The Secret to Contentment

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There have been seasons in my life where I was very discontented. Oh, no major crisis or struggles were going on, just a sense that I wanted . . . something more. Something else. And then there have been seasons where I was very discontented and everything was going on, there was one crisis after another knocking me off my feet. And I want anything else but what I had in my life.  After many of these up and down cycles, I discovered the answer to my discontentment.

Contentment is a daily choice.

To choose an attitude of gratitude and Joy and do away with complaining and envy.

To choose to hope in God’s promises. To choose to believe that He is everything He says He is, and He is able and willing to do everything He promised in His Word.

To choose to focus my thoughts and fill my mind with things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).

No, I didn’t learn this overnight. Contentment is a life-long lesson. It’s one I’m still learning day by day. Paul said it best, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil. 4:11). We learn contentment comes from experiencing the faithfulness of God through our struggles and trials. It comes as we learn to lean into Him when we are weary and worn and walk with Him when the road is long and hard.

Contentment grows in the heart that is rooted deeply in the Bible – our light and life (Ps. 119:105, Deut. 32:47). Our minds don’t naturally default to the good. So we must intentionally, deliberately, and faithfully make time for God’s Word every day.

Contentment comes in communing with your Heavenly Father. There is no substitute for prayer. On your knees. Sitting in your favorite chair. Writing in a journal. Aloud or silently. Just pray – your Father longs to hear from you. Your heart longs to connect with Him.

We will be content only when we realize whose we are – not who we are, where we are, how much or how little we have, or what is happening around us. We can be content because God loves us, cares for us, and is preparing a place for us to be with Him forever. Beloved, are you content with God?

I don’t hear your words, I hear your heart

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I have hundreds of verses marked in my Bible, but two have very special significance to me.  Isaiah 51:16 says “I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand.” God pricked my heart years ago through that verse and I asked Him to put His words in my mouth and let me be His spokesman. I used that exact word. The very next day I read, “If you utter worthy, not worthless words, you will be my spokesman” (Jeremiah 15:19).  The connection was a clear as day to me.  I remembered hearing about ancient Scribes who copied the words of Scripture and every time they wrote the name of God they would use a brand new pen to write that one word and break it immediately afterward so that the pen that wrote the holy name could never be used to write anything profane.  If I wanted to fulfill my calling, my words – my mouth – would have to radically change. I thought, “okay, I can do this – I will diligently watch what I say.” Then something made me angry. And someone said something I didn’t appreciate. And my boss asked me to do something I didn’t want to do. And you know what – I didn’t say a “worthless word.” But I sure thought them. In my mind and heart I was spouting off left and right. That’s because my tongue wasn’t the real problem – my heart was. Jesus said: “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34) I didn’t need to watch my mouth, I needed to watch my heart.

Have you ever noticed how many celebrities and politicians have to hastily take down tweets or backpedal comments trying to soften their words?  Sure, most of them have speechwriters and handlers who prepare well-worded messages for them, but they always seem to get in trouble over words said (or tweeted) in unguarded moments.  Because those words were coming straight from their heart. You and I are the same, just without all the publicity. The words we speak, especially when we are not “in control,” reveal the true condition of our hearts. It’s so much deeper than the words we speak. Beloved, what do your words – spoken, posted, or thought – say about your heart?

The Mother of My Savior

There’s something wonderful about being a mother.

When I held my son for the very first time, everything about my precious boy amazed me.  His fuzzy head, his tiny nose, his grey-blue eyes, his fingers and toes. I kissed every part of him and prayed that his hands would be lifted in praise to God and his feet would walk in the way of Jesus.

I imagine Mary also marveled at her baby boy as she kissed His downy head.  I am sure she gazed at His face as He slept and her heart was awash with Mother-love.  But when she pondered where those feet would go and what those hands would do, surely the words of the angel echoed in her heart: “You will give birth to a son . . . He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:31-33). 

Her son was destined for greatness – but she could never imagine the path He would take to get there.  Rejection, persecution, suffering, and death would mark Jesus’ earthly life.  He would wear a crown of thorns rather than a crown of gold and His hands and feet would be nailed to a cross rather than kissed in adoration.

But there, in the smelly stable, she kissed that sweet face and caressed those tiny fingers, knowing in her heart that her life would never be the same.  He would one day “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), but this little one needed her now.  The helpless future King was depending on His mother to feed and nurture Him until He fulfilled God’s purpose.

Babies bring out the tenderness in a mother’s heart and no doubt Mary felt the sweetness of her newborn son even as she wondered about the angelic announcement.  His life held the greatest purpose imaginable.  He was destined to be a King, but not tonight – tonight He was her baby boy with tiny fingers and tiny toes.

Glory!

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Why did Jesus die? To atone for our sins, yes. To bear the curse of mankind, yes. To bring redemption to lost sinners, yes. But what if there’s more to it than that. Reading John 17:1-5 and something jumped out at me.

Glory.

Five times in these verses Jesus speaks of glory.

“Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (v. 1).

