What God is Teaching Me | Contentment Amidst Trials

January 14, 2011

 

God’s timing is always so perfect.  Even in silly little things like a blog.  Originally, I scheduled today’s post to be about what God taught me this past fall–the secret of contentment from Philippians 4.  How much more do I know these truths today!  How much more precious is this passage to my heart!  And what greater comfort I find in these words:

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men.  The Lord is near.  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity.  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 (Philippians 4:4-13).”

A Little Background

I want to go through this passage and show you what God taught me last fall about contentment, but first, let me just say that I did not always have this truth in my heart.  Two years ago this month Tim & I decided that we would start trying to have a baby in September of that year.  Then, as the month got closer things changed and it became apparent that we would not be trying as soon as I would have hoped.  This was crushing for me and I allowed that blow to take over my life.  I was brokenhearted and it seemed as if nothing would ever be the same again.  Eventually I recognized how ridiculous I was being–that I had lost my joy and my Savior in my pool of pity.  For a while after, I worked as hard as I could to attempt to pull myself up by my bootstraps—to try to get out of the trial myself—I even prayed that God would deliver me out of it.  Then on one random Sunday morning a beautiful friend of mine explained to me that that was not what God desired.  He doesn’t want us to get ourselves out of trials on our own.  He doesn’t even want us to pray that He would get us out of them.  If He didn’t want us to go through trials He wouldn’t put them in our lives in the first place!  (James 1) She taught me that I needed to honor the Lord in the midst of my trial—not only on the outside, but on the inside, too (in my heart of hearts before the Lord).

Try as I might to “get through” that trial and to do it in my own strength, it did not work.  Only the Lord could help me.  I needed to fall on Him and His promises!  Seek Him and ye shall find!

Like Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” What I began to recognize was that God had given me that trial at that point in my life to keep me from exalting myself (verse 7).  Try as I might to get rid of it by my own means or by supplication to the Lord it wasn’t going to leave me until God was ready for it to (verse 8).  God was saying to me through this verse, “My grace is enough for you!  Power is perfect in weakness!  You are weak, but I am strong!  You can’t do anything about this trial in your life—you are WEAK!  But, Katie, my daughter, I am so strong.  You can’t even fathom just how strong I am.  I can handle this trial.  Run to me and I will care for you.”

Paul says he would rather BOAST about his weaknesses so that the power of Christ would dwell in him (verse 9).  Boast about his weakness???  Isn’t that so the opposite of what we tend to do in a trial?  People asked me how I was doing and I responded with a, “good,” or a “better than I deserve,” or even a “great!”  But what should I have done!?  BOAST!  Obviously there’s a fine line between talking about our trials all the time and boasting in them.  Knowing the little I do about Paul I’m sure he doesn’t intend for us to stop everyone we see and tell them about how weak we are in the midst of whatever trial we may be in.  However, I do think he intends for us to be honest with people when they ask us how we’re doing.  To be honest with ourselves.  To be honest with the Lord.  I think he does not intend for us to put on a front—a mask—and act as if everything is normal when it’s not.  I know he doesn’t intend for us to handle the most difficult times in our lives in our own strength–which was exactly what I was trying to do.

By the grace of God, He did gave me that peace which surpasses all understanding and just a few short days after I gave my desire to be a mother up to my Lord, God changed Tim’s heart, and he told me that he thought we should start trying to be parents.  You would think that I had learned my lesson–you know, the one where God is all-powerful and all-loving and will take care of me no matter what unfortunate or undesirable circumstance I find myself in.

Being discontent, though,  is still the sin I struggle with the most.  Whether on a day-to-day basis: “Oh no!  I don’t have enough eggs!  What’s going to happen?!  This is horrible!!!” Or in a longer, more drawn out struggle type of way—with my incredible amount of baby weight, for instance.  And because of that, the Lord has been showing me a lot about contentment lately.  God is showing me not only how discontent I really am, but also the way of escape from discontentment (found in His Word—imagine that!!)

