Sunday, September 6, 2009

How to attain contentment - concluded

The following is the final installment in Tim Challies' series Reading the Classics Together - The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. I've tried to make each post readable on its own, however I highly encourage your own study of this Puritan classic by Jeremiah Burroughs.
(Chapter 13)

Burroughs here closes his lessons with some final instructions to help us "come to attain this grace of contentment."

1. "All the rules and helps in the world will do us little good unless we get a good temper within our hearts...there is nothing outside us that can keep our hearts in a steady, constant way, but what is within us: grace is within the soul, and it will do this."

In short, apart from the grace of God at work in our hearts, we can never attain true Christian contentment. No matter what rules we set up and try to follow, they cannot change our heart. We need Christ. Without deep love and trust in Him, none of this is possible, and likely none of this would even seem desirable.

2. "If you would get a contented life, do not grasp too much of the world, do not take in more of the business of the world than God calls you to...if a man goes among thorns, when he may take a simpler way, he has no reason to complain that he is pricked with them. You go among thorns - is it your way? Must you of necessity go among them? Then it is another matter. But if you voluntarily choose that way, when you may go another, then you have no cause to complain. If men and women will thrust themselves on things of the world which they do not need, then no wonder that they are pricked. For such is the nature of all things here in this world, that everything has some prick or other in it....those who have least to do in the world, that is, unless God calls them to it,...are likely to meet with many things that will dissatisfy them."

"Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs." 1 Tim. 6:6-10

3. "Be sure of your call to every business you go about."
"Nothing in the world will quiet the heart so much as this: when I meet with any cross, I know I am where God would have me, in my place and calling; I am about the work that God has set me."
4. Here we have an extension of point #3: "That I walk by the rule in the work that I am called to."

"I must walk by the Word, order myself in this business according to God's mind as far as I am able. Now add this to the other, and then the quiet and peace of the soul may be made even perfect in a way....be willing to be serviceable to God yourself and God makes all things in the world your servants, for so they are...There is nothing in the world but, says God, it shall work for your good, and be serviceable to you, if you will be serviceable to me."

In other words, be doing God's work in God's way. Do what He has called you to in a manner that is obedient to the rule of Scripture.

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together
for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28

5. "Exercise much faith..."
"...when reason is at a nonplus, then set faith at work....Exercise faith, not only in the promise that all shall work together for good to them that fear God, but likewise exercise faith in God himself; as well as in his Word, in the attributes of God....Exercise faith by often resigning yourself to God, by giving yourself up to God and his ways. The more you in a believing way surrender up yourself to God, the more quiet and peace you will have."

6. "Labour to be spiritually minded. That is, be often in meditation of the things that are above....
"...the reason why we are so troubled with our nakedness, with any wants that we have, is because we converse so little with God, so little with spiritual things; conversing with spiritual things would lift us above the things of the world."

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you." Phil. 4:6-9

7. "Do not promise yourselves too much beforehand; do not reckon on too great things."

"So Paul says, 'If we have but meat and drink and clothing, let us be therewith content.' He did not soar too high aloft. Those who look at high things in the world meet with disappointments, and so they come to be discontented...One who creeps low cannot fall far, but it is those who are on high whose fall bruises them most. That is a good rule; do not promise yourselves great things, neither aim at any great things in the world."
I've got to say, this goes against everything I've ever been taught - ever. It's downright un-American. But am I going to choose the American Dream over the Kingdom of God? My true citizenship is in heaven. It is right for me to seek great eternal rewards, by investing my energies in the kingdom. It is a waste of all I've been given in this life if I invest it in this life. "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?" (Mt. 16:26) And if it is truly so hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, why, oh, why would I devote my energies to enriching myself? And if the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil, why would I risk flirting with that damnable thing? No, "It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant..." (Mt. 20:26) A servant is one who lives to be at the beck and call of others, not to serve oneself. So, let us set our hearts to serve, and we will never be disappointed.

8. "Labor to get your hearts mortified to the world, dead to the world."

"So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." (Rom. 8:12-14)

"If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them." (Col. 3:1-7)

"Let afflictions and troubles find you with a mortified heart to the world, and they will not break your bones; those whose bones are broken by crosses and afflictions are those who are alive to the world, who are not dead to the world. But no afflictions or troubles will break the bones of one who has a mortified heart and is dead to the world; that is they will not be very grievous or painful to such a one as is mortified to the world."
9. Do not pore too much upon your afflictions.

In other words, don't stew!
"It is just with them as with a child who has a sore; his finger is always on the sore; so men's and women's thoughts are always on their afflictions. When they awake in the night their thoughts are on their afflictions, and when they converse with others - it may be even when they are praying to God - they are thinking of their afflictions. Oh, no marvel that you live a discontented life, if your thoughts are always poring over such things. You should rather labour to have your thoughts on those things that may comfort you....that may stir up our thankfulness to God for mercies."
10. "Make a good interpretation of God's ways towards you."

