Cultivating Contentment When Life Throws You Curves

See July 13th entry. Life threw a curve on June 2nd when I discovered we had to move and the wonderful relaxing summer I had planned would consist of packing and figuring out where to go next.

Life can be so hard.  Life can be so frustrating. Life can be so …..life!  We all face disappointments, delays, setbacks, financial woes, etc. but that’s part of life!  The issue is not that life is going to be hard as that is certain but how will we respond when it is hard and we are thrown a curve.  Will we respond with bitterness and upset or will we exude contentment- with calmness, cheerfulness/joy, and peaceful acceptance?  Contentment doesn’t come naturally nor is it easily learned.  In fact Paul said “I have learned to be content in Philippians 4:11” Contentment is a process that one must desire to learn. Would you like to live a life that isn’t dictated by your circumstances? Would you like to be able to say as Paul did I too have learned to be content?  Or be able to say, Psalms 131:2 MSG I’ve kept my feet on the ground; I’ve cultivated a quiet heart. Like a baby content in its mother’s arms, my soul is a baby content

 

As I have learned to be content I’ve allow God to pry my fingers open to let go and let God.  I am today freer from worry, fear, and insecurity experiencing more joy as I learn to trust my heavenly Father – and trust “my world” into His control. Life will disappoint us sometimes, but our Heavenly Father never will. No matter what life may bring, for the believer there is a happy ending in store.  Contentment begins with God, and His unfailing love for us.  When we are satisfied by His love, our joy will last for the rest of our lives.  Psalms 90:14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.  Our control robs us as when we take over and try to control what happens, we take our focus off the One who is in control and put our eyes on our circumstances.   As we place our focus on the one who is in control of all things and is king over all then contentment is possible.  Read with me 1Timothy 6:15 God is the blessed controller of all things, the king over all kings and the master of all masters.

 

J.I. Packer says “Contentment is essentially a matter of accepting from God’s hand what He sends because we know that He is good and therefore it is good.” Contentment is accepting God’s sovereign control over all of life’s circumstances.  It’s easy to accept the good in our life but if God is sovereign than we must be willing to accept the negative also.  Let me share four lessons I have learned traveling the road to contentment.


1) First lesson I have learned contentment is a choice on how we look at life. 
1 Timothy 6:6

But godliness with contentment is great gain.

Do you see contentment as great gain?  I think that Paul is reminding us that we really don’t need anything to have contentment as we came into the world with nothing and we will leave this world with nothing. 

7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.

 

Linda Dillow in her book Calm My Anxious Heart wrote:  Two women looked through prison bars

One saw mud, the other saw stars.  Our choice is will we focus on the mud or lift our eyes and see the stars?  We all have the circumstances that appear to be prison bars. 

EXAMPLE: we sold our dream house to finance Jon’s company a little over 6 years ago.  This was to be only for a few year but three moves later we are still leasing.  This weekend we will be going from a 3,000 sqft house to a 1333 apartment.  I choose to view this as an opportunity to draw closer as a family as the bigger the house the more spread out and off alone upstairs the older girls.  They will be gone before I know it we get to live like we are on vacation for the next two month or until God directs us to our new home. 

 

2) Second lesson to contentment is found in changing the way you see the situations – looking at the bright side or finding the silver lining.  A few foundational truths that have helped my outlook are found in:

A) Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future You can be content with your life and your future knowing God has plans for your life and He has given you hope.  Our family clings to this truth and we have it hung on our wall as a reminder. 

 

B) Your perspective on how you view life is better when you remember that even your trials have a purpose in your spiritual growth. Your perspective makes all the difference in the world and it influences how you respond to problems.  Is the glass half empty or half full. Let’s look at  James 1:2-4

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,

3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Also 2 Corinthians 4: 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!

There is nothing that happens in life by accident.  My life has been transformed mostly because of the hardships and trials of life.  Life is a series of trials.  Every time you solve one, another is waiting to take its place.  Not all are big but all are significant in God’s growth process for us.  Trails draw us closer to God.  I desire that God uses each situation to conform to His imagine and teach me to be content.  On this side of heaven nothing will ever be perfect.  We are to be faithful in circumstances we find ourselves.  Trails are a test of our resolve. Trails strengthen our character and can glorify God is we allow them to.   

