Archive for the ‘Contentment’ Category

A Little Help?

Posted: July 30, 2012 by clairer in Contentment, Prayer

When I was six or seven years old, my Sunday School teacher used to tell us to pray with our hands open and outstretched so that we could “accept God’s blessings.” The problem was, when we finished praying, my hands were always still empty. So much for receiving God’s blessings. One week, I had had enough, so I came up with a brilliant plan. While we prayed with eyes closed, I held out my one hand — open and outstretched — but then used the other to slide my quarter for my tithe offering into my open hand. Then, when I opened my eyes – voila! There was a quarter there! I was so smug and proud of myself. There you go, God, I thought to myself, I helped you out…this time.

Obviously, it wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that my Sunday School teacher didn’t expect money to magically appear in my hands and that the blessings I was praying to receive weren’t necessarily coming in the form of quarters or any other type of money. Now that I’m older, I obviously don’t think I need to help God out answering my prayers…or do I?

Over the past twelve or thirteen years, it’s true, I no longer put quarters into my hands during church to substitute for God’s blessings. But I think little kids often reflect the same things that we do as adults…we just hide it better now.

The Bible is full of stories about people who felt that they needed to “help God out” in fulfilling the promises that He made to them. Sarah, for example, told her husband Abraham that the heir that God promised to him would have to come through her slave, Hagar, since she herself was too old. Saul, when preparing to go into battle against the Philistines, offered sacrifices to God himself after giving up on waiting for Samuel to come to perform the sacrifices on his behalf. Aaron and the Israelites chose to make a golden calf “god” after waiting for a long time for Moses to return from meeting with God on Mount Sinai.

In all of these instances, things didn’t turn out so well for those who lost patience, and on this side of our Bibles, it often looks foolish for these people to have taken matters into their own hands. God had just promised Abraham many descendents in Genesis 15! How could Sarah lose faith by Genesis 16? It was only one chapter!

But, all of these individuals were tested by waiting – whether it was seven days or ten years – and all of them ultimately failed to wait patiently. They decided that God needed some help…just like me with my quarter.

I think we all still do that today, even as “fully modern” adults. We pray for something – maybe direction or provision – and when we seemingly get no answer, we lose patience and take matters into our own hands. This is the basic idea behind the old saying that “God helps those who help themselves.”

And while it’s true that, to an extent, we shouldn’t sit back and expect God to plop plans and provisions into our laps while we lounge on the couch and watch TV, I think we often lose patience with waiting on God far too easily.

As Christians, we need to cling to the truth that God never misses our prayers like we tend to miss calls or emails. He hears each and every one of our prayers and he answers them all. Sometimes He gives us an immediate yes or no. Other times (and more often than not), though, it’s simply “wait.”

God isn’t making a mistake when He tells us to wait. It’s not like He is caught off-guard by our requests and has to make up His mind while we wait. God’s timing is perfect and He will move in His timing, not ours. In the meantime, God uses that waiting time. That waiting teaches us to trust His plan. It builds our faith in Him as we put aside our plans and our timing in favor of His.

Is it fun to wait? No…not usually. But it’s worth it. God’s plan and timing is always better than our cheap substitutes. God answers our prayers in ways that we can’t even imagine. He doesn’t need our help. We just often need to be content to leave our outstretched hands empty until He chooses to fill them His way.

Our Daily Grace

Posted: May 31, 2012 by clairer in Contentment, Trusting God, Worry

I was a high school junior and I desperately wanted to attend Furman University. The problem, though, was…finances. Furman cost a fortune and the only way that I was going to be able to go there after graduating was if I qualified for a scholars program that winter. Another problem: my SAT score was 50 points short of the threshold for the scholars program. Fifty points isn’t an unrealistic jump between the first and second times testing, so I had high hopes when I retook the SAT that winter. My whole future rested on that test. I needed those points or…the world would end (for me at least).

Two weeks later, at 7am, my mom came into my room to tell me my results: my score fell 100 points. That was it…I couldn’t go to my dream school. I should have been devastated. My mom fully expected me to dissolve into tears on the spot. But…I was strangely at peace. I couldn’t explain it. I suppose it was the “peace that surpasses all understanding.” Had someone asked me a week earlier how I expected to react if I didn’t get those 50 points, that was definitely not what I expected. But, this was just one example of something that I’ve seen over and over again throughout the years: God gives us grace to weather storms when they come, not before they do.

It’s so easy to worry about the future – especially about big decisions like college, employment, or marriage. I can’t count how many hours I’ve probably spent thinking and rethinking my future plans. My friends like to laugh at me because my college course schedule has changed probably about a dozen times in my first two years of college. I’ve worried about both likely and unlikely circumstances: what if I fail my classes?…What if I get stuck in a boring job?…What if I become chronically ill? Sometimes I’m not sure how I’d manage to cope if things in my life began to fall apart.

However, one of my pastors once had a wonderful piece of advice for me about worry. He told me that worry is pointless because we’re stressing about something that God has not given us grace for yet.