For example:
"You should think thus: it may be, God intends only to try me by this, it may be, God saw my heart was too much set on the creature, and so he intends to show me what is in my heart, it may be, that God saw that if my wealth did continue, I should fall into sin, that the better my position were the worse my soul would be, it may be, God intended only to exercise some grace, it may be, God intends to prepare me for some great work which he has for me: thus you should reason."
Now, you may be wondering what grounds we have to put such constructions on events. I would say Scripture expects us to. God has made it clear that the plans He has for His people are good. So this is the way that our faith in God and His promises would lead us to interpret our experiences, especially our troubles.

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil," to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:10-11

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." Romans 8:28-29

So look for the ways in which your circumstances are designed for your good - specifically the ways in which they may work to conform you to into the image of Christ. "...retain good thoughts of God, take heed of judging God to be a hard master, make good interpretations of his ways, and that is a special means to help you to contentment in all one's course."

11. "Do not so much regard the fancies of other men, as what indeed you feel yourselves."

This, I think, is one of the best points in this entire book, and one of the finest considerations to help you regain contentment when you've let it slip away:
"We think poverty to be such a great evil - Why? because it is so esteemed by others, rather than that people feel it so themselves, unless they are in an extremity of poverty....almost all the discontent in the world is rather from the fancies others than from the evil that is on themselves. You may think your wealth to be small and you are thereupon discontented, and it is a grievous affliction to you; but if all men in the world were poorer than you, then you would not be discontented, then you would rejoice in your estates though you had not a penny more than you have....if all the men in the world looked upon you as happy, more happy than themselves, then you would be contented. Oh, do not let your happiness depend upon the fancies of other men."
We are discontent because we are measuring ourselves by others, comparing ourselves to one another and allowing what we see to become the standard for our contentment. We are more concerned about what others think of us than what God thinks of us so let others determine for us what should make us happy.

12. "Be not inordinately taken up with the comforts of this world when you have them."
"It is a certain rule: however inordinate any man or woman is in sorrow when a comfort is taken from them, so were they immoderate in their in their rejoicing in the comfort when they had it...the way for you not to be immoderate in your sorrow for afflictions is not to be immoderate in your love and delights when you have prosperity."
He goes on to speak of dreadful losses, which were much more common to the average person in his day than in ours - losses of children and spouses. In that day no one took for granted that a child would live to adulthood, that a wife would survive childbirth, or that whole households wouldn't be lost to plague. Perhaps the temptation is even greater in our times of relative health and prosperity to invest our souls too deeply in the human gifts God gives us. To sink our entire future's happiness into a husband or a child, in such a manner that we refuse to accept the love of God for us should He take them away, is idolatry. And lest you think I'm speaking to strongly, or out of turn, let me appeal to the authority of Scripture:

"Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." Matthew 10:37-39

We've spent several weeks on this study of contentment, and at the end of it I echo the sentiments of Mr. Burroughs:
"I have spent many sermons over this lesson of contentment, but I am afraid that you will be longer in learning it than I have been preaching it; it is a harder thing to learn it than it is to preach or speak of it....this lesson of Christian contentment is as hard, and perhaps you may be many years learning it....But God forbid that it should be said of any of us concerning this lesson, as the Apostle says of widows, in Timothy. That they were ever learning and never came to the knowledge of the truth."
And to this I respond with a hearty AMEN.

5 comments:

Lisa notes... said...

Nice wrap-up. I actually went ahead and finished reading the book myself. But not up on the posts yet. :-) So I enjoyed reading your synopsis.

It's been very enlightening to have your posts to read alongside each chapter.

I hope I'll do like you, and re-read this book again and again. Definitely worthwhile in growing in godliness.

Laurie M. said...

Thank Lisa. I've enjoyed reading along with you and getting acquainted. I'll continue to check in on your blog and see what you're up to. I'll be doing a study through Edwards' book Charity and it's Fruits next month. Feel free to participate via the blog, or just follow along with the posts, which will be similar to this series. I look at it as a study of Christian love, using Edwards' book as the text. So, like with the Rare Jewel, there will be material added to the study beyond just a reading of the text. So it becomes more of a topical Bible study/book study.

I pray the Lord blesses it. I can't think of anything more urgent in our Christian lives and witness than love. I know I need to grow - so much - in this area, which is why I chose this topic.

Lisa notes... said...

Laurie,
I've enjoyed getting acquainted with you also!

I do plan on reading the Edwards' book at the same time as you. Is there a particular edition that you would recommend? I'm looking at Amazon, and there are many different ones to choose from...

Laurie M. said...

That would be great! I'm using the Banner of Truth edition.

Lisa notes... said...

Thanks. I've got that one ordered now!