Thursday, September 3, 2009

The excuses of a discontented heart - concluded

The following is the next installment in Tim Challies' series Reading the Classics Together - The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. I'll try to make each post readable on its own, however I highly encourage your own study of this Puritan classic by Jeremiah Burroughs.
(Chapter 11, part two)

IV. One that is discontent may say, "I think I could be content with God's hand so far as I see the hand of God in a thing.... I can bear that I should be in God's hands, but not in the hands of men."

1. "Though they are men who bring this cross to you, yet they are God's instruments."

Consider for a moment the story of Joseph and read Genesis 50:15-21.

"The heart of a man plans his way,
but the LORD establishes his steps." Prov. 16:9

"Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand." Prov. 19:21

"The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
The counsel of the LORD stands forever,
the plans of his heart to all generations." Psalm 33:10-11

What we can learn from the passages above, and many others like them, is that God is ultimately sovereign even over the doings of men. His purposes are always accomplished. He is sovereign over the plans of men and uses them to His own ends.

2. "If this is your trouble that men do wrong to you, you ought rather to turn your hearts to pity them, than to murmur..."

"For it is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed." 1 Peter 2: 19-24.

As Burroughs puts it: "...it is better to bear wrong than to do wrong..."

3. "Though you meet with hard dealings from men, yet you meet with nothing but kind, good and righteous dealings from God." Men may be have evil intentions toward you, but God's purposes for you are always good. And His purposes always prevail.

V. One that is discontent may say, 'Oh, but the affliction that comes upon me is an affliction which I never looked for, I never thought I would meet with such an affliction, and that is what I cannot bear.'

1. "It is your weakness and folly that you did not look for it and expect it."
"...no affliction should come unexpectedly to a Christian."

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you." 1 Peter 5:8-10

2. "Is it unexpected? Then the less provision you made for it before it came, the more careful should you be to sanctify God's name in it, now it is come. It is in this case of afflictions as in mercies; many times mercy comes unexpected..."
"I have many mercies that I never looked for, as well as afflictions that I never looked for: why should not the one rejoice me as much as the other disturbs me?"'

"Shall we receive good from God, and shell we not receive evil?" (Job 2:10)
Return to the gospel. Bring back to mind what we deserved and earned for ourselves, and the price God paid to redeem us from that fate. Any temporal suffering is small by contrast and should be overshadowed by the joy of our redemption.

3. "It may be it is the great because you heart murmurs so."
"Shackles upon a man's legs, if his legs are sore, will pain him more. If the shoulder is sore, the burden is the greater. It is because your heart is so unsound that your affliction is so great to you."

My husband and I did an experiment this summer. The A/C in our car is broken. We cannot afford to fix it and so knew we faced a hot summer of discomfort. We determined not to allow ourselves the luxury of complaining and see what happened. What we found was, we got used to the heat and barely minded it at all. Vocalizing complaints feeds and strengthens inward discontent. Your murmuring makes it worse. Haven't you ever noticed that the more people complain, the more miserable they are and the more they find to complain about? Murmuring is a vicious cycle.

VIII. One that is discontent may then say, "But however you may lessen my affliction, yet I am sure it is far greater than the affliction of others."

1. "It may be it is your discontent that makes it greater, when indeed it is not so in itself."

Have you ever found yourself in a situation, complaining, only to find the person you're complaining to has a much greater problem than you, but is smiling, full of joy, and not complaining at all? Those are the humbling moments you should bring to mind when you find yourself thinking, "Nobody knows my pain".

And when all else fails, consider Job
.

2. "If it were greater than others', why is your eye evil because the eye of God is good?"
(The "evil eye" is the eye of envy, which we studied earlier in this chapter. Remember "Envy stares.") Take a moment to read Matthew 20:1-16 - the parable of the workers in the vineyard.

"Why should you be discontented the more because God is gracious to others?"

3. "Is your affliction greater than others? The in this you have an opportunity to honor God more than others."

Look to the examples of Corrie ten Boom, or Joni Eareckson Tada - or, of course, Job, the apostle Paul, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Think how their patient suffering magnified the glory of God in their lives. So should your suffering do in your life - magnify rather than minimize the glory God receives from you.

