Learning Contentment

A mark of a maturING saint is one who when he realizes he is in a trough begins to praise God in anticipation of the blessings which are coming! Even the most mature Christian you know hasn’t “arrived”; we are all a work-in-progress. Going through the dark nights is one way God helps mature our understanding of contentment. 

You know the differences between a need and a want: a need is something vital, something I require to survive; a want is something that would be nice to have. 

In good times I can convince myself that my wants are really the same as my needs. In the bright, sunny times a lot of wants mistakenly get called needs. But in the dark nights, this confusion is quickly clarified! 

In Philippians 4, Paul explains what he has learned about needs as he went through some very challenging, dark times. When he says he knows what a need is, he isn’t exaggerating a bit (see 2 Corinthians 11:24-28). And yet the Amplified Bible has Paul saying, “Not that I am implying that I was in any personal want.” 

That’s because Paul was learnING contentment. The verb tense here means I have learned, I am learning, and I will keep on learning. It was an ongoing process that helped him clarify needs from wants. The word Paul uses for content is unique in all the New Testament and it means independent of external circumstances, or as the Amplified Bible says, “satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted in whatever state I am. 

Paul uses another unique word in verse 12 when he says “I have learned.” This is a different Greek word from the previous verse. This time it means disciplined by experience to know how to respond. In other words, Paul disciplined himself to reflect on the lessons he learned in the night. The cliche “Experience is the best teacher” isn’t necessarily true. Lots of people go through experiences and never learn a single thing. Instead, we should say, “Evaluated experience is the best teacher.” That’s exactly what Paul is saying here: “I have learned lessons in my time of meditation after going through a dark night.” 

The English dictionary defines contentment in two important phrases: 

  1. Satisfied with what I have. In Psalm 16, David learned that he had everything he needed in God, and Jesus reminded us that “your Father knows what you NEED before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8).
  2. Satisfied with who I am. Paul knew that “God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by His grace, was pleased” (Galatians 1:15). God made Paul on purpose and for a purpose, and Paul was satisfied with who he was in Christ. God made you on purpose too! 

Our relationship with Jesus is a maturING one. It’s only IN Christ that I can be satisfied with what I have, and satisfied with who I am. It’s only IN the night that my wants get separated from my needs, by learnING contentment.

I can be thankful in the night because I am learning contentment. 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in this series called Thankful In The Night, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

Discovering True Friends

Last week I shared that a mark of a maturing saint is one who when he realizes he is in a trough begins to praise God in anticipation of the blessings which are coming! I believe a keyword in this statement is realizes. Once we realize that we are in a trough, what will help us turn our mourning into praise? In a word: meditation. 

Notice Asaph’s words at the beginning of Psalm 77. Twice he says he “cried out” to God. This literally means that he called aloud, not caring who heard him. It wasn’t a whimper, but Asaph said he was “distressed.” As soon as he realized the distressed state he was in, notice the words of meditation in the next four verses: 

  • remembered (2x) 
  • mused (2x) 
  • thought 
  • inquired 

Asaph also began to ask himself questions, all of which have the obvious answer “NO”:

  • Will the Lord reject me forever? NO! 
  • Will He never show His favor again? NO!
  • Has His unfailing love vanished forever? NO!
  • Has His promise failed for all time? NO! 
  • Has God forgotten to be merciful? NO! 
  • Has He in anger withheld His compassion? NO! 

Again, Asaph meditates (notice the words thought, remember, meditate, and consider once again in the next three verses). His conclusion leads him not to self-pity, but to praising God.

Asaph taught us that when we get our eyes off ourselves we can see what God is doing in us, around us, and through us. 

One lesson I learned in a very dark night time of my life: Who my true friends are. When all my “fans” stopped cheering and started jeering, I ended up in a very dark place. But as soon as I realized the valley I was in and began to meditate on God’s presence even in this dark place, I began to see what was happening around me. One of the things I saw were two men who stood up for me against all the foes attacking me. They stepped in when all my “fans” stepped away. 

