Freedom Friday: Learning Contentment


Most babies are born content. (Not all. Ask my first!)

My 2nd son was the most peaceful baby I had ever met. He seemed completely unaware of any disruption around him. Sometimes, I’d put him down in his bassinet to do something, and he’d spontaneously fall asleep.

He didn’t have to learn to be content. He didn’t have to study to become that way. He just was.

Unfortunately, as we go through life, we seem to unlearn contentment. Our trust fades. We become jaded. The cares of the world seem overwhelming and burdensome. We take them on ourselves as a burden we think we should be able to carry.

I have this excerpt of Philippians 4 by my desk on my office wall.

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 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. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

If you would like to see the passage with clickable links to the Greek words, here it is.

After staring at this passage for quite some time one day, I noticed something: Paul said, “I have learned to be content.” It wasn’t something that just came naturally to him.

The Greek word that is translated “content” in verse 11, Autarkes, is not used anywhere else in the Bible. Here are some of its meanings:

sufficient for one’s self, strong enough or processing enough to need no aid or support
independent of external circumstances
contented with one’s lot, with one’s means, though the slenderest

Paul goes on to say that he has “learned the secret” of being hungry or full, having abundance or want. The Greek word used there, Mueo, translated as “learned the secret” is also not used anywhere else in the Bible. It means:

to initiate into the mysteries
to teach fully, instruct
to accustom one to a thing
to give one an intimate acquaintance with a thing

To become instructed in. To become intimately acquainted with. To learn, independent of external circumstances, the mystery of contentment.

How are some ways we can learn to be content, no matter the circumstances?

1. Rest. Stop striving. Stop trying to fix everything. Hand it over to God. And then hand it over again. Let Him give you strength, as the passage recommends.

A month or two ago, God spoke to me and said, “If the burden is too heavy, then it’s not yours to carry.” Stop “should-ing” on yourself, and start resting in God, allowing Him to speak into your life and teach you to be content.

2. Pray. Something I’ve realized is that being content in all circumstances does not mean we don’t pray for our circumstances to change. In fact, earlier in chapter 4 of Philippians, Paul commands, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” It simply means we’re content even if they don’t.

As the Greek implies, contentment is based on the internal, not the external. This is a lesson I’m still learning. It’s Christ in me, strengthening me, working in me, changing me, that is the source of my contentment. And yet we’re commanded to ask & keep on asking, like the persistent widow in Luke 18. I need to find that balance between acceptance and prayerful request.

3. Trust. Learning contentment means we choose to trust God, even if our circumstances don’t change. It means we actively choose to trust that He is good, He is faithful, and He will show up. As Paul says later in chapter 4 to the church in Philippi, “my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

In what areas of your life could you use some contentment today? How is God wanting to teach you contentment, and in what areas is God waiting for you to ask for His help?

Freedom Friday: When God Isn’t Showing Up

I’ve been working on a post on contentment for…well, months. Maybe longer. That was my plan for today. Finish it up and share it with you all.

But I just can’t. I can’t. My heart is heavy. A good acquaintance of mine is going through an unthinkable tragedy. After a long & excruciatingly difficult trial, the unimaginable has happened.

They did not receive the answer they were looking for. Their family is being torn apart, and the end is not in sight.

God isn’t showing up as they had hoped.

This family has been on my heart since I received the news last night. Not only is my youngest sick (and he woke numerous times last night), even when I tried to sleep, I could not get this family out of my head.

I could do nothing but pray. Pray for peace. Pray for encouragement. Pray for protection.

As I ran this morning, I asked God to help me with my writing today. I was trying to wrap up the contentment post in my mind.

I just could. not. focus.

I couldn’t stop thinking of my friends.

I came home, showered, and realized my youngest was awake. Again. As I laid down next to him in hopes of getting him back to sleep, I read my psalm for today on my phone.

Psalm 77
New Living Translation (NLT)

For Jeduthun, the choir director: A psalm of Asaph.

1 I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me!
2 When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord.
All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven,
but my soul was not comforted.
3 I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help.
Interlude

We’ve all been there. When we’ve asked for God’s help so many times that the thought of one more prayer literally has us moaning and overwhelmed. The times when comfort is nowhere to be found, and it seems even God is nowhere to be found.

The Psalmist continues:

4 You don’t let me sleep. I am too distressed even to pray!
5 I think of the good old days, long since ended,
6 when my nights were filled with joyful songs.
I search my soul and ponder the difference now.
7 Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be kind to me?
8 Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he slammed the door on his compassion?
Interlude

I imagine this friend of mine, thinking back to the days when her family was together and full of life and peace. What happened to those days? Where are those songs of joy? Will they ever come again? Where’s God’s kindness, His grace, His faithfulness? Where is His compassion and love?

Where is God? Why isn’t He showing up?

10 And I said, “This is my fate;
the Most High has turned his hand against me.”

There have been times I myself have wrongly come to this conclusion.

