Monday, July 20, 2009

Contentment comes to travelers

"In A Preface to Christian Theology, John Mackay illustrated two kinds of interest in Christian things by picturing persons sitting on the high front balcony of a Spanish house watching travelers go by on the road below. The 'balconeers' can overhear the travelers' talk and chat with them; they may comment critically on the way that the travelers walk; or they may discuss questions about the road, how it can exist at all or lead any where, what might be seen from different points along it, and so forth; but they are onlookers, and their problems are theoretical only. The travelers by contrast face problems which though they have their theoretical angle, are essentially practical - problems of the 'which-way-to-go' and 'how-to-make-it' type, problems which call not merely for comprehension but for decision and action too.

"Balconeers and travelers may think over the same area, yet their problems differ. Thus (for instance) in relation to evil, the balconeer's problem is to find a theoretical explanation of how evil can consist with God's sovereignty and goodness, but the traveler's problem is how to master evil and bring good out of it. Or again, in relation to sin, the balconeer asks whether racial sinfulness and personal perversity are really credible, while the traveler, knowing sin from within, asks what hope there is of deliverance...." J.I. Packer, 1973 Preface to Knowing God

If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that I've undertaken a lengthy series of posts on the subject of Christian contentment using the Puritan Classic, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment as my text. In Chapter Five, author Jeremiah Burroughs states that "to know one’s relation to the world" is a necessary part of Christian contentment:

....While I live in the world my condition is to be but a pilgrim, a stranger, a traveller, and a soldier...God has set me in this world,not as in my home but as a mere stranger and a pilgrim who is travelling to another h0me, and that I am here a soldier in my warfare. I say, a right understanding of this is a mighty help to contentment in whatever befalls one."

"Thus it should be with us in this world, for the truth is, we are all in this world but as seafaring men, tossed up and down on the waves of the sea of this world, and our haven is Heaven: here we are travelling, and our home is a distant home in another world....I am a traveller and I must not be finding fault. I am in another man's house, and it would be bad manners to find fault in someone else's house, even though things are not as much to my liking as at home...We are going away to another country; you are, as it were, only lodging here, for a night. If you were to live a hundred years, in comparison to eternity it is not as much as a nigh, it is as though you were travelling, and had come to an inn. And what madness is it for a man to be discontented because he has not got what he sees there, seeing he may be going away again within less than a quarter of an hour?"

And so I'll say what Packer says about his classic Knowing God is also true of The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment:
"Now this is a book for travelers, and it is with travelers' questions that it deals."
If you are not a traveler Burroughs' text is not for you. If you are not a traveler, Christian contentment is impossible for you. You must be a traveler and remember at all times that you are one or you will never be content in your circumstances. Abraham, the father of the faithful, was the original traveler:
"By faith Abraham obeyed when he as called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And when he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God....These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city." ( Heb. 11:8-10, 13- 16)
His travel was not led on by restless wanderlust, but by the call of God, and it led him to a life of contentment and obedience even when appearances and circumstances seemed designed to lead him to believe that God's promises were not only not being fulfilled, but were being withdrawn (see Gen. 22:2). If he had not desired "a better country, that is, an heavenly one" he would certainly have grown discontent with the demands of his traveling life and gone back to that land from which he had gone out.

That was exactly what the Israelites longed to do as they wandered in the wilderness. They preferred a return to Egypt, the land of their slavery, to facing what seemed like an uncertain future only because they would not believe the promises of God. If they'd believed God, they would have been content with His provision in their wilderness wanderings and would have comforted themselves with joyful anticipation of the Promised Land. God certainly had shown Himself able to do wondrous things on their behalf. And so, because of their ongoing unbelief and distrust of the God who had miraculously delivered them, they grumbled and complained about their status as wanderers. Rather than celebrating their freedom from slavery, relishing the ongoing and visible presence of God in their midst, and rejoicing that they were on the path to a glorious future, they wanted the small and immediate comforts of life. They wanted what they wanted today and were not content to do without some small comforts now in exchange for a magnificent future. And because of their unbelief and complaining, God was rightly angry. (See Heb. 3: 7-15.)