 

3) The third lesson I have learned is that the journey to content is a two part process.  I am responsible for my part and God will be faithful with His part.  Turn with me to Philippians 4:4-9.  I will go verse by verse and lay out the various parts.

 

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.



Our part is seen in v. 4- 6

o       Rejoice

o       Do not be anxious or (worry)

o       Pray

o       Give thanks

 

I find it amazing that Paul begins this exhortation saying to rejoice not once but twice.  When Paul wrote this he wasn’t living the carefree life you might expect. He was in prison, had been beaten and was alone.  Not the American life of comfort but yet he said he had learned to be content, tells us to rejoice and not worry.  The secret of contentment is Christ in us, not us in a different set of circumstances.  Our anxiety should be the very thing that gets us on our knees to pray specifically as well as with thanksgiving. 

 

What is worry?   “to strangle” or “to choke off”  and that is exactly what worry and fear in the mind does; it chokes off the creative flow from above.

 

Worry is a route which leads from somewhere to nowhere.  Don’t let it direct your life. Take God’s advice found in 1 Peter 5:7 Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. 

What a comforting promise.  As believers why worry as scriptures tells us we have a God who is our refuge, strength, He will meet our every need and is there when we need him, He is our hiding place and so much more. ( Ps 9:9, 32:7, 46:1-3; Phil 4:19)

 

George Muller said, “The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith. The beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.”  True as when we worry aren’t we saying “God you can’t”  If we are walking in anxiety we’re not walking in faith. 

 

Let me differentiate between anxiety and depression as I learned from Minirty and Meir clinic.  Anxiety is linked more often to the future, “What if” and depression is past focused.  So anxiety is a mental distress or uneasiness because of fear of real or imagined danger or misfortune.  Anxiety causes us to react when necessary [a child running into the path of an oncoming car – anxiety is good as we react to protect the child] but how much time and energy is wasted over perceived danger? Jon’s company might never sale, our financial situation will not get better, we will not be able to pay for the girls college or weddings, I or my children might have cancer, etc… by the way the girls are both in college one with a full scholarship given by a friend and the other one has most of her school paid.  

 

A French philosopher Montaigne said “My life has been filled with such terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.” 

 


Other quotes/stories I like are:

  • Worry is like a rocking chair it gives you something to do but gets you know where.
  • “Fear and worry are interest paid in advance on something you may never own.” i.e. There’s a story that is told about a woman who was standing on a street corner crying profusely.  A man came up to her and asked why she was weeping.  The lady shook her head and replies:  “I was just thinking that maybe someday I would get married.  We would later have a beautiful baby girl.  Then one day this child and I would go for a walk along this street, come to this corner and my darling daughter would run into the street, get hit by a car, and die.” 

 

Sounds silly but isn’t this the way we often respond when we worry?  We take a situation or event which might never exist and build it up all out of proportion in our mind.  I did the very thing this past May as I had to have gall bladder surgery and I let my mind drift to not waking from the surgery, leaving behind Jon and the girls, to the point I had tears as I wrote in each of the love journals.  Contentment is ultimately a shift in attitude than a change in circumstances. 

 

More importantly anxiety and worry are wrong and sinful because of reasons given above (lack of faith and trust). Also Jesus commands us not to worry 5 times alone in Matthew 6:25-34 Worry is a faith problem – as we do not trust God when we worry.  It is our duty and privilege to rejoice in God, and to rejoice in him always; at all times, in all conditions; even when we suffer for him, or are afflicted by him.   1 Peter 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

 

God’s part is seen in v. 7

  • Peace

The good news is if we pray instead of worrying we will experience God’s peace.  So if you feel anxious and fearful vs. being content ask yourself have you done your part (are we rejoicing, praying, and praying with thanksgiving?)  It’s easier said than done.  I know first handed as there have been many times that I would follow this formula and my mind still dwells on the “what ifs” “whys” or “if onlys” of a circumstance.  In fact as I prepare for this I’ve prayed many times this month and these past years for the potential buyer of BiM to make an offer and my days have turned into weeks, months and years and we still have no offer.    However, when I choose to pray vs. worry about our future financial situation or whether BiM will be bought I experience peace. EXAMPLE – last Friday when we finally heard from the potential buyer it was not the price we had hoped for, not the time frame, thus we have months of waiting ahead of us with great uncertainty.  Share about walk, talk, and then prayer time together and as family as the peace we all experienced.