The apostle Paul had the same realization in the dark night of his Roman prison cell. He stated, “at my first defense no one came to my support.” But he also saw those who stood by his side: Luke, Timothy, and Mark.

Dark times can quickly lead us to self-pity UNLESS we will realize we are in a dark place and begin to meditate on all that God says in His Word about His faithfulness. Once we get our eyes off ourselves and onto Him, we will begin to see the lessons God is teaching and the amazing things He is accomplishing. 

I can be thankful IN the night because the dark nights have shown me my true friends. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in this series, you can find them all by clicking here. 

Thursdays With Spurgeon—Honey In My Mouth

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Honey In My Mouth

He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you. (John 16:14-15) 

     So we actually receive, through Jesus Christ, by the Spirit, what is in the Father!  

     Ralph Erskine, in the preface to a sermon upon the fifteenth verse, has a notable piece. He speaks of grace as honey for the cheering of the saints, for the sweetening of their mouths and hearts. But he says that in the Father, ‘The honey is in the flower….’ In the Son, ‘the honey is in the comb…. But then we have honey in the mouth. That is the Spirit taking all things and making application of them, by showing them to us and making us to eat and drink with Christ and share of these things….

From Honey In My Mouth

My grandfather had honeybees on his farm and I was fascinated by them. So much so that in my ecology class in college, I wrote my final research paper on the fascinating inner workings of the honeybee hive. My grandfather would often plant various crops so that the nectar from those flowers would give a distinct flavor to the honey. 

The nectar of a flower has everything in it to make honey except for one thing: a honeybee’s care. The nectar has to be transported back to the hive where it then undergoes the process of being transformed into honey—precise temperatures, storage, and evaporation processes are perfectly overseen by the bees until edible honey emerges. 

Ralph Erskine’s analogy of this nectar-to-honey process is very apropos to the things of God. Our Heavenly Father said that His thoughts are higher than our thoughts: they are inaccessible by our finite human minds (Isaiah 55:8-9). Jesus came as the revelation of all of the things of the Father, declaring to us all that God has for us. Jesus added, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12), which is why the Holy Spirit illuminates the inspired Word of God.

Do you see the whole Trinity active in this process? The Father creates, the Son reveals, and the Spirit makes accessible (or, if you will, the Spirit makes edible). 

The Holy Spirit not only makes the things of God edible to us, but He gives us new tastebuds. No longer will the things of the world satisfy our tastes, no longer will we find any satisfaction in them, no longer will those earthly things nourish us. What the Father has created, and the Son has revealed, the Spirit will make real—and delicious!—to us.

 

Praising God In The Troughs

Some people mistakenly think that the maturity of a Christian is a steady climb, and anything short of that is not God-honoring. They feel the graph has to always be moving up and to the right. In reality—if we zoom in—we will see lots of peaks and troughs that are in the climb. 

For instance, we read the worship leader of Psalm 42 saying, “By day the Lord directs His love, at night His song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life,” and we think, “Yeah, that’s what I expect from a saintly psalmist!” 

But let’s get the context. In the opening verses, this same worship leader talks about his profound thirst, his tears, and the taunts of his enemies. Twice in this psalm, he laments, “Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” 

Many people have gone through what has been called “the dark night of the soul.” I doubt anyone has ever given thanks because of those dark times, but they have learned to give thanks during those dark times.

Consider David’s beautiful words in Psalm 23. He points out that the Good Shepherd leads us into green pastures AND into dark valleys, beside quiet waters AND into the presence of enemies. 

But notice this: the Shepherd of our soul provides what we need in both daytime AND nighttime. He pours out blessings in the presence of our enemies, and as my grandfather wrote in the margin of his Bible next to verse 4, “Where there is shadow there must be light.” 

Consider the example of Paul who wrote to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (4:4). He wrote this to the church that was birthed by Paul’s miraculous deliverance from prison, while Paul and Silas were doing just that: Praying and singing hymns to God! 