And so, if we are not content to live this life as pilgrims, we will not be content at all. If we cannot live for the joy that has been set before us, we can never be truly happy in this life. If we will not be content as travelers, we can never live the life of godliness we have been called to.
"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works." Titus 2:11-14

"Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul." 1 Peter 2:11

"So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but wee seek the city that is to come." Heb. 13:12-14
For the Israelites God painted a beautiful picture of the land to which He would lead them. It would be a land flowing with milk and honey, a mountain where God Himself would make His abode and reign forever. (Ex. 15:17,18) Those promises were meant to carry the faithful through hardship; and those promises did carry the faithful through, though there were but a remnant of the people saved (see Rom. 11:1-5).

God's promises are still meant to carry His people through. Only now we have even greater promises, we have a New Covenant which does not depend upon our obedience to the Law for its accomplishment, we have a much richer understanding of God's character and purposes, and we have the promise of eternal life in an eternal city, where war, weeping, sickness, and dying are no more, and where we will not only see Christ in His glory but become like Him ourselves (1 John 2,3). The promises of our homeland are too numerous in Scripture to list here, but suffice it to say that we have even less excuse than did the Israelites in the wilderness when we find ourselves grumbling in discontent against our circumstances. So let us look to these promises of our future home, the country of our true and lasting citizenship, and may they bring us contentment with our temporary struggles (and they are all temporary), and victory in our ongoing battle against sin, because footholds are difficult for sin to find in the heart of a contented soul.
“Let the aim of believers in judging mortal life, then, be that while they understand it to be of itself nothing but misery, they may with greater eagerness and dispatch betake themselves to meditate upon that eternal life to come. When it comes to a comparison with the life to come, the present life can not only be safely neglected but, compared to the former, must be utterly despised and loathed. For, if heaven is our homeland, what else is the earth but our place of exile? If departure from the world is entry into life, what else is the world but a sepulcher? And what else is it for us to remain in life but to be immersed in death? If to be freed from the body is to be released into perfect freedom, what else is the body but a prison? If to enjoy the presence of God is the summit of happiness, is not to be without this, misery? But until we leave the world ‘we are away from the Lord’ (2 Cor. 5:6). Therefore, if the earthly life be compared with the heavenly, it is doubtless to be at once despised and trampled under foot….For it is like a sentry post at which the Lord has posted us, which we must hold until he recalls us.” John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion; Book III, Ch. IX, 4.
So let us continue as long as we live to compare this earthly life with the heavenly and so come to expect less from it and be content with what we have. Let us spend our lives as travelers finding strength from thoughts of our Promised Land:

"Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." John 14:1-3

"Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world." John 17:24-25

"For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of and archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words." 1 Thessalonians 4: 15-18

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passes away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."

And he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.' Also he said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.' And he said to me, 'It is done1 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death." Rev. 21: 1-9

May thoughts of Heaven beautify your life on earth for as long as you sojourn here.

5 comments:

Deb said...

Thanks for this! Beautiful writing and a blessing to keep our hearts focused on the exquisite rather than the mundane! I need a constant reminder or I let myself get bogged down as I look around! God bless you!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Laurie, I'm with Deb in response to your notes on contentment: it helps to keep the heart focused. Thank you!
Your notes led me to apply contentment to all of life and specifically to the area of grieving. Our son was fetched by Jesus in 2006, age 27. The work of grieving must be done. But, how vastly different is grieving discontentetly and grieving with contentment helped by a certain future.
A fellow traveller,
Kind regards, Estelle

Laurie M. said...

Estelle,
Thanks for your comment. I'm sorry to hear about your losing your son - and at such a young age (though I doubt that makes much difference really) - but am glad to hear that you've found comfort in Christ in your grief. Knowing your son was in the Lord is no doubt a great help.

My children do not walk with the Lord, so they are the subject of many prayers for protection and salvation.

Deb,
Thanks again for dropping by and doing me the kindness of commenting. My curiosity is up, though. I have about 4 friends named Deb on-line and am wondering if you are one of them - only with a new Blogger account - or if you're a new visitor.

Deb said...

Hey Laurie,

It's me from Counting My Blessings! I just started using my Google account with my new PC.

Laurie M. said...

Thanks Deb - I thought it might be you, by the tone of your voice - but I didn't want to assume that and well...you know...