With all of the struggles and difficulties facing us on a daily basis, I often wonder if there is a bigger one than the oh-so-common struggle we all face in being content. It is a struggle which can pop up any time and anywhere, regardless of situation or circumstance. Of course, we often think of facing down the demon of discontent during difficult times, but it can rear its ugly head during the best of times, stealing our joy and turning the light and hope of life into a shadowy vision of what it should be.
This life is a battle - a constant battle, a constant struggle to not only own the claims and truths of the Bible but to actually live them and repeat them until they become true. It does not matter how I "feel" or what circumstances appear to be. Contentment is something I have been called to have regardless. Contentment has nothing to do with physical position or well-being, nothing to do with my bank account or monthly check. It has everything, however, to do with my position in Christ.
We always think of the fact that Jesus will never leave or forsake us but not often within the context of contentment. Hebrews 13:5 says “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” This verse makes it abundantly clear - contentment is in direct relation to our position in Christ. We are commanded to be content because we have Him! For no other reason are we commanded to have this attitude, mindset, and way of living. It is because He is with us.
What thanks we can render to the Lord when we embrace this truth! What thanks we can give for all He has given and all He continues to do. What thanks we can give when we realize that everything we are and all we have is a gift of His grace and mercy. What thanks He deserves, what praise, what glory and honor! We should, indeed, be praising Him continually and consistently, for there is no end to the commendation He deserves. Let us thank and praise Him not just this week, but each day of the long year through!
We each have been given a high calling. Whether we are a missionary overseas, a missionary in the states, a missionary to our families, a missionary to our friends, a missionary to strangers, a missionary to estranged relatives, a missionary at home or a missionary at work, we are all called to be missionaries.
There is, all too often, a false dichotomy that exists within our Christian circles that declares "missions" to be overseas in some distant location with a set prescribed team of husband/wife couples and maybe a token single. Being a missionary to the down and out is often seen as the highest calling upon a person's life. It is esteemed, respected, and even revered. Ninety-nine percent of the time it is funded and financially supported by individuals and churches. Is there a problem with this kind of missions? No. Of course not. I have many, many friends who are living and serving the LORD overseas and I am immensely proud of them. They are financially supported because they have made the gospel their life's work. AH! But there is the problem!
This is where the dichotomy exists. It is thought that overseas missionaries make the gospel their life's work and the rest of everyone else, well, doesn't. But this should be the farthest thing from the truth that exists! We should all be making the gospel our life's work whether we go overseas or live in a two story "American dream" white picket fenced house with 2.5 children. This is where the disparity comes in. No matter what you may say, the missionary is lauded and the white picket fence family is not. Often, within our churches, the white picket fence family is looked down upon in favor of the overseas missionary, even if that is not stated in so many words and regardless of the fact that 99% of the American church lives in one of some kind.
The great commission we often point to in support of overseas missions tells us to first go where? Our own neighborhoods! If we are not engaging in ministry right where we are, why should we think we will if we move overseas? Traveling to another country isn't a magic "easy" button that makes everything work. Living overseas can be the hardest thing you'll ever do. That heart of ministry needs to already be at work wherever you are in order for it to work overseas. And this brings me back to my original point. Why this dichotomy? Why distain the high calling of the white picket fence family? Let me give you a point to dwell upon. For some people, God has CALLED them to live a white picket fence life! We cannot possibly look at what the Lord has called one family or person to do and distain it in favor of what He has called another to do. Because in doing so we not only distain the family that is following the Lord's will for their lives, but we are distaining the very One who called them to live that way in the first place.
I have had the amazing opportunity to speak to college students this week about the work God can do in a person's life. One thing I think many in my generation look upon with awed wonderment is how the Lord can work in a person's life. Many of the younger "millennials" have known little discomfort, little hardship, and have had little opportunity to truly place their faith in the One they declare is Lord of their lives. So when difficulty arises, when hardships need to be faced and overcome, many are left wondering just how the faith-in-action thing works. How does one "let patience have her perfect work?" in the midst of trials however big or small? And the often unasked and therefore unanswered question becomes 'Will God really be faithful and come through for me?'
The longer I walk with the Lord, the more I begin to understand why the Lord placed books in the Bible such as James which speak about trials and why they are so needful in our lives. The first eight verses of James highlight the "trial cycle," if you will. Right off, in verse 2 we are told to count it all joy when we fall into diverse temptations. All temptations, everything in this life, is an opportunity to try your faith and for that reason alone we can count it all joy. Because along with the testing of your faith, trials will grow you and, as so often is quoted, will produce patience. We are then to let patience have her perfect work in us while going through trials. If you lack wisdom to know how to do just that, we are told to ask for it in faith, nothing wavering, for the man that wavers is double minded and unstable.
This trial cycle is not "fun," it's not "comfortable," and it's not "easy" and many wonder whether it really works. Does God really come through? Do trials really produce patience and beneficial attributes in me? Will the Lord really give me wisdom in how to walk through them? My answer from personal experience is yes, absolutely yes. And though it has taken me a long time to see it and I will undoubtedly continue to learn this lesson, I can honestly say I am thankful for the "trials" and "temptations" the Lord has brought me through. Because through them He has grown me, He has shown me that He is and always will be faithful, and He has proven that He can be trusted. Never underestimate the power of the Lord in your life - even through the hardest times.
Live fully. Just two little words but they can be such a challenge at times because it is so very easy to be lazy, to be mediocre, to go with the easiest thing or approach life in a lackadaisical manner. But we have not been called to an easy life! We have not been called to mediocrity! We have been called to become like Jesus Christ, to live out and share the Gospel, to work while it is yet day. We have not been called to shirk the hard things but embrace them, tackle them, and see them through in the name of Jesus.
We have such a limited amount of time - whether the LORD returns during our lifetime or not. Time is still short no matter how you look at it. We are not guaranteed a long life - we are not even guaranteed tomorrow! We only truly have this very moment in which we are living, walking, breathing, planning, hoping, toiling, suffering, and rejoicing. It is in this moment that we must be most aware of and focused toward making our lives count for the LORD. What shame we would face should we stand before the Lord with nothing to show for that which He has given us. What shame, were we to have empty hands and no impact on the world in which He has placed us.
We are here for a reason and the LORD has a plan for each one of us. He has work for us to do whether we are a pastor, a janitor, a teacher, a mom, or a CFO. It does not matter one bit what we do so long as we are doing it for the glory of God! We have the chance to impact people every day with the love of Jesus and it will only be when we stand before the throne of God that we will understand the impact we have been allowed to have in this world. Until then, let us be faithful to love, serve, work, and give the love of Jesus to all those around us. Let us work while it is today and trust God to give the increase. Let us set about to accomplish the job He has given us in His strength and for His glory! Let us live our lives to the fullest.