4. "If all the sorrows in the world were laid together in a heap, and you had but an equal share of them, your portion would be rather more than it is now for the present. And therefore do not complain that it is more than others', and murmur because of that."

We need to take a step back, out of our little headspace, and view our own suffering in relation to the suffering of the whole of humanity. From that vantage point, our complaints seem so small. This is one reason why it is so beneficial to read of the sufferings of the apostles, martyrs, and other great saints, and even the stories of history's great atrocities. It will also help your perspective to read Deuteronomy 28 in its entirety, and find out, from the mouth of God, what treatment those who disobey Him really deserve.

VIII. A discontented person may think "that if the affliction were any other than it is, then they would be more contented."

1. "Know that we are not to chose our own rod, that God shall beat us with."

If you're anything like me, this statement does not sit well with you on first reading. I'm sure I'm not alone in being unaccustomed to such harsh language. But, as usual, Burroughs is not speaking out of turn. Once again I found the Scripture to be on his side:
"It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." Hebrews 12:7-11
Like it or not, God uses corporal punishment, and we do not get to determine His methods.

2. "It may be that if it were any other than it is, it would not be so suitable for you as this is."

Take a moment to think of the difficulties which afflict or have afflicted you most in your life. Know that God is working in you to make you a "partaker of his holiness". Prayerfully seek to discover how your particular trials are carefully suited to correct your particular areas of sin and weakness. Looking at trials in this way is a sound approach to spiritual growth during suffering.

3. "Know that this is the excellence of grace in a Christian, to be fitted for any condition; not only to say, if it were this or that, but if it were any."

As A.W. Pink puts it in, The Seven Saying of the Saviour on the Cross:
"It is our privilege to enjoy communion with God at all times, irrespective of outward circumstances or conditions. Communion with God is by faith, and is not affected by the things of sight. No matter how unpleasant your outward lot may be...it is your unspeakable privilege to enjoy communion with God. Just as the three Hebrews enjoyed fellowship with the Lord in the midst of the fiery furnace, as Daniel did in the lions' den, as Paul and Silas did in the Philippian jail, as the Saviour did on the Cross, so may you wherever you are!"
4. "Know that the Lord has rewards and crowns for all graces, and for honoring him in all conditions." (See Matthew 19:27-30.)

IX. One that is discontent may say, "Oh, but the condition that God has put me in, makes me unserviceable, and this troubles me."
"It is a good sign of grace for a man to account afflictions as great because he can do the Lord but little service....But yet there may be a temptation in this. To murmur at God's disposal...is many times a temptation to those who are poor, those who are servants and those who are of weak gifts, and must work hard to provide bread for their families. It is many times a grievous burden to them to think: The Lord uses other men in public service and I live in an obscure way, and to what purpose is my life."
This is a sentiment to which I can easily relate, and Burroughs offers several helps to keep folks in this situation from murmuring:

1. Remember that "though your condition is low and mean, yet you are in the Body, you are a member of the Body....It is better to be the meanest in the body, than to be the highest and most important member and cut off from the body..."

Take a moment to be encouraged by 1 Cor. 2: 12-27.

2. Remember, "though you have only a mean calling in this world, and so are not regarded as a man of use in the world; yet if you are a Christian, God has called you to a higher calling. Your general calling is a high calling, though your particular calling is but low and mean."
"You who perhaps spend your time in a poor business, in the meanest calling, if you are a dung-raker, to rake channels, or to clean places of filth, or any other thing in the world that is the meanest that can be conceived of, your general calling as a Christian advances you higher than any particular calling can advance any man in the world."
Those words are music to ears like mine. In addition to selling books, I make part of my living cleaning other people's houses. A few weeks back, I had occasion to look in one of my old high school yearbooks. In the section that was known to us as "senior superlatives", for the sake of humor, they pictured the honorees doing the opposite of what honor was bestowed upon them. In one, the boy and girl voted most likely to succeed were photographed in the janitor's closet of the school holding mops and buckets. Cleaning up after others was the lowest thing these youngsters could imagine doing for a living. And here I am...former honor student... And yet I know God has placed me where I am, and is glorified in what I do. I love my work and look at it as a gift from God.

