Contentment in God’s Provision

 

I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

(Philippians 4: 12-13 ESV)

We can learn to be content with our present circumstances even when times are less than ideal. We can adjust to a harsh season and learn to dig in for the winter.  I wouldn’t say that’s what Paul intended for us to learn when he penned the verses above, and I don’t believe God wants us to simply adjust to circumstances as they come. Rather, God wants us to rely on him for strength, to trust him to provide for our needs.

Of course, Paul is talking about more than being content with God’s provision of food and clothing. The contentment Paul is talking about is being content with God being our sole provider through the changing seasons that God chooses to place us in. Paul says he can do “all things through him who strengthens [him]”. He is referring to his ministry, the living out of the Great Commission that each of us is also charged to uphold. Regardless of his circumstances, Paul knew he could rely on God to supply him with physical strength as well as spiritual strength.

We can take a look at 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10 to better understand how Paul understood contentment:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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.”

(2 Corinthians 12:7-10 ESV)

Paul was granted a glimpse into heaven, something none of us or the people of Paul’s time could say. God allowed an agent of Satan to enter the church to cause discord to keep Paul from growing proud. Just reading through the Pauline epistles will clearly convey Paul’s abounding love for the church. Imagine how it must have affected him knowing he had a wolf lurking amongst his flock in order to steal them away from the apostle. For Paul to plead to have the wolf removed but to have his request denied was for God to demonstrate his power through Paul. God would empower his apostle with his grace so that Paul could endure the thorn placed in his side.

When God chooses to place us in a trying season it’s for his purposes. When Christ bought us with his blood we became his, and God has chosen to use us for his glory. He has freed us from the bondage of sin and has given us freedom to serve him. As our creator he has the right to place us where he wants. He chooses to use us to demonstrate his power. In the passage above, we can see God used Paul’s circumstances to simultaneously humble Paul but also to show that God gives us what we need to remain steadfast in times of trouble.

No matter what season we find ourselves in God will provide us with the strength we need to glorify him. Perhaps it’ll be a time of plenty and God wants you to use your resources to bless those he’s placed in your life to demonstrate a love for the saints. Perhaps you will be in a season of betrayal where former friends have turned their backs on you, where you grieve the loss of former friends—seeking the Lord’s comfort as you wait on him to change their hearts. Perhaps you’re in a dry season and your growth is being stunted by a deeply rooted sin the Lord wants you to root out before he rains blessings upon you once again.

Contentment with circumstances is good, but to be content with knowing God provides us with strength for the seasons he places us in is a present and future oriented attitude that conveys trust in God. More than just taking what life throws at us and rendering it for God’s glory, we should strive to have a faith in a faithful God to provide for our every need and every good work he’s prepared for us to do.

Trust the Lord by Seeking His Wisdom

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.”

(Proverbs 3:5-7 ESV)

 

As individuals who confess Christ is Lord, we believe the content of the Bible is truth. Consequently, when we, being Christian, read through the Bible or hear it preached much of what is said is easily swallowed. It goes down like water. Take the above passage as an example. Without thinking too much, or at all, we can all agree that we should trust God with all our heart, that we should acknowledge him, and that we should turn away from evil. To mix metaphors, this is the low hanging fruit we can all easily pick and pocket away. Accepting these truths seems to be a given for those who are called God’s adopted children, but it is one matter to agree with the Word and another matter entirely to put it to active use.

There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. If we only glance over this passage and take just as frivolous an approach in keeping it we’d be handling the Bible like it was a textbook instead of God’s Word given to us so that we’d be equipped for every good work. Here, when we’re talking about wisdom, we’re talking about wisdom as applying knowledge. Anybody given these verses in Proverbs 3 would be able to summarize it as I have in the opening paragraph. We, as believers, have been given the Holy Spirit. This means when we come to Scripture we have the capability of applying the knowledge we read and turn it into wisdom. We have the capability to grow in Christ-likeness, pursuing our sanctification, when we take Scripture and use it to examine our hearts.

The writer of Hebrews says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account,” (Hebrews 4:12,13 ESV).

Here he is saying that Scripture is able to separate the carnal motivations from our God-glorifying ones. We, as believers, are able to see ourselves for who we are when the Holy Spirit enlightens us through the reading of the Word. Scripture is capable of exposing our sinfulness to us, and by having that sin exposed is how we grow in wisdom and Christ-imitating character, but we have to handle Scripture like it’s life changing. Put another way, we’re not just looking to have passages committed to memory for the sake of memorizing them.