“I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (v. 4).

“And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (v. 5).

Jesus began His prayer by saying, “Father, the time has come.” Because we know “the rest of the story” we automatically think he means the time for His death had come. But these verses tell us Jesus had a much different focus. The time had come – not for death – but for glory!

In fact, not once in those five verses did Jesus even mention death. He spoke of eternal life and the work given to Him by the Father. He talked about making known “the only true God.” But death? Not a word.

The cross was the plan. Glory was the purpose.

But how can the cross bring glory to the Godhead?

By lifting high the Son of God so that all men can see Him and believe and have eternal life. God sent His Son to die for you and me, and in His death and resurrection by the Spirit, to glorify the Father and the Son. I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to shout . . .

God of the Small Stuff

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Proverbs 5:2 says “God is in heaven, and you are on earth.” So does that mean He is too far removed to notice us in our struggles? Not at all.  It is hard to believe that God, who created and ordered the universe, would concern Himself with human beings and our seemingly insignificant lives.  You and I  tend to put our needs into different boxes “too big for me,” and “too little for God.”  We call for prayer when Grandma is near death, our child is hurt in an accident, or when there has been a national or world crisis. But we seem to think that God does not want to be bothered with our petty problems.  Does He really care that your washing machine has died? In mid-cycle.  Should I even bother Him about my spouse snapping at me?  Why would God be concerned about a teething baby who has kept you up three nights in a row?   

But He does care about your everyday needs, He wants you to come to Him about your frustrations and the demands of your day that wear you down.  He said so over and over in His Word. David proclaimed“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens”  Psalm 68:19. 1 Peter 5:7 says “Cast all your cares on Him, because He cares for you.”  Jesus said “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear.  Your Heavenly Father knows that you need these things.” (Matthew 6:25, 32)  Why else would He teach us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:110)? 

Beloved, God has not left you to manage this life on your own.  He has drawn closed to you and sees the big and small issues you face.  He cares about even the smallest details of your life.  Daily bread, daily needs, daily struggles – He is a daily God.

Do not be Afraid

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As an aged priest performed the ritual of burning incense, an angel of the Lord appeared and spoke the first words that heaven had uttered in four centuries: “Do not be afraid” (Luke 1:13). God knows His creation so well. He knows that, because of the curse of sin, we live with fear. Fear makes us run. Fear makes us hide. Fear makes us cry out. Fear makes us worry.  So the very first thing God said after 400 years of silence is “Do not be afraid.”

I wonder this morning who needs to hear those words. I know I do. Every day the media bombards us with murders, hate, riots, and disease. Every day it seems evil becomes stronger and good withers away.  Every day satan stokes the fires of fear with his lies.

When fear tries to overtake me, I do two things. First, I ask God to flood my mind and heart with His peace. I don’t mean peace that sticks its head in the sand and ignores the realities of life. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and [here it is again] do not be afraid” (John 14:27).  Then He gave us the basis for this peace: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16: 33). We can have peace in this world because Christ has overcome the world and all the things that make us afraid. Trouble is a reality, but trouble cannot defeat the Lord Jesus Christ nor His people.

The second thing I do is remind myself of the wonderful, all-consuming, love of God. 1 John 4:18 says, “Perfect love casts out fear,” and the love of God is a perfect love. Maybe that’s why the angel spoke those words as his greeting to Zechariah. Perfect love was coming from heaven to the earth.

Beloved, whatever fear has gripped your heart, grab hold of these two things: Jesus has overcome the world and God loves you. That ought to fill your heart with peace.

God is . . .

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“One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving.” Psalm 62:11.

David identified God as his Shield, his Refuge, his Rock and Fortress, his Shepherd, and so much more. He used so many beautiful and powerful expressions to describe his God. Yet in these two simple words, I believe David paints a picture that comes the closest to the true essence of who God is. Strong and loving.

God is strong. Not strength that lifts massive barbells.  This is strength that breaks the power of sin, overpowers the enemy of our soul, and raises the dead back to life – and not just life, but eternal, everlasting, unending life!  It is a strength that overcomes our weaknesses and lifts the weight of all our burdens. I don’t know about you, but need a God who is strong, because my burdens are heavy and my weaknesses are many.

David also said that God is loving. Do you believe that God loves you? Over and over in God’s Word proclaims His love for you and me. His is

  • Unfailing Love – “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken” (Isaiah 54:10).
  • Loyal Love – “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6).
  • Devotion – “By day the Lord directs His love, a night His song is with me – a prayer to the God of my life” (Psalm 42:8).
  • Mercy – “The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion” (Numbers 14:18).

Paul said, “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). That is the kind of love that I need. A love that never turns away never dies, and never gives up. A love that lasts for all eternity. This is the love that God has for you and me. His love is steadfast and sure – you can’t make Him love you more, and you can’t make Him love you less. He loves you because He is love. His is perfect love because He is the perfect lover.

