How to attain contentment

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 12)

Finally, if you've been following along, this is the moment you've been waiting for. We're going to begin some positive instruction. Though I think we've been learning all the way through, Burroughs is finally, in these final two chapters, going to sum up with some practical application. As you move forward in life, I would recommend referring back to these chapters from time to time for review and encouragement.

Having the foundation already laid, I'll be covering a lot of ground, and will only devote a brief amount of space to each point. Each point simply builds on our previous lessons and so this section has the feel of a review, or a summing up.

I. Considerations to content the heart in any afflicted condition:
(By "considerations" he means literally "things to consider" or "things to mediate on".

1. Think about "the greatness of the mercies that we have, and the meanness of the things that we lack."
"For the most part, the things for the want of which people are discontented and murmur are such things as reprobates have, or may have. Why should you be troubled so much for the want of something which a man or woman may have and yet be a reprobate?"
"But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith - that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead." Philippians 3:7-11

2. "Consider that God is beforehand with us with his mercies."
"I remember reading of a good man who had lived to fifty years of age and enjoyed his health for eight and forty years exceedingly well, and lived in prosperity, but the last two years his body was exceedingly diseased, he had the strangury [a disorder of the urinary tract causing slow, painful urination], and was in great pain. But he reasoned that case with himself thus: 'Oh Lord, you might have made all my life a life of torment and pain, but you have let me have eight and forty years in health. I will praise your mercies for what I have had and will praise your justice for what I now feel.'...We should bless God for what we have had, and not think that we are worse because we have had thus and thus."
3. Consider "the abundance of mercies that God bestows and we enjoy."

Here Burroughs quotes Luther as saying, "The sea of God's mercies should swallow up all our particular afflictions."
"If you pour a pailful of water on the floor of your house, it makes a great show, but if you throw it into the sea, there is no sign of it. So afflictions considered in themselves, we think are very great, but let them be considered with the sea of God's mercies we enjoy, and then they are not so much, they are nothing in comparison."
4. "Consider the way of God towards all creatures."
"...seeing God has so ordered things with all creatures, that there is a mixture of conditions, why should we think it much that there should be a vicissitude of conditions with us, sometimes in a way of prosperity, and sometimes in a way of affliction?"
Reflect awhile on Ecclesiates 3:1-11.

Consider also God's speech to Job, of His sovereignty over the conditions of His creatures. When Job considered these things he experienced a dramatic change in perspective. Listen to his response:
"I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, 'Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, 'I will question you and you shall answer Me.' I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes." Job 42:2-6

5. Consider that "creatures suffer for us; why should we not be willing to suffer, to be serviceable to God?"
"Certainly, there is not as great a distance between other creatures and mankind, as there is between mankind and God...What an abundance of alterations the creature undergoes to be made useful to me, to preserve me! Then, if God will do so with me for his use, as he subjects the creatures to me for my use, why should I not rest contented? If God will take away my wealth, and make me poor, if God will take away life, hack me to pieces, put me in prison - whatever he does, yet I shall not suffer more for God than the creature does for me."
Take a moment to read Romans 8:18-23. Truly creation groans because of mankind - as a result of our sins - not willingly. It should not then seem so out of order to us that we should find ourselves at times groaning as well.

6. Consider how little time we have in this world.
"...we have not long to live, it may be over before our days are at an end. But supposing it should not, death will put an end to all, all afflictions and troubles will soon be at an end by death."
"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

7. "Consider the condition that others have been in, who have been our betters."

He lists Jacob, Moses, Elijah, Elisha, and Jeremiah, and says, "it would be endless to name the particulars of the great sufferings of the people of God." He then refers to Luther, who died with nothing for his family to inherit. Then Musculus - a once notable reformer of whom I doubt many of us have heard, "Yet [he] was forced to dig in the common ditch to get bread for his family."
"But, above all, set Christ before us, who professes that the birds of the air had nests, and the foxes had holes, yet the Son of man had no place to hide his head, such a low condition was he in."
8. Consider "before your conversion, before God wrought upon your souls, you were contented with the world without grace, though you had no interest in God nor Christ; why cannot you now be contented with grace and spiritual things without the world? If you yourselves were contented with the world without grace, there is reason you should be content with grace without the world."

"And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in (E)the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in (R)Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "Uncircumcision" by the so-called "Circumcision," which is performed in the flesh by human hands--remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and (without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ." Eph. 2:1-13
9. Consider all the times when God has given you your desires yet you have not given Him the glory.

"I meet with crosses, but when I had contentment and all things coming in, God got but little or no glory from me, and therefore let that be a means now to quiet me in my discontented thoughts."

10. "Consider all the experience that you have had of God's doing good to you in the want of many comforts."
"God has made former afflictions to be great benefits to you, and that you would not have been without them, or without the good that came by them for a world, such experiences will exceedingly quiet the heart and bring it to contentment. Therefore think thus with yourself: Lord, why may not this affliction work as great a good upon me as afflictions have done before?"
Certainly the apostle Paul would agree: "Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Cor. 12:8-10 Paul recalled his "thorn in the flesh" experience and used it as a lesson to find contentment in the midst of infirmities and hardships, knowing God's strength would be perfected in him as a result.

"...your worst voyages have proved your best. When you have met with the greatest crosses in a voyage, God has been pleased to turn them to a greater good to you, in some other way."

Comments

Joel Radford said…
Laurie,
Great quote to be reminded of in your post: "If you pour a pailful of water on the floor of your house, it makes a great show, but if you throw it into the sea, there is no sign of it. So afflictions considered in themselves, we think are very great, but let them be considered with the sea of God's mercies we enjoy, and then they are not so much, they are nothing in comparison."

My thoughts may be found here:
http://reformedbookclub.blogspot.com/2009/08/rare-jewel-of-christian-contentment_31.html
:)

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