Corrie ten Boom told a story in her book The Hiding Place about a conversation with her father when she was a little girl:

“Daddy, I am afraid that I will never be strong enough to be a martyr for Jesus Christ.”

“Tell me,” said Father, “When you take a train trip to Amsterdam, when do I give you the money for the ticket? Three weeks before?”

“No, Daddy, you give me the money for the ticket just before we get on the train.”

“That is right,” my father said, “and so it is with God’s strength. Our Father in Heaven knows when you will need the strength to be a martyr for Jesus Christ. He will supply all you need – just in time…”  

Corrie was highlighting precisely what I felt that morning when I found out I could no longer go to my “dream college.” I couldn’t explain the peace that I felt that morning, but I know for sure that that peace was the strength and grace of God that arrived precisely when I needed it. God never promised that we would get everything that we wanted, but He did promise that He would comfort us and would help us to make it through the difficult times. It’s like what Jesus said to his disciples when he cautioned them about persecution, “On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say.” (Mat. 10:18-19)

When we worry about things before they come, we’re wasting our energy. God gives us the peace and comfort just in time. He supplies our daily grace.

How’s Life?

Posted: October 5, 2011 by clairer in Contentment, God's Faithfulness, God's Goodness, Trusting God

As I sat in a corner booth of my college’s dining hall, hunched over a 2-inch binder full of Supreme Court cases to memorize, I glanced up to see a friend of mine slip into the booth across from me. “How’s life treating you?” she asked as she sat down. How was I supposed to answer that? I had three midterms and a paper coming up within hours of each other this week and I was sick….how did she think life was treating me? As I bit back complaints about my exhaustion, busyness, and sickness, it occurred to me that I was looking at this question from the wrong perspective. My outlook shouldn’t have been, “How is life treating me?” Life is busy, chaotic, and far from perfect. But that’s not what matters. A better way to view this question was, “How is God treating me?”

When I mentally rephrased my friend’s question this way, my whole attitude and perspective on my life drastically shifted. I went from thinking about all the things wrong or hard in my life, to thinking about how many things were undeservedly right in my life?

How is God treating me?

He is treating me with love. He, a holy and just God, is viewing me, a rebellious sinner, through the lens of the righteousness of His Son because He loved me enough to send His son to die for me!

He is treating me with undeserved grace. I am attending a strong Christian college where I can devote myself to studying the things I love. He has surrounded me with caring friends and a loving family. He has given me generally good health, a wonderful church, and a range of opportunities. What did I do to deserve such favor? Nothing. Yet God is gracious and gives these things to me.

He is treating me with faithfulness. Before my tests, I knew that He would grant me the strength that I needed to study. During the tests, I knew He would faithfully give me remembrance. After the tests, I knew that He would grant me rest. And no matter what happened in each test, I knew that He would still be there for me when I cried to Him in prayer.

How has God been treating me? He has been treating me with goodness, kindness, and mercy.

It was with this realization that my perspective was drastically reordered. All those problems that I had to complain about earlier seemed pretty petty all of a sudden. Really, I realized, life can’t treat me that badly, because God is that good.

The Gift of the Present

Posted: July 16, 2011 by clairer in Contentment, Joy

“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Philippians 4:12

I’m a planner. I like thinking about my future: things that I want to do in my next semester at college, where I will be a year from now, and what my long-term future will hold. I like having my life scheduled out. My daily planner is full of multi-colored notes on what I’ll do each day and I enjoy making, remaking, and rearranging spreadsheets with my possible course sequence for my next few years of college.

But is there a problem with this? Isn’t planning ahead a good thing? Well, yes and no. The problem surfaces when I spend so much time contemplating the future and planning my life that I forget to throw myself whole-heartedly into the present — when I forget to treasure the conversations I’m having, the activities I’m participating in, or the time I’m spending with family and friends now in anticipation of things coming up in the months and years ahead. It’s an issue of contentment.

God has given us the circumstances, challenges, joys, and trials of each and every day of our lives. He has put these circumstances in our lives to help us to grow. Romans 5:3-5 says, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Our challenges in life produce endurance, character, and hope. Our challenges should not be wished away or overlooked in anticipation of the future, but should be embraced as ways for us to learn and grow.

If we spend time and attention planning and contemplating our futures, we are distracted from the present circumstances God has placed around us. If we are distracted from those circumstances, we will not be investing as thoroughly in the friends surrounding us, or embracing the opportunities available to us, or discerning lessons we should be learning.

Not only will we be missing opportunities currently available in our lives by constantly planning ahead, but we will also be investing in something we have no guarantee of. Whether or not we want to think about it, we have no guarantee of tomorrow. The only thing we can be sure to experience is the present. Jesus warns about this in a parable:

The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him,’Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be? (Luke 12:16-20)

While I have much to learn about walking this out in my own life, I’m seeing that it is important to invest in what I have right now: the present. There is much value in planning and preparing for the future, but I shouldn’t forget to be content with (and enjoy!) where God has placed me currently.