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis gives us insight into how the demons view the temptation of Christians. Uncle Screwtape wrote to his nephew, “It may surprise you to learn that in God’s efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. … It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that the human is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best.” 

A mark of a maturing saint is one who when he realizes he is in a trough begins to praise God in anticipation of the blessings which are coming! 

Don’t feel like you need to praise God FOR your troughs, but you can and should praise Him BECAUSE of His presence even in your driest, darkest trough. God is doing something in this trough time that He could accomplish in no other way. As David said, our Good Shepherd leads us in both sunlit and dark paths “for His name’s sake”—He will be glorified and you will be rewarded! 

Be sure to follow along on this series Thankful In The Night.

Thursdays With Spurgeon—Poetic Groans

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Our Prayer Helper 

Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. (Romans 8:26) 

     A man’s heart is moved when he groans. A groan is a matter about which there is no hypocrisy. A groan comes not from the lips, but from the heart. A groan, then, is a part of prayer that we owe to the Holy Spirit, and the same is true of all the prayer that wells up from the deep fountains of our inner life. [see also Jeremiah 4:19; Isaiah 38:14; Psalm 77:4, 38:8-9] … 

     That which is thrown up from the depths of the soul, when it is stirred with a terrible tempest, is more precious than pearl or coral, for it is the intercession of the Holy Spirit! … 

     Beloved, what a different view of prayer God has from that which men think to be the correct one! You may have seen very beautiful prayers in print and you may have heard very charming compositions from the pulpit, but I trust you have not fallen in love with them. Judge these things rightly. I pray you never think well of fine prayers, for before the thrice-holy God it ill becomes a sinful supplicant to play the orator! … The tail feathers of pride should be pulled out of our prayers, for they need only the wing feathers of faith. The peacock feathers of poetical expression are out of place before the throne of God. … God looks at the heart. To Him fine language is as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal, while a groan has music in it! 

From The Holy Spirit’s Intercession

God is not looking for well-polished prayers; He’s looking for real prayers. Let’s be honest: Not even the most educated person in the world has a vocabulary sufficient enough to accurately communicate with The Almighty God! 

Our Heavenly Father wants us to come to Him in simple, childlike anticipation. Notice I didn’t say childish anticipation—there is a huge difference. What Paul is telling us in Romans 8 is that the Holy Spirit can make the most eloquent, childlike, sincere prayer out of our deepest longings in our hearts. 

Jesus reminded us, “Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8). Our Father wants to answer our prayers, and He has given us His Holy Spirit to help us pray in a way that He can answer. 

Don’t try to spruce up your vocabulary before you come to God in prayer. Just come to God in prayer, trusting that the Holy Spirit will make a beautiful prayer even out of your childlike groanings! The Holy Spirit turns our groans into prayerful poetry in our Heavenly Father’s ears!

Thursdays With Spurgeon—Unique And Purposeful

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Unique And Purposeful

     You cannot tell from where the wind comes [John 3:8]. You know it blows from the north or from the west, but at what particular place does that wind start on its journey? Where will it pause in its onward flight? You see that it is blowing to the east or to the west, but where is it going? From where did these particles of air originate that rush so rapidly past? Where are they going? By what laws are they guided in their course, and where will their journey end? …  

     All the true operations of the Spirit are due in no sense whatever to man but always to God and to His sovereign will. … There is arbitrariness about the wind. It does just as it pleases, and the laws that regulate its changes are unknown to man. … So is the mighty working of God! … 

     There are times when all is still and calm, when everything is quiet and you can scarcely detect the wind at all. Now just so it is with the Spirit of God. To some of us He came like a rushing mighty wind. … To others He comes so gently they cannot tell when first the Spirit of God came. … The Spirit of God, as a sovereign, will always choose His own way of operation. … 

     The wind not only differs in force, but it differs in direction. … Perhaps there never were two winds that did blow exactly in the same direction. … Now, the Spirit of God comes from different directions. … God causes the wind to blow just that way He wills. He works, also, through different texts of Scripture. You were converted and blessed under one text; it was quite another that was made useful to me. … God never repeats Himself. … Every Christian is a distinct work of divine grace on God’s part that has in it some originality, some portion distinct from all others.