The Secret to Being Content

I have been living in Chapter 4 of Philippians for the past few months and especially the past couple of days.  It’s an incredible chapter with incredible truths.  The secret of being content is found in this chapter, but sadly we usually see the secret as just a list of suggestions about how to be a good Christian.  It’s so much more than that!!  Verses 11-13 say, “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.”  I’ve always heard that the secret to being content is found in these verses (specifically in verses 11-19), but I’m not so sure any more.  I think the above verses contain in them attitudes that come after one is content—I’m not so sure, though, that they contain that secret of how to be content.  I think that (the secret) is found in verses 4-9.

1.     Rejoice in the Lord always. (verse 4) We are able to rejoice because of the Word and our knowledge of it.  It is the only thing in our world that won’t change.  Psalm 1:1-3 just reiterates the importance of sitting in the Word. John MacArthur says that joy is, “the deep down confidence that God is in control of everything for your good and His own glory, and so all is well no matter what the circumstances.”  The reason, then, that I struggle so much with rejoicing in the Lord is that I don’t know Him like I should.  If I really knew Him—if I really knew His goodness—I would always be rejoicing!  The only way to know Him like this is, of course, to be in His Word—reading it and memorizing it and meditating on it—just thinking about it always!

2.     Be willing to give up my own way to all men. (verse 5)  This verse says to let your gentle spirit be known to all men.  This gentle spirit is really just a willingness to give up your way—your desires, your preferences, your voice.  Oh, how I LONG to have a gentle spirit!  Isn’t it so easy to think about ourselves!?  Especially when we’re in the midst of a trial.  My mind is so focused on myself and what I’m going through that the only thing I can think of to talk about is myself—my trial, my life, the good or godly things I’ve done in an effort to make myself feel better because I know I’m not doing so hot.  In addition, this gentle spirit is a graciousness and humility that overlooks others’ injustices—others’ sin—so that when people do sin against us we’re not knocked off balance by their sin, but content and able to overlook that sin with love.

3.     Be anxious about nothing. (verse 6a) Matthew 6:25-34 reminds us how God provides for birds and lilies and gives us assurance that He will provide for us far more.  Anxiousness, I think, is really the opposite of contentment.  When I’m not content it’s because I’m worrying—I’m worrying about how we will pay our bills, or what others think about me.   One commentator says, “Anxious, fretful, worried, harried believers are inherently unstable and vulnerable to trials and temptations.”  But I don’t have to be anxious!  I don’t have to worry all the time!  There’s something back in verse 5 that should give me hope: The Lord is near!  There is no reason for worry because of God’s presence—His closeness—His nearness to my life.

4.     Let all your requests be made known to God by prayer with thanksgiving. (verse 6b-7) Prayer is the cure to worry.  That same commentator from before teaches that anxiety is both a violation of Scripture and totally unnecessary.  People become anxious because they do not trust God’s wisdom, power, or goodness.  They don’t trust God because of either sin or lack of knowledge.  Studying the scripture is the cure to both sin and lack of knowledge and prayer affirms God’s control, therefore, curing worry.  Praying with thanksgiving is the key.  When I’m thankful for God’s provision, what is there to be discontent about?  When I lack thanksgiving it’s so helpful to look at these verses: 1 Corinthians 10:13; Romans 8:28; 1 Peter 5:10; Psalm 63:11; 1 Peter 1:5; Revelation 4:11; Deuteronomy 1:11; 2 Corinthians 1:20; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Romans 5:2; Colossians 1:27; Romans 15:9; and Philippians 1:6—they’re all passages to focus our minds on being thankful.  It’s also so wonderful to have a thanksgiving journal or simply an ongoing list.  Every time I think of something I am thankful for, I write it on my list and then when I’m not feeling particularly thankful I go to that list to read how amazing the Lord has been to me.  Anyway, verse 7 gives us the promise: If I am thankful in my prayer God will give me a peace that doesn’t make sense.  It won’t make sense that I am at such peace considering whatever trial I go through.

5.     This next way to contentment is the hardest, I think: Dwell on these things. (verse 8)  As women it is so easy to let our minds run off into crazy circumstances, things we wish had happened, or things that did happen that we really shouldn’t be dwelling on anymore.  This verse commands us to think on whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent, and worthy of praise.  I don’t need to be imagining what things would have been like.  I can guarantee if things had gone the way my finite heart wanted them to go it would not be better.  I can say this with confidence (although it pains me to because I do have a finite heart!) because I know the Lord has my best interests at heart and what has happened happened for my good and His glory.  Mark 7:20-23 reminds us that if we don’t get control of our minds the things in there will protrude out of our mouths and eventually our actions.  I must keep a tight hold on what I think about—it’s a slippery slope!