In 2 Timothy 3:16, 17 Paul says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

The memorization of Scripture is for us to meditate on it, and as we meditate on Scripture, allowing the Holy Spirit to enlighten us and convict us of our sinfulness, we grow ever more conscious of our absolute need and dependence on God to deliver us from our sin, and when that happens then knowledge becomes wisdom.

Let’s go back to the opening passage, and allow me to share with you the process I underwent to work through it and how God is allowing me to share with you the wisdom he’s blessed me with to bless you. When I looked at the passage in Proverbs, I had to consider my understanding of trust. I’ve always defined trust as a stock I put in people or ideas, an immaterial currency I could transfer from one account to another at will. Of course, even if that is an acceptable definition, I still needed to figuratively place that immaterial currency into something or someone. Yet, it’s not as simple as throwing money and expecting results. It’s not as simple as saying, “Yes, I trust God with all my heart.

I was born a sinner, and I live in a world that expounds a religion of self-glorification. Without taking the time to give you my testimony, suffice it to say I didn’t really understand what Christ had done for me until I was heading off to college. All that time I had been formulating ideas of how the world works, taking  bits of the human experience and mashing them up with my observations to create a worldview that was devoid of Christ. What I’m saying is that, even to this day, within myself are deep-seated beliefs that are founded on my humanist “wisdom” than what God has given me through his Word.

You might be asking yourself why the roundabout way to get to this part of this post. I was well aware of these passages before sitting down and piecing them together. I am abundantly aware of the Word’s power to convict me of my sin and of Paul’s command not to quench the Holy Spirit in 1 Thessalonians 5:19.  It is because of my sinfulness that I will divert my attention so I do not meditate on the Word. At times I do not want to be changed by God. I find myself, at times, glossing over the Word and pocketing those low hanging fruits, coming to the Word irreverently. I want to stubbornly hold fast to the “wisdom” I have made for myself. A worldview that is centered on human failure and our inability to love anybody but ourselves, a worldview that denies the hope we have in Christ in rooting out the sinfulness in our hearts. That “wisdom” didn’t fall into my lap. I earned it through heartache and the ensuing loneliness. So you can imagine why I don’t want to let it go at times. I’d identified with my suffering in a perverse way. It had become my identity.

But when I was made new in Christ, I was freed from that identity. Still though, today I have to fight that flesh everyday, putting it off and putting on the new life Christ gave me through his death. There are times when I am seduced by the thought of using Scripture to supplement my old worldview instead of wholly resting my heart on the Word of God. I want to lean on my own understanding, but I have to remind myself of Proverbs 3:6, “In all your ways acknowledge him,/and he will make straight your paths.” To acknowledge God in all my ways means to put him foremost in my thoughts before I act. I really have to submit my life to Him entirely. Yet again, it’s easier said than done.

What I have found in reading and meditating on all these verses and examining my life is that I need to continue delving into Scripture and raising my life up for examination, so I can continue being changed and growing in Christ-likeness. When I became new in Christ, I wasn’t suddenly emptied of all my past experiences and knowledge. What has to happen is that all that I am has to be placed in subjection to God. I must discard what is unprofitable and a hindrance to the kingdom, and replace it with wisdom, God’s wisdom that will inform my actions. What has happened to me; what has happened to you is part of God’s plan. We can’t let our past and our sinfulness dictate how we spend this new life we have in Christ.

Let me leave you with these verses. I’ve found it helps to remember why God has chosen us:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2: 9-10 ESV)

Equipping Ourselves for the Field

“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.”

 (1 Thessalonians 5:14-22 ESV)

When we first heard the Great Commission we heard Christ commanding us to evangelize to the unsaved. There is no doubt that we have received this charge to go out into the mission field and preach the Gospel and reclaim the lost for Christ. Yet, our zeal for this one aspect of God’s good work for us may eclipse the other aspects of our charge. Indeed, the fields we are called to work are not just the hearts of the lost, but of every brother and sister, and, of course, our very own, laboring to conform ourselves to the image of Christ until we are called home to be with the Lord.