3. Remember "you are in a high calling...for the Scripture says that the angels come to understand the mystery of the Gospel by the church."

"...and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things. So that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him." Eph. 3:9-12

"Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ was in them indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look." 1 Peter 1:10-12

4. Remember "your calling is low and mean; yet do not be discontented with that, for you have a principle within you...of grace....faith raises your works which are but mean and raises them to be very glorious."
"As Luther speaks of a poor milkmaid who is a believer, and does her work in faith: he compares that action to all the glorious actions of Caesar, and makes it a great deal more eminent and glorious in the eyes of God. Therefore faith raises your works which are but mean, and raises them to be very glorious."
It can be even more glorifying to God to submit to Him in a low position than a high one. To be joyous in a low calling is a far greater evidence of the sufficiency of Christ than to be joyous in a calling which rewards one with great earthly honors. As we learn from the story of Job, no one will be truly convinced of our love for God unless they witness it in the absence of worldly benefits.

5. Remember, "when the Lord comes to reward, he does not examine what work men and women have been exercised in, but what their faithfulness has been."
"God looks to a man's faithfulness, and you may have as great a reward for your faithfulness who are a poor servant in the kitchen all the day, as another who sits upon the throne all day...the Lord does not so much look at the work that is done, as at the faithfulness of our hearts in doing it."
X. Another excuse one may use for remaining discontent is that the condition is so unsettled, that it wouldn't be so bad if it weren't changing all the time.

Have you ever heard such words from your own lips: "If I could just get a chance to catch my breath!" or "It's always something, just when I get used to things the way they are something else comes along"? To this kind of thinking, our author gives three arguments:

1. Remember that man, even at his most settled, is vanity.

"Behold, thou hast made my days as a handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: Verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity."
Psalm 39:5 (KJV)

Consider also James 4:13-17. Scripture warns us that there is really no such thing, in this life, as being settled. Even the most staid, "secure", individuals are but vapor.

2. Remember that it is better for your soul "to live in a continual dependence upon him, and not to know what your condition shall be on the morrow..."

"Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." Matthew 6:31-34

Under this point Burroughs reminds us that the Lord taught us only to pray for our "daily bread". He then gives us the beautiful illustration of the difference between the land of Canaan and the land of Egypt, how in the promised land they would not be able to depend upon the great Nile river and their ability to harness its water. Rather, they would have to live in a more conscious dependence upon God and the rain He would send from heaven. (See Deut. 11:10-12.)
"...when a soul lives in mere dependency upon God, so that sensibly he sees that God has advantage of him every moment, Oh, then such a soul will pay toll and custom, that soul exercises faith, and begs every day his daily bread; but if God hedges that man about with wealth, with prosperity - perhaps an inheritance falls to him, perhaps he has a constant office that brings in so much yearly to him duly paid - he is not so sensible now of his dependence upon God, and he begins now to pay less toll and custom to God than before. God has less service from this man now than before. God sees it better for his people to live in a dependent condition. We are very loath in respect of God to be dependent, we would all be independents in this way, we would be dependent upon ourselves and have no dependence upon the Lord, but God sees it better for us to live in a depending condition."
Oh, how we detest being in the position of having to trust in God!

3. Remember that "though for outward things you are mightily unsettled, yet for the great things of your soul and eternal welfare there you are settled."
"...in the covenant of works God gave man a stock to trade with, but he put it into his hand, so that he might trade, and gain or lose; but in the Covenant of grace, God makes sure: the stock is kept in the hand of Christ, and we must go to him for supply continually, for Christ keeps the stock. Perhaps we may trifle away something in our trading, but God takes care that we never spend the stock. It is as when a man's son goes bankrupt, having squandered away the capital that he gave him before; afterwards he puts his capital into a friend's hand, and says, 'You shall keep the stock and it shall not be at his disposal.' So we are in a more settled condition in respect of our eternal estate than Adam was in innocence. Therefore let that comfort us in all our unsettled conditions in the matters of the world."
See Ephesians 1:11-14

XI. "If I had never been in a better condition then I could bear this affliction, if God had always kept me in such a low condition, I could be content."