I remember an excruciatingly challenging time about 8 years ago. My world, and my faith, had been turned upside down. I no longer knew what I believed or why. Add to that I was dealing with chronic illness, clinical depression (that could not be medicated, as the medication exacerbated my chronic illness), and my husband and I were both unemployed.

My experiences were not lining up with my theology, and it was seriously messing with me.

One example of this happened when I realized I was being overcharged for car insurance, going on 5 years. Rectifying this was not an easy process, as the reason I was overcharged in the first place was the state I received my license in and the state I lived after did not communicate with each other, and would not easily communicate with the state I currently lived in.

From my perspective, God could be helping me with this. He could be making it all happen more smoothly. Didn’t He know I needed that money, and I needed it now, not whenever He decided to notice my needs and finally help me out?

I was faced with a challenge that faces all of us: if our experience does not match our theology, if our feelings do not line up with the truth of Scripture, whom or what will we trust?

The Psalmist continues:

11 But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;
I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.
12 They are constantly in my thoughts.
I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.

13 O God, your ways are holy.
Is there any god as mighty as you?
14 You are the God of great wonders!
You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.
15 By your strong arm, you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
Interlude

Please do read the rest of the psalm here.

So what can we do when God is not showing up?

1. Ask people to pray for you. This needs to be the first step. Tell your friends what’s going on, and ask them to hold out hope for you, even when you, like the Psalmist, feel as if God’s promises have failed you. We need the support, both in tangible help & prayer. We need friends like the paralytic man had; he was healed because of their faith.

2. Be honest with God. Tell Him exactly how you feel, even if it isn’t pretty. None of it will surprise Him. He knows your thoughts even if you don’t tell Him.

3. Think about what God has done in the past. Reflect on what He has done rather than what He hasn’t.

4. Ponder who God is, what you know of His character. Memorize Scriptures about His nature. Contemplate the many facets of His being, and declare them to be true. I even challenge you to try doing this out loud. Words have power.

5. Cultivate hope. I talked about hope last week, that it is a choice. It can also be learned, even in the most tragic situations.

My reimbursement check from the insurance company did show up, and it was far more than I thought it would be. It also took far longer than I wanted, but in that time, God allowed me to see that I needed to work on my relationship with Him, who I thought He was, based on my reaction (my core beliefs were that He was unkind, uncaring and unconcerned with my needs).

Jesus did not ever promise an easy life, unfortunately. He did not promise that it would even go the way we hoped. What Jesus DID promise is that His grace is sufficient, that His promises really are true, and that His purposes will prevail.

Please pray for this family, that justice would roll like a river (Amos 5:24). And if you need prayer, comment on this post, and I and others will pray for you.

Freedom Friday, Tools for the Journey: Hope

One or two mornings a week, I get up extra early to try and spend some uninterrupted time with God.

Some days, I read the Bible and pray because I’ve made a habit of it. No fireworks go off, and I don’t hear any specific “words.”

Some days, my time with God literally feels like breath and life and sustenance.

I was still reeling from some challenging events. Earlier that week, I had fought the overwhelming urge to sink into my default setting. Then my uncle, who everyone had been praying would be healed, passed away.

I knew I needed to make some carved-out time with God a priority.

After reading some Scripture, I opened a file on my phone where I keep a list of prayer requests. The first thing I read was this:

“Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in Him.” Psalm 62:5

Hope. Not in people, things, or a certain outcome to prayers. But a pure hope that is only in God.

I needed to read that.

As I ponder hope, I feel I can’t talk about hope without also talking about hopelessness.

As Russell Willingham said in his book Breaking Free, “Hopelessness is not only a response to traumatic losses; it can also become a habit-forming coping mechanism.” Hopelessness, despair, depression are all part of my default setting.

As I wrote about a few months ago in a post on hopelessness, “If God is real, if He is who the Bible says He is, then hopelessness is not an option. If His promises are true, if He doesn’t change, and never lies, then we have to reverse the pattern in our lives of getting sucked into hopelessness.”

A couple of things to remember about hope:

1. Hope is a choice.
I read recently Christians need to be self-leaders in the area of hope. I agree. Hope is a choice, just like trust is a choice.

For most of my life, I based my hope solely on my experience of life. I was used to looking for hope in the things around me, clinging to my circumstances or glimmers of hope I saw in people. When I became a Christian, I needed to learn an entirely different way of living.

During this time, I clung to all Scriptures about hope. I read them, I breathed them in, I memorized them and quoted them to myself frequently.

Romans 8:24 was one of my favorites: “Hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?”

I needed to learn to stop hoping in what I could see with my limited vision and perspective, and starting seeing with God’s eyes.

Hope is a continuous choice for me. When I felt myself slowly sinking into that default setting earlier this week, I had to make a conscious choice to head in the other direction. I had to decide to choose God, to choose His breath and His life within me.

I had choose to hope in Him.