6.     And finally, the last secret to contentment is simply this: Obey what you’ve learned. (verse 9)  I learn things about how to live as a Christian all the time: every Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday; every time I read the Word, every time I listen to a Podcast, every time I read a godly book.  I need to simply obey what I learn about God and the same promise as before will be mine: the peace of God.

When I studied this passage this past fall it gave me such hope.  I was struggling (and still am from time to time) with how big I was and how unhealthy I felt.  Even though it’s good and right to be healthy, my trunk sin of discontentment and my root sin of not trusting God that His plan is best were still sins!  It was my realization that all the other things I was struggling with (fear, negativity, irritability, depression, laziness, etc.) were really branch and leaf sins (those sins that come out from the root and the trunk).  Once I started dealing with my discontentment (through the amazing power of Philippians 4) those other sins began falling off my tree and I began to truly trust that God’s plan for this season of my life is best—I began to trust God because I began to know Him better because I started to really dive into His Word and study it in a way I hadn’t done in years.  It all always goes back to the Word, knowing Him, and trusting Him.

God’s Timing

The reason I made mention of God’s perfect timing at the beginning of this post is because as I sit here writing this I am in the greatest need of God’s strength and His peace that I have ever experienced.  I am sitting on a couch/bed on the 15th floor of Texas Children’s Hospital next to my precious little boy who is sleeping in what can really only be described as a cage, although, around here they call it a crib.

Luke has always been a happy, joyful, fun little boy.  He was born 9 pounds 8 ounces, which, in case you’re not up on what constitutes a large newborn, is a huge baby!  From around the time he was a month old he seemed like a very small baby, but if you know what his daddy looks like (and his uncle–my brother) it makes sense that he would be a thin guy.  Well, on Wednesday we took him in to the doctor and they, of course, weighed him.  He weighed 9 pounds 7.7 ounces.  He had actually lost weight since birth.  He was supposed to be closer to 14 pounds.  The doctors described him as having “severe failure to thrive” and as being “malnourished.”  In fact, it’s a miracle that he hasn’t experienced any brain damage from the lack of nutrition.

We were shocked. Now that we’ve had a chance to look back at his little life there were many signs that he wasn’t thriving, but we (and no one else) really picked up on them.  As they say: hind sight is truly 20-20.

This morning they weighed him and after 24 hours of getting fed every three hours around the clock both whatever breast milk I could get out of me supplemented by formula, he weighs 10 pounds!

Obviously this is the most trying, scary, unsettling time of my life.  I could so easily let pain and guilt (seeing as how it is a lack of my milk that has caused this for him) overtake me.  And don’t let me fool you–I have shed my fair share of tears and asked my fair share of questions, but the Lord has been so good to remind me of the things that I learned this past fall about contentment.  Regardless of the situation in which I find myself I can truly say that I am content here in this tiny room.

I know my Savior and I know His promises.  I know that this is what He knows is best for me.  I know that He is protecting my sweet boy and I can say without a doubt that He is protecting my heart.  I am now grateful that two years ago we had to wait to try to get pregnant and that I gained so much weight while being pregnant for without those trials I would not have been equipped to handle this one.  Praise God for his mercy and His grace.

Please pray, as we continue our stay in the hospital, that Luke would continue to gain weight.  Pray that my milk would come back in full force so that I can adequately nourish my baby without the help of formula.  Pray that Tim and I would be unified in our decisions, stay strong in our convictions, and be flexible enough to change our opinions if we need to.  Pray that the Lord would continue to bless us financially and practically through this time–we are completely overwhelmed by the love and support that our sweet friends and family have provided.  And lastly, please pray for our hearts, specifically that I would continue to lean on the Lord and not my own understanding and that I would continue to learn what it means to be content.

I hope that this has encouraged you.  I know how easy it is to try and get myself through a trial by attempting to work it out in my own strength and I wanted to encourage you, that if you are in a trial, or when you are next, seek the Lord for help and live in His strength! It is so much better!

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