Chewing this week on contentment…inner contentment. So much of my life has been energized by its opposite. I find fault with you. I find fault with me. I’m poised like a watchdog to sniff out error, to bark an alert (or at least to growl) when I find it. I feel compelled to be different, to be better, to be something I am not… I struggle in the Potter’s hand with ‘why did you make me like this?’ I’ve too often confused this with being ‘spiritual’. You know, aren’t we to be restless pilgrims always seeking ‘Higher Ground’, gaining new heights every day?
Growing up in a spiritual climate where a second distinct work of grace was pre-requisite to being really spiritual no doubt contributed to my propensity toward discontent. It did seem there was more striving than rest, more working to look holy than to exude it from within. We were a bunch of tee-totallers seeking the land of ‘corn and wine’* earnestly. But in that searching I learned to foster discontent as a valid motivation for growth. Is it?
I’ve been challenged to re-think this (again) lately. I came upon a sage perspective in Authentic Faith**:
“The Christian classics talk about a ‘soul sadness’ or ‘inquietude’ that comes about when we proudly demand a state of character development that we do not yet possess. Though pursuing holiness seems to be—and, in fact, is—a noble aim, and wanting to experience greater depth in holiness appears to be—and, in fact, is—a godly pursuit, it’s possible that our desire for increased growth may be fueled by pride, ambition, and self-interest—and our attitude as we wait is often the best indicator of what our true motivation is.”
Hmm… He continues:
“True holiness is pursued with ‘patience, meekness, humility, and tranquility”. [ I am reminded of Jesus’ own words in inviting me to come to Him in Matthew 11:28, ‘for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.’] Without these qualities in our quest we risk ‘fatiguing’ our souls, “landing us in a season of great distress and spiritual anguish.” (DeSales)
Yes, I’m all ears at this point…
“An overzealous pursuit of character transformation can actually work against us rather than for us.” Our uneasiness and agitation “proceeds from an inordinate desire of being delivered from the evil which we feel, or of acquiring the good which we desire: and yet there is nothing which tends more to increase evil, and to prevent the enjoyment of good, than an unquiet mind.”(Thomas,44 quoting Francis DeSales’ Introduction to the Devout Life,307)
Thomas concludes by saying:
“In general, our pursuit of holiness should be a patient pursuit. We grow best living in a pool of spiritual serenity. Instead of a frantic and desperate clutching, we should adopt a patient waiting and a hopeful expectation: ‘Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.’ (Jude 21)”(Thomas,45)
We’re given the example of the farmer who “waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.” (James 5:7) There’s no rushing this process. I think too of St Francis’ prayer:
“Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Serenity will remain illusive if my focus is on things I cannot change. Changing the things I can will require faith and wisdom to tell the two apart.
But best of all, I’m meditating on these enticing words of David: “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” (Ps.131:2) And I am drawn again to this elusive rest that is my birthright. (Heb.4:9) It starts with trust (Lord I believe. Help my unbelief!), trusting God at His Word– that He is indeed at work in me to make me both willing and able to do his pleasure. “For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases Him.” (Phil.2:13 NLT)
Will I put aside my introspective ‘temperature-taking’ and rest in His care, His timing, and His methods to bring me to Christlikeness? Today he beckons: “If you hear His voice do not harden your hearts.” (Heb.4:7) ‘Strive to enter that rest’…’with confidence draw near to the throne of grace for mercy and grace to help in time of need’…(Heb.4:7,11,16) “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform [it] until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil.1:6)
And my soul answers YES! By faith I will trust my Shepherd to lead me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake (Ps.23).
And in response He whispers, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Ex.33:14)
I just love that about God’s Word. Not only do we serve a living God but His Word is living and active. He speaks still. And I am encouraged again to trust, calmed and quiet beside Him.
Blessings to you as you make your own pilgrimage. Thanks for walking along with me. May God grant you grace and glory along the way… “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep,…equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen! (Heb.13:20,21)
*See the hymn: “Beulah Land” by Edgar Stites
**Authentic Faith is by Gary Thomas, 2002