No doubt you're familiar with the sentiment, upon seeing someone who is in a bad condition but who seems content with it: "Well", you think to yourself, "of course they're happy like that, they've never known anything different." And that may be true. The blind person doesn't know what it's like to see, and so can't miss it. And so with the deaf, and so with the life-long poor. I would argue, however, that even such people are aware that there are others in different conditions and can find plenty of their own excuses for grumbling. But Burroughs has a few arguments of his own:

1. "For is your eye evil because God has been good to you heretofore?...Has God done you any wrong because he was formerly more good to you than he was to others?"

When you grumble in this manner, you are accusing God of wrongdoing - either in letting you be in a better circumstance before, or in a lesser one now.

2. "Did God give you more prosperity before? It was to prepare you for afflictions.
We should look at all our outward prosperity as a preparation for afflictions. If you had done so, then it would not have been so difficult for you to endure afflictions now."

Instead of complaining, we Christians should be thinking in this way:
"Have I wealth now? I should prepare for poverty. Have I health now? I should prepare for sickness. Have I liberty? Let me prepare myself for imprisonment. How do I know what God may call me to? Have I comfort and peace now in my conscience, does God shine upon me? While I have this let me prepare for God's withdrawing from me. Am I delivered from temptations? Let me prepare now for the time of temptations....In your calm you are to prepare for storms, and the storm will be less."
XII. "Oh, but after I have taken a great deal of pains for this comfort, yet then I am thwarted in it. To be thwarted now after all the labour and pains I have taken, oh, this goes very hard."

In other words, "I've worked and planned so hard for this thing, and now I've been thwarted. How can you expect me to be content after all that?" Burroughs gives three answers to that question:

1. "The greater the cross, the more obedience and submission."
2. "Did you take pains with resolutions that you must have such a thing when you laboured for it? Then know that you did not labour as a Christian...And what did you aim at in your labor? Was it not that you might walk with God in the place where God has set you? A Christian should do so in his outward calling: I am diligent in my outward calling, but it is so that I might obey God in it."
3. "There will be more testimony of your love to God, if so be that you now yield up yourself to God in what cost you dear. 'Shall I offer that to God', said David, 'that cost me nothing?'"

XIII. And now, the final insidious plea for permission to grumble and to be allowed to wallow in discontent. This one sounds quite noble - so stoic: "Though I confess that my affliction is somewhat hard, and I feel some trouble within me, yet I thank God I do not break out in discontented ways to the dishonor of God; I keep it in, although I have much ado with my own heart."

Since beginning our study, and becoming aware of what discontent looks like, have you not found yourself from time to time congratulating yourself in this way? "I keep it in. I still do the work required of me. Nobody's hearing any complaints from me." This is the voice of the Pharisee within. The deceitful heart hopes to be rewarded for its exemplary self-control by being permitted to continue its inward, quiet sinning. It hopes to convince itself that it is permissible to be in sin so long as it doesn't show, and it pretends to be glorifying God by "thanking Him" for the ability to cover it up. "The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed, thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men..." men who's sins are visible on the outside. (See Luke 18:10)

As Burroughs says, "if you do not mortify that inward sullenness, when you are afflicted a little more, it will break forth at last." If you are a child of God, you can be sure that God will not let your sin go undisciplined. He will do what it takes to return you to a place of humility. He will have you holy.

2 comments:

Lisa notes... said...

Great job, Laurie! Again, I love that you have tied in scriptures to test what Burroughs is saying.

The car A/C experiment is wonderful. Not "allowing yourself the luxury of complaining" is so aptly phrased. You are right that vocalizing our complaints feeds our discontent.

Doing this study has made me more aware not only of my own complaints, but also those of others. So just when I was thinking, "At least nobody hears me complain as much as that other person!", you hit me with # 13 - thinking it but not saying it still counts as discontent.

Thanks!

Laurie M. said...

When I first read through this book, I became acutely aware of how much of what we call polite conversation involves complaining. Checkers at the market, tellers at the bank, everywhere you go someone's complaining about something. Then you hear it coming out of your own mouth and listen to the voice of your own soul...and God hears it ALL, from us all, even the the complaints never spoken. What it must sound like to Him - a cacophony of muttering against Him rising up from the face of this planet! He truly is longsuffering!