From The Holy Spirit Compared To The Wind 

You are unique, a one-of-a-kind creation. God knew exactly what He was doing when He made you the way He did. God made you on purpose and for a unique purpose. 

Since you are unique, don’t expect God to speak with you like He did with someone else. He will speak with you in a unique way that is only for you. The Bible gives us many implicit principles for hearing God’s voice, but it never gives us explicit practices for hearing Him. 

God created you to do unique things that will bring Him glory, so don’t try to copy someone else. You be you. That is how God is most glorified through you!

 

Don’t Let Prejudices Rob You

Imagine you had a family member killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City or Washington, DC., and then after that horrific event God asked you to go to Osama bin Laden’s headquarters to talk to him about a personal relationship with Jesus. 

I bet you would have felt much like Jonah did when God said, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before Me” (Jonah 1:2). The Assyrians were some of the most brutal peoples of history, perpetrating almost unspeakably grotesque torture on everyone they attacked. 

And if you or I feel that way, it’s a good bet we would have responded like Jonah responded: “Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish” (v. 3). You probably know the rest of the story: Jonah spent three days in the gut of a huge fish before he finally agreed to obey God’s directive. 

It’s interesting to note that God was sending Assyria as His agent of punishment against Israel for all their vile idolatry, AND He was sending Jonah from Israel to Assyria to call them to repentance for their grotesque torture practices.

That tells me something we all need to remember: God cares for ALL people, and He will use whatever means necessary to get the good news of His mercy and love to them. 

Why is the story of Jonah in the Bible? Perhaps to teach us that although we think some person or people group is so beyond hope, God still loves them. It’s a reminder that God extends grace and mercy to everyone—even to those who are the least deserving of His grace and mercy. People like you and me (Romans 3:23, 5:8). 

In Hebrew literature, the main point of the story is found in the middle. In the case of this story, the middle is the prayer in chapter 2, especially verses 8-9 where Jonah contrasts the worthlessness of trying to cling to our prejudices versus trusting who God is and what He says. 

In light of that, I think this story should prompt us to ask three introspective questions: 

  1. What prejudices am I clinging to that are out of alignment with God’s Word? David’s prayer in Psalm 139 is one we should regularly pray. 
  2. Who have I thought is beyond God’s reach? God’s grace isn’t earned by anyone, but no one is beyond the reach of it! 
  3. Can I say as Jonah did, “But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will obey You, God. What I have vowed I will make good” (2:9)? It’s better not to make a vow to God than it is to make the vow and not follow through on it. 

Let’s all learn from the life of Jonah how much God loves ALL people. Don’t get so hung up on your prejudices that you miss out on the incredible things God has for you, as well as the incredible things God wants to do through you. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in this series on Major Lessons From Minor Prophets, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

Thursdays With Spurgeon—The Holy Spirit Is Our Teacher

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

The Holy Spirit Is Our Teacher

     The question arises: How may I know whether I am enlightened by the Spirit’s influence and led into all truth? First, you may know the Spirit’s influence by its unity. He guides us into all truth. Second, by its universality. He guides us into all truth. … 

     The true child of God will not be led into some truth but into all truth. When he first starts he will not know half the truth. He will believe it but not understand it. He will have the germ of it but not the sum total in all its breadth and length. There is nothing like learning by experience. A man cannot set up for a theologian in a week. Certain doctrines take years to develop themselves. …  

     It needs but little intellect to be taught of God. If you feel your ignorance, do not despair. Go to the Spirit, the great Teacher, ask His secret influence, and it will come to pass that He will guide you into all truth. …  

     Whenever any of our brethren do not understand the truth, let us take a hint as to the best way of dealing with them. Do not let us controvert with them. I have heard many controversies but never heard of any good from one of them. … Few men are taught by controversy, for ‘a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.’ Pray for them that the Spirit of truth may lead them into all truth. Do not be angry with your brother, but pray for him. Cry, ‘Lord! Open his eyes that he may “behold wondrous things from Your law”’ (Psalm 119:18).