 


4) The fourth lesson I have learn is that when the peace begins to dissipate I choose to “REMEMBER” the promises of God and His past goodness to me.  The best way to survive life when a curve is thrown your direction is to remember who God is and what He has done in the past for you. Psalm 77:11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. And Jonah 2:7 When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.  This year I started a study on how often we are told to remember in scripture.  I have been surprised by the number of times I have circled the word remember and I will remember in my bible.

Deut. 8:18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.

Deut. 8:2 Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.

Each year in writing I summarize our high and low points of the year.  As milestones or answered pray is realized I write them down in form a thank you.   You know what I’ve realized?  When we are in the midst of a storm or dark period it is hard to remember the many blessings we have experienced thus the importance of writing them down. 

 

Continuing on with Our Part as seen in v. 8  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

 

  • Maintain a positive thought life.

 

One verse has done more to transform my life than any other and is found in Proverbs 23:7 As a man think in his heart so is he.  Our thought life has such an incredible impact on us.  In Romans 12:2 we are told to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  So what exactly is excellent or praiseworthy?  I hold before you a love letter filled with wonderful promises found starting in Genesis all the way to Revelation.   This is what we need to dwell on as it is the remedy for discontent.

 

Our part and God’s part in v.9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

  • (our part) We have to practice what we have learned and heard
  • (God’s part) God’s peace will be with us.

 

When I hear the word practice I think about something you have to do over and over to learn and become proficient at and this is true with contentment for as we practice peace and content will follow.  It is then we can say in any circumstance that it is well with my soul.   

 

Paul tells us we are to practice “these things,” it is our choice to

  • Give our anxieties to God
  • Pray specifically
  • Pray with thanksgiving
  • Dwell on the positives.

So do you practice substituting prayer for worry, positive for negative thought life, and are you experiencing the God of peace?  It’s your choice to practice these things.  

 

 

Who or What is Influencing You?

Deuteronomy 6:5-9 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. 

 

The Israelites have been wandering for many years and finally they are about to enter the Promise Land.  Moses demands their diligent attention to the word of God, and His statutes and judgments that were taught them.  The book of Deuteronomy shows the blessings of obedience and the curse of disobedience. God warns them to not be influenced by the sin of idolatry 4:16-17 Therefore watch yourselves very carefully,  so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape;    Idolatry would be everywhere they went and would greatly mess up their lives.  God knew the Israelites were going to be influenced by the many people and different cultures they encountered so over and over He implores them to let His words, promises and past deeds to not only influence them but also their children and future generations.   As I prepared for this it occurred to me that Moses wasn’t just talking to the Israelites he was probably extremely passionate, emotional, and almost pleading with them as he knows how important obedience was.  Everything depended on their obedience – life itself, possession of the Promised Land, victory over their enemies, prosperity, and happiness. 

 

 Imagine that you are passionately sharing the above with a loved one.  I thought of my daughters and how I would be pleading with them. Hear/listen Caryn: The LORD OUR God is the only one you need. Caryn love the LORD with everything you have. Make Him number one.  Please study His word daily to know what He expects of you and to know Him.   Remind other you love to keep God first and foremost in their lives by the example you live wherever you are. Share God’s goodness whenever possible. 

 

The above passage is often taught in the context of parenting and home education but I want to challenge you to consider that this passage applies to us as teachers and Christ bearers. We all have someone who either looks up to us or will look up to us.  I’m sure you can think back to someone or something that greatly influenced you. I can vividly remember the first Christian couple/parents who discipled Jon and I after accepting Christ.  Their influence on my life was huge as I did not want to have children because of my childhood baggage but how this couple interacted with their young boys, as well as each other opened my world up to parenting and marriage unlike anything  I had experienced growing.  Likewise, the influence of those responsible for my care and nurturing negatively tainted my view on marriage and parenting.  We all have been influenced and have influence on others whether we realize it or not.  Through our influence we impart values, stimulate creativity, develop compassion, modify weaknesses, and nurture strengths.  We can open life up to another individual.  And we can open an individual up to life.  So what exactly is influence?   It is ability to indirectly control or affect the actions of other people or things. The meaning of influence therefore depends on who or what is being affected, and to what end.  