God’s love was perfectly expressed at the cross of Jesus Christ. His power was perfectly revealed at the empty tomb, through the resurrection of His Son – our Savior. We can never know all there is to God, for He is holy and righteous and beyond our finite understanding. But we can know this about God: He is strong and He is loving. And that’s a very good place to start.

Roots and Fruit

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It’s the twenty-first century and everybody has an opinion and a platform from which to share it. Which is good because all opinions are equally valid – even if they contradict one another. (Except Christians of course.) How do we know who’s right and what’s wrong? Jesus has some pretty sound advice for us in the Sermon on the Mount. “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16). He said a good tree will produce good fruit and a bad tree will produce bad fruit. It’s a horticultural fact: the fruit proves the root. The Bible even tells us how to discern the difference between good and bad fruit. Ready to go to the orchard?

Bad fruit is full of false hopes and self-made visions; good fruit offers real hope and visions from God. Bad fruit is heretical, denies the sovereign rule of God, leads many astray, questions the truth, and exploits believers. Good fruit is truthful, submits to God, leads by following Christ, upholds the truth, and builds up believers. Bad fruit is the product of liars who walk in darkness. Good fruit is truthful because it grows in the light. Bad fruit hates fellow believers. Good fruit “loves one another.” Bad fruit denies that Jesus is the Son of God and rejects the truth of His human nature. Good fruit acknowledges that Jesus is fully God and fully man. Bad fruit rejects the message of God and speaks from a worldly viewpoint – and the world listens. Good fruit listens to God, speaks from His point of view, and those who love God listen. John summed it all up this way: “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). Righteousness and love are the good fruit. You can trust that tree. You can trust that person.

When it comes to your faith life you need to be certain the messages you are hearing are right and true. You need to be sure you are chewing on good fruit that comes from good trees. Who is feeding your mind and heart? Beloved, you need to be a fruit inspector.

Don’t Lose Your Grip on Jesus

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I had to do a small repair job on my shirt this morning. It wasn’t a difficult task, but the chiffon material wanted to shift and slip and I had to keep a firm grip on it with my left hand as I worked the needle and thread with my right. As I was stitching, the thread nearly pulled out of the needle. I needed to grab the loose end and pull to keep the needle threaded. That was a two-handed job but I didn’t want to let go of the fabric lest I have to gather it all back together again.  I needed to deal with the thread problem without losing my grip on the shirt.

Life hands us so many challenges. Like when we think we’ve got things under control, or at least in some manageable form of chaos, and a new crisis comes at us. A job loss. A life lost. A marriage unravels. A frightening diagnosis. A beloved child moves away. It all feels like we’re coming apart at the seams. I get it. I’m right there too. Can I tell you how I’m getting through?

I am determined to hang on to Jesus. That’s it. That’s my whole survival strategy right there. The writer of Hebrews put it this way: “ Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23). Whatever unexpected crisis and trials come up in my life, I’m not going to lose my grip on Jesus. Because I know He is faithful. I know He is powerful. I know He loves me. He is my hope and my peace – and yes – my Joy in every situation. This morning I dealt with my thread problem by sticking the needle in the fabric and using my now free hand to adjust the thread – I never let go of the fabric in my left hand. I deal with the challenges of life by staking my hope and confidence in Jesus and by holding fast to Him with all I’ve got. And sometimes that’s all I’ve got. But it’s all I need.

It’s all you need too. Beloved, when life seems to be coming apart at the seams, don’t lose your grip on Jesus.

I Need to Talk to my Father

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I’m pretty much an open book. You will know if I am excited, happy, angry, or sad. I believe it is important to be honest and even vulnerable for a couple of reasons. You may be dealing with a struggle that is similar to mine, and I want to encourage you as God encourages me. I want to be honest so that you know me and can trust the things I say. And because, sometimes, I need to put my faith out there where I can see it, just as I did when I wrote about my granddaughter moving away.  I publicly shared my pain because I needed to publicly declare my trust in God for my own heart to hear. You see, when I write, I am first and foremost writing for me. I need to have my toes stepped on. I need to be taught and chastised and challenged and encouraged. I need to hear God speak. So I share my life – the good, the bad, and the ugly – to share God’s message.

But I can’t tell you everything. There are matters so personal and so private that I have to keep them to myself.  Well, not just to myself. I can talk to my Father about them. You would probably be shocked by what you don’t know about me, but my Father never is. You might be repulsed at some of the things I don’t share, but my Father never is. There are other people involved in some of my private concerns and I am not at liberty to divulge their stories. But I can tell my Father. And some pains go so deep and are so heavy you simply could not bear to hear them.  But my father can.

The Bible says “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed” (Mark 1:35). Even the Son of God had things He could only discuss with His Father. He gave me a good example to follow. Yes, I have faithful friends who love me and help carry my burdens and share my Joys, but it is my Heavenly Father who hears my whole, raw heart. And He wants to hear yours too. Let Him carry your burdens and struggles and even your deepest darkest secrets. Beloved, there is nothing you cannot tell your Father. Are you ready to pray?