Looking at the first two verses of our opening passage, we can see that Paul’s exhortation is for us to be invested in the lives of our fellow believers with the intent of being in close fellowship with one another. In our pursuit of being united in spirit, we will come across one another’s shortcomings as we are all continuing to put to death our old selves. Paul says that when we face such adversity of character, we are to be single minded in our effort to remind our fellow believer of their calling with love and patience. We need to remember that they have been given the same mission from God. Our Lord did not give us isolated fields to tend alone, but has placed us together in His infinite wisdom so that we may come to one another’s aid in our times of weakness.

In John 13:34, 35, Christ tells us that everyone will know we are His disciples by our love for our brothers and sisters. This Christ-like love should have us willing to lay down our lives for one another should we be called to, just as Christ did by dying for our sins on the cross. Blessed by God, we live in a place of peace and plenty, making the prospect of dramatic displays of love and sacrifice rare which is perfect since this post is about living the Great Commission in the seemingly mundane of our everyday. Our demonstrations of Christ-like love are not reserved for single moments of great visible sacrifice, but this love should be pervading every action we make. On the surface we may find ourselves and others at peace, unaware of the spiritual undertow that is carrying us away from glorifying God. Remember that within each of us are skirmishes made by the forces of evil attempting to hinder us from doing God’s work. At times we are besieged by our own sinfulness, and it is then when a refreshing word from a fellow heir in Christ can steel our resolve to rally against sin. These moments are quiet, and require wisdom to discern and faithfulness to see that God is glorified through our resisting of sin.

We have to be ready, vigilant as we watch over our own hearts so we are prepared to reinforce our fellow believers in their time of need. How this happens is through the work of the Holy Spirit giving us the strength to work on our own hearts. Who we are when we are alone correlates with our ability to execute God’s will when we are with company. As we go further into the opening passage Paul exhorts us to have the proper attitude and practices that prepare us for adversity. God is glorified when we have an attitude of joy and thanksgiving regardless of circumstances. It shows a maturity of faith in and understanding of God’s provision that He works all towards His glory and for our good. We need to be in prayer, not ineffectual and repetitious prayer that is measured in frequency and volume, but earnest communion with God that is an expression of fellowship with our Father. An attitude of joy and thanksgiving should see its expression through prayer, coming to the Father and honoring Him by acknowledging His generous provision. To abide in the Lord in these ways defends our hearts against the weeds of sin taking hold as we find satisfaction in Him.

We glorify God in victory when we resist sin. It also keeps us from becoming impotent in times of need. Paul tells us to never quench the Spirit, which is to never put out our fervor for what is good with sinfulness, loving God’s Word and studying it for ourselves. The Bible is God’s divine revelation to man of His character. Having a fuller understanding of the Father is critical in fighting temptation. By studying Scripture, we can attain deeper knowledge of our Father and His will for us that equip us for the mission we have here today. Will we remember that we can go to our Father in prayer and that he will comfort us instead of grumbling about our plight? If we know He will comfort us, will we then share this comfort with a fellow believer when they need to be comforted? Whatever we study in Scripture will profit us, equipping us with words to continue laboring on the heart.

 

An Eternal Perspective for Believers

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

(Philippians 2: 3-8 ESV)

In my last post I talked about counting others as more significant than ourselves. I focused on Philippians 2: 4, having us introspect and consider how our lives reflect Christ’s humility in serving the Father. On that point, I want to elaborate and have us consider the eternal perspective Christ has for his people, a perspective we should have for ourselves and by extension, our brothers and sisters.

Let us take a look at the following verses:

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.  If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

(1 Corinthians 3: 10-15 ESV)

Paul tells us that wisdom must be applied to living, and the consequences of how we build on the lives Christ laid his life for are eternal. Foremost, these verses are directed to preachers and how they must build their ministry solely on the foundation of Christ. Yet this passage also applies to every Christian tasked with making their lives pleasing and acceptable to God. In the surrounding chapters, Paul preaches on the need for Christians to  live by God’s wisdom: wisdom that is unlike the foolishness of men. We can choose to live wisely or poorly, and based on how we live God will reward us for our diligence. God values our worship and He chooses to reward us for our faithfulness in upholding His commands. But that’s the thing, it’s not about this life, but the life to come. Consider Ephesians 2:10 when Paul says “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” God has given us all that we need to complete the good work in our lives.

