, and would teach them how to speak. There would be no more “silent treatment” for those who knew the Spirit. No need for angelic messengers or prophetic visions (though God could still choose to use them as well)–God’s Spirit would dwell in the hearts and minds of His people.

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And yet, we often feel that God is “silent” in our own time. But is that really the case?

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Have you ever given God the “silent treatment?” How long have you held in resentment or doubt over something God did or didn’t do; a prayer He answered in a way that left you feeling hurt or confused? Is there a wall of silence on your part? It may not even be full silence. Is there some issue or topic you refuse to bring to prayer? Some secret desire you won’t discuss with Him? How does it weigh down the rest of your relationship?

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I have found myself holding things back, keeping silent about things in my life. It stunts my growth and hinders my prayers. But when I finally break my silence, pouring out the full measure of my fears, confusion, and deepest desires, it is like a weight sliding away, and light breaking through the clouds. The joy and relief are overwhelming. (See Psalm 32 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+32&version=ESV) What the psalmist says about sin can apply to doubt, anger, or confusion, as well. Unconfessed and unspoken, it will weigh upon us.

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Don’t give God the “silent treatment.” He already knows all that you would keep back from Him. Silence doesn’t “treat” anything– real healing comes from open communication with the Great Physician. Don’t wait four hundred years– or even four hundred seconds! Let the words (and maybe the tears) flow…And don’t be surprised if your silence is replaced with singing!

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