 

Here is a video called Children see – Children do  it is put out by an Australian children’s rights organization as a public service announcement.  It is easy to think that kids are not paying much attention to what the adults in their lives do and say.  However, I think you will agree otherwise.

http://www.thethinkingblog.com/2007/06/children-see-children-do.html   Make your influence positive but how?  As Christians we have the greatest privilege to influence others for Christ which is what I would like to focus on today.

 

Influence first begins with YOU v 5 ________ Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  Then we are to take Gods words He speaks, and write them “on our hearts.” God says in various passages, “You are My people; I love you.  I have chosen you; I am always with you, I will protect you.  I am only asking you to obey Me for your good.  We need to make God’s words a part of our lives by letting His teachings reshape our values, attitudes, and our ways.  We are to love God ourselves and take His words to heart.  Because God’s people are His, He wants them to walk in the world in the way that benefits them, separating themselves from evil.  Once our lives are influenced by the goodness of God and His word we are to talk about them in the context of daily life, and so make them real to others.  Through our lives we set an example for others to follow as we no longer are merely hears of the word we are doers as well.

 

I will next will share the how, where, when and what of positive influence. The next step to positively influencing those in your life is accomplished HOW?  In Deuteronomy 6:7 we are instructed to impress (teach or talk) to our children diligently using the relationship-based model because to “teach” in the Hebrew culture meant building a relationship, spending time with a person in order to learn from watching him and interacting with him. WHERE? “When you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Today this may look more like as you drive all over town, at bedtime, during mealtimes and the many other teachable moments. WHEN?  Basically we are to be teaching and impressing truth 24/7.  Our children will learn from us – good or bad, positive or negative, be of God or the world.   Former NBA star “Sir” Charles Barkly said “I don’t want to be a role model”. Silly, that’s simply not our choice. We only have two choices in the matter; to be either a positive or negative role model, but it’s one or the other!  

 

 

WHAT?

1) We are to teach and impress primarily that Jesus is Christ as seen in Acts 5:42 which says Every day they were in the Temple and homes, teaching and preaching Christ Jesus, not letting up for a minute  

2) Scripture is truth – as opposed to fables, false doctrine, and genealogies (1 Tim 1:3).   

3) lastly we read in (2 Tim. 3:16-17 ; All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.)   So we are to use the Scripture to:

1)    establish doctrine by declaring what is right;

2)    provide reproof by defining what is wrong; 

3)    make corrections by telling how to change wrong to right;

4)    to instruct in righteousness – applying truth to life’s circumstances.

The ultimate goal for the teacher is to see her students engage in good works.  Jesus is the example of what a teacher is to be and how to influence others.

 

Moving on in v. 8-9 Godly influence must be consistent.  v8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.  Moses’ command here is a symbolic one, intended to emphasize the value of one living for god in their personal life represented by hands = (action/what you do/how you live) & forehead = (one’s thoughts); their private life/home life (doorframe of the house); and their public life (gate).  The idea here is that of consistency as one’s life of influence should not simply be to live for God in public, but in private, as well as in his personal affairs.  Who are you when no one is looking? People will know you are a Christian by the way you live your life.   If one is going to make a godly impression upon others, his life must be characterized by godly example and consistency. You see, it is unreasonable to expect others to listen to your advice but to ignore your example as people normally pay more attention to what we do, rather than to what we say. 

 

Scott Adams, the cartoonist of Far Side said, “You don’t have to be a “person of influence” to be influential. In fact, the most influential people in my life are probably not even aware of the things they’ve taught me.”

 

Each day we are in immediate danger of falling prey to the influence of American culture.  The remedy is allowing daily influence from God’s word to penetrate our lives in order to counteract the bombardment of worldly influence.  Remember Godly influence must be Christ centered, it begins with you, and is consistent.  I challenge you to consider whether you are allowing God’s truth, His past goodness, and promises to influence more than the worldly god’s?  What god’s are you allowing to influence your life? Maybe it’s prosperity, successful, beauty, power, prestige, etc.  Choose today who or what you will be influenced by.    Make your influence not only positive but Christ centered.