From The Holy Spirit: The Great Teacher 

 

The Holy Spirit wants to help us understand the Book that He inspired. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would guide us into all truth (John 16:13). 

So I would suggest: 

  1. Pray before, during, and after reading Scripture that the Spirit will illuminate His inspired Word. The Holy Spirit is our Prayer Coach.
  2. Since all of God’s Word is inspired, use all of God’s Word. Don’t get bogged down in a single verse or passage, but ask the Spirit to show you the full counsel of the Bible. 
  3. Learn how to handle difficult passages in a productive way (check out this post). 
  4. Strive for unity among fellow believers. 
  5. Avoid controversies among fellow believers and non-believers. Simply present the Word of God and let the Spirit do the work that needs to be done. 

May our study of Scripture with the Spirit’s help bring illumination, empowerment, and unity.

Thursdays With Spurgeon—Light In A Dark Cave

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Light In A Dark Cave

     Now I must have an illustration. I must compare truth to some cave or grotto that you have heard of, with wondrous stalactites hanging from the roof and others starting from the floor—a cavern, glittering with spar and abounding in marvels. Before entering the cave you inquire for a guide, who comes with his lighted flambeau. He conducts you down a considerable depth and you find yourself in the midst of the cave. He leads you through different chambers. Here he points to a little stream rushing from amid the rocks and indicates its rise and progress. There he points to some peculiar rock and tells you its name. Then he takes you into a large natural hall, tells you how many persons once feasted in it, and so on. Truth is a grand series of caverns. It is our glory to have so great and wise a Conductor. Imagine that we are coming to the darkness of it. He is a light shining in the midst of us to guide us. And by the light He shows us wondrous things. In three ways the Holy Spirit teaches us—by suggestion, direction, and illumination. 

     First, He guides us into all truth by suggestion. There are thoughts that dwell in our minds that were not born there but that were exotics brought from heaven and put there by the Spirit. It is not a fancy that angels whisper into our ears and that devils do the same. Both good and evil spirits hold converse with men. …  

     Sometimes He leads us by direction. … The Spirit gives a direction and tendency to our thoughts. Not suggesting a new one but leading a particular thought, when it starts, to take such and such a direction. …  

     Perhaps the best way in which the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth is by illumination. … Beloved, you may read to all eternity and never learn anything by it, unless the Holy Spirit illuminates it. And then the words shine forth like stars. … Blind men may read the Bible with their fingers, but blind souls cannot. We want a light to read the Bible by; there is no reading it in the dark. Thus the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth by suggesting ideas, by directing our thoughts, and by illuminating the Scriptures when we read them. 

From The Holy Spirit: The Great Teacher 

A good prayer every time you open your Bible is this: “Open my eyes to see wonderful things in Your Word” (Psalm 119:18). 

The illumination of the Holy Spirit helps us connect the written Word to our real-life, every-day settings. 

When times are confusing, the Holy Spirit can illuminate the Scriptures to help us evaluate both our feelings and the facts around us through the filter of God’s truth. 

But perhaps most importantly, the Holy Spirit helps us take captive all of those thoughts. Whether they were whispered by angels or devils, or just thought from our own carnal minds, we can take all of those thought captive and make them obedient to God’s Word (see 2 Corinthians 10:3-5). We need to learn to think about what we’re thinking about, utilizing the truth of Scripture that the Holy Spirit will illuminate to us.

 

Think On This…

Here’s the seed thought for this episode of Think On This

Do to others what you would like them to do to you. (Matthew 7:12)

Think on this: Do I apply the Golden Rule negatively (just trying to avoid offending)? Or do I apply it positively (creatively trying to find ways to help others)?

 

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