2. Hope can’t be conditional.
If my experiences tell me that it is pointless to trust God, useless to put my hope in Him, that I’ve tried that before and it didn’t work, maybe the problem is not God. Maybe the problem is my perspective. Maybe the problem is that my hope, my trust, is conditional.

My hope in God cannot be reliant on Him answering my prayers in a certain way. I’ll be honest. When my uncle died earlier this week, in addition to grief & loss, I felt frustrated, disappointed, and confused. So many people were praying, and even fasting, for his healing. Why hadn’t God answered those prayers?

Rather than doubt God, doubt His goodness and His faithfulness, I chose hope. And God opened my eyes to His perspective.

On the day my uncle died, I was getting my boys down for a nap in the afternoon, as I always do. I usually ask Bear, my 4 year-old, what he is thankful for and what he’d like to pray for before we go to sleep at night. We don’t usually pray before nap, but we did that day. Bear prayed for the first time ever, using his own words. “God, I please pray that Uncle Greg would feel better.” I found out that evening that Uncle Greg died just minutes later. I can only believe that God answered that prayer and that Uncle Greg now feels better for eternity.

3. Hope can be learned.
If hopelessness is part of your default setting, it is possible to change that. We can learn to hope.

Dive deep into hope. Ask a believer what hope looks like for them. Ask a friend to pray for you, hold out hope for you. Memorize Scriptures about hope. Read stories in the Bible about people who chose to hope in God and what that looked like. When you find yourself sinking, speak truth to yourself. Say out loud some of those hope Scriptures you have memorized.

“Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you.” Psalm 25:5

Pure hope is a belief, a trust only in God, that His will be done.

“Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in Him.” Psalm 62:5

Please pray for my uncle’s family. He left behind a wife, 2 daughters, 9 siblings including a twin sister, his parents, 20+ nieces and nephews, as well as many other friends & family who love him and are deeply feeling this loss. Thank you.

Freedom Friday: The Desires of My Heart

What are the desires of your heart?

The longings? The dreams?

What are you passionate about? What drives you?

As I wrote this, I asked myself this question: what are the desires of my heart today?
-To be a patient and kind mom.
-To be a loving and encouraging wife.
-To be a faithful and prayerful friend.
-To model God’s love & freedom to those around me.

At a leadership meeting for the ministry I work with, we all wrote a life purpose statement. I wrote this almost a year ago: “To see the Church & its individuals learn to walk in the fullness of freedom that is available to every follower of Jesus Christ, finding healing in the context of community, through music & teaching, and seeing themselves reflected in the image of God and the cross.”

Yep, that still about sums it up.

Psalm 37 was read in church a few weeks ago. My eyes were opened to the fullness of all this psalm speaks of, and even all it asks of us.

3 Trust in the LORD and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
4 Delight yourself in the LORD
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him and he will do this:
6 He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
7 Be still before the LORD (NASB says “Rest in the LORD”) and wait patiently for him.

We can get really caught up on verse 4 because we like verse 4. I like verse 4 as well! I want the desires of my heart to be fulfilled. But when I focus on verse 4 alone, I lose sight of all the other things God would like us to do.

Trust.
Do good.
Dwell.
Enjoy.
Delight.
Commit.
Trust.
Be still.
Rest.
Wait.

Yikes. That’s intense.

If you had asked me a decade ago what the desires of my heart were, some would have been the same as today; some would have been different. As God has grown me and refined me, as I am slowly becoming the person He originally created me to be, my heart has changed in some ways, and in others remains the same.

What I think I want isn’t always good. Some of what I want is just plain selfish. Other desires may seem unnecessary or frivolous, but God cares about those, too. I was once told that God was too busy doing important things to answer my “small” prayer request. It wasn’t small to me, and so I kept asking (and He did grant my request eventually).

When I choose to trust God (this short passage tells me to do that twice), when I enjoy Him & dwell in Him, when I am still before Him, resting in Him, waiting on Him, when I am good to His creations, when I commit myself and my ways to Him, I am changed. My heart is changed to be more like His. My desires are sometimes even changed.

I started this blog post a few weeks ago. I opened my saved drafts this morning, and this was on top. I needed to be reminded of this psalm today. The week has been challenging, and a dream I have, a God-given dream, is slow in coming to fruition. I start asking myself, “Is God’s timing really perfect? Can people’s choices mess with God’s will? Will someone stand in the way of my dreams?”

I needed the reminder to stop. Be still. Rest. Commit. Trust. I know that I know that I know that God is good. He doesn’t give His kids stones when we ask for bread. He just doesn’t! I am once again presented with a choice: a choice to trust in Him. To trust in His goodness, His faithfulness. To trust in His character. To give my heart with its sometimes broken and sometimes God-given desires back to Him, let Him shape it some more, and wait for Him.

Today I will trust in the Lord. Over & over. I will do good – to my kids, my husband, my family, friends and even strangers. I will dwell, enjoy, delight, commit, and choose to trust again, as I rest in Him & wait on Him.