But how does this apply to Philippians 2? We’re called to build our brothers and sisters up, and sometimes that stewardship means spurring them on towards their sanctification. What I need to make clear is that none of us, on the Day of Christ’s Judgment, will be held responsible for the outcome of another Christian’s walk. It’s clear that each of us will be judged by our own works, but part of our work is the encouragement, and sometimes the admonishment of another believer. We can never truly know what is inside the heart of another person, but with God’s wisdom and in prayer we can speak truth to a fellow believer who is in need of the refreshing Word.

Remember that Christ had it all before the foundation of time, but He chose to give up His equality with God and came down in the body of a man to save us from ourselves. He was tempted like all of us, knew the outcome of His earthly ministry, and during the final hours of His life He comforted His disciples when death loomed over Him, knowing they would inherit His ministry after He ascended to heaven. Let me close by reminding us to look at Christ as our example of having an eternal perspective for ourselves and others. Our lives are interconnected and each of us has a part to play in each others’ lives. God had that in mind when He had our lives intersect. There is a good work God has in store for all of us; let us help one another see that we all value what is eternal.

Counting Others More Significant

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

(Philippians 2: 3-8 ESV)

Paul’s command for us to live selflessly is easy enough to understand. We should imitate Christ’s humility in His service to the Lord and to His children. Nobody questions that Christians should be paragons of humility, but to live out Paul’s command, not just to understand it, is much more difficult to practice. We are to imitate Christ’s love for God’s children by counting them more significant than ourselves even if we, by our own human estimation, do not see them as more significant than ourselves.

By one standard or another, people fall on a sliding scale of importance. I bet we have all taken a look at a brother or sister’s life and have deemed it less than our own lives or another’s. There is a certain reality that a pastor has more impact on the flock than say, the sister who is in charge of handling parking detail at church. Now take a look at where you are now and the position you fill at your local church. Can you count both of these people more significant than yourself? At RGC, we’re so small we don’t have someone who takes care of parking, so imagine someone filling a job we didn’t even need. Are we still counting them more significant than ourselves as we sing, write, lead, or just serve in the capacity that we do? The reality is that one person does a little more than the other, but all are placed by God to fulfill His purposes.

In an older post I wrote a couple months back, I talked about how our lives should be lived as worship to God, and how part of that worship is done by living out God’s command to love His children. Sometimes those God has placed in our lives are believers weak in the faith, and we can all be dismissive of them because of who they are at this present time. Worse yet, I have heard Christians call others useless and worthless. These are painful estimations other believers’ lives, estimations from people who presume too much, having forgotten God’s calling for their own lives.

When I was a freshman in college I had two roommates. One was a professing Christian and the other a nonbeliever, respectively, we’ll call them Ben and Jerry because those were totally not their names. The first day we met I asked them of their religious background so I could get my evangelistic battle plan ready. No more than five minutes after our introductions Ben announces his plans to drink excessively and have his face look like the bottom of an unkempt latrine, which became somewhat prophetic of our actual bathroom, because I was uninterested in mothering my roommates. He kept his word and engaged in other acts that sullied his ambassadorial role in Jerry’s life, and in so doing, reaped my ire.

I cared for Jerry and desired his salvation. I know that. But I also know I did not care for Ben’s. Regardless if his life did not reflect that of a young man made new in Christ, or that his superficial understanding of Scripture left more doubt that assurance in my mind of his faith, I never extended him any love. I was too quick to count him as lost and beyond correction. I hated him so much that I refused to listen to God calling me to be a Christ-like example to him as much as I was to be for Jerry. Maybe I can claim ignorance that I did not know the deeper points of Scripture, but on the Day of Judgment Christ will judge my heart, and He knows and I know that deep down, I chose to ignore my conscience to love Ben.

When we find ourselves in the company of brothers or sisters in the faith who are struggling with their old, sinful selves, it is not our place to decide their worth to God. Let’s remember that God has chosen us, besides ourselves and our sinfulness, to save us and call us His children. By no worth of our own, God sent Christ to die for all of us so that we might be united with Him and to live lives as God intended for us that glorify His name.

For however long it may be, God has placed people in our lives that we are to effect. Specifically as it relates to this passage, God has placed fellow believers in our lives that we are called to build up. You may find them incapable of growing from their immaturity, and you may even question their adoption in Christ. But we cannot forget that all things are possible through God, and if He wills it, through us God may choose to accomplish what we hope to see in our lives. Be faithful to your calling in Christ; worship the Lord.

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