Friday, January 27, 2012

Confidence & Contentment

There is a passage that has been following me around the past week. It has given me a lot to think about, but even in my meditations on it, I feel as if I have barely scratched the surface of understanding this Scripture as a practical reality.

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
(1 John 5:14-15 ESV)

To have confidence in someone means you must know and trust them on a very intimate level. You know they won't fail you because they have shown themselves to be trustworthy. As I thought about this, I asked myself if I truly know the heart of my God towards His children. Well, obviously, yes. I feel I can honestly answer that because Scripture is very clear about God's character, which is fixed and eternal. We know Him to have no shadow of turning or change in His being. He truly is the same yesterday, today, and forever. In fact, one of my favorite psalms is #145 because it so clearly expresses how willing the Lord is to be the One who meets our every need and to work good in our lives. It's a psalm that I always find myself turning to when wrestling through a particular issue or struggle in my life. It's not a weighty battle to find out exactly who our Lord is. He has made Himself plain to us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Reading the Gospels alone should set us free of our doubts as to His character in the midst of our trials and struggles. So, I'm thinking, okay....check one, His character is so obviously trustworthy that our confidence towards Him should be without reserve!
However, there is the issue of asking Him according to His will so that He hears us. Or, so we might think there's an issue here. Praying according to will can be such a complex topic to cover. In the past, I have listened to so many various sermons on this and found myself spending more time trying to figure out how to pray for His will rather than actually praying for His will! One can imagine how exhausting and frustrating that can be. haha! Then, one day, John 15:1-5 became a living reality to me and, from that moment, there was no going back. You cannot pray the will and desires of someone that you do not know. As in any relationship, communion is vital to searching a person out. Even if it means spending time with that person in silence. I recently heard the preacher, Paul Washer, speak about this in a sermon called, "You Are Dearly Loved by God." He was preaching from the Song of Solomon and attempting to communicate the depth of the Lord's love not only for the Church as a whole, but for each particular soul that He has won. While stitching together the spiritual reality with the intimate and provocative poetry of the Song of Songs, he made a very interesting point. He was urging listeners to spend time alone with the Lord, but not to use the time to talk to God, to intercede, etc. In very strong words, he emphasized that we need to quiet ourselves before God and go to Him for Himself, His presence. He likened this to the relationship between him and his wife. He said that he put together a porch swing or hammock solely for the purpose of laying there with his wife resting over him, to swing back and forth in complete silence, completely swallowed up in the joy of simply being with her. That is all he wanted. It's amazing we don't grasp the simplicity of such a truth quicker. The image he painted of him and his wife, embracing a moment of silence and growing closer together through it, had such a profound effect on me. My first reaction was, "Ugh, if I could just get myself to shut up for one second, I could really find some happiness in the Lord's presence!" While that may be true, I have realized that even the Lord does not expect us to "get" this right away. As "simple" as Scripture truths are, there is the reality that we have to grow and mature into them. The Lord is patient with us (confidence in His character!) and takes us through barren and fruitful seasons of life to discover these things. Through those silent days of communing with Him, and through days of steady prayer and drinking deep from His Word, we will find ourselves beginning to grasp His will for us in fuller detail. It's through those times that His Word becomes personalized to us by the enlightening work of the Spirit within us. When Scripture is nestled in our soul and we pray His promises and words, we are praying His will. In searching Him out, we find that His will concerning our lives is not elusive. While there are countless passages that express His particular will for our lives, this is a small but specific list of ways that He calls us to live according to Romans 12:1-2, Eph 6:5-8, 1 Thess 4:3-7, 1 Thess 5:12-18, and Eph 5:15-17.

· Offer our bodies as living sacrifices.

· Not conform to pattern of this world.

· Be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

· Don't live foolishly, but wisely.

· Be obedient to our earthly masters

· Do all things as to the Lord rather than man.

· Be sanctified.

· Avoid sexual immorality.

· Control our bodies in a holy and honorable way.

· Don't defraud or take advantage of one another emotionally.

· Live holy lives.

· Respect our brothers and sisters in Christ, holding them in high regard.

· Live in peace with one another.

· Warn the idle.

· Encourage those who are timid.

· Help those who are weak.

· Be patient with everyone.

· Avoid revenge and be kind to one another.

· Always be joyful.

· Pray continually.

· Thank the Lord in all circumstances (especially the difficult ones).

This is how we should seek to live day to day, how we make decisions (job, education, etc), how we relate to others (unbelievers and believers), how we spend our free time, how we spend our money, and whatever it may be that we are pursuing in life. Of course, most of all, He wants us to be JOYFUL in Him. One of my favorite things to pray (because I know He hears me and I know it's something He means to give me!), is that He would give me fullness of joy and intimacy in Him, as well as a deeper devotion to Him, in whatever circumstance or matter (exciting or difficult!) I am walking through.

It's a terrible habit of mine to belittle my own thoughts and feelings, thinking them fleshly and petty. My fights with myself usually end in one HUGE exasperated sigh! It has only been more recently in my life that I have been able to view them through the lens of my Father, who does not deal with me in the same impatience and frustration that I often deal with myself. There is so much stress to avoid by embracing the verse that He is not one "who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses." In fact, when I'm stuck in the emotionally-heavy cycle of wondering when He will grant rest and healing to those close to me who are hurting, or when He will make something good out of some of the messes I see around me, or when He will provide a clear path in how I am to walk in particular desires/pursuits, or when/when not I am supposed to do something about this or that....etc etc etc...I find that there is an immense comfort in stopping to rest in my weaknesses and BE weak. Everything in me is appalled at the counter-productivity of such a statement, but it is true. Simply stop and let God be God to me in that place of deep longing, hurting, or need.
Experiencing restlessness in life automatically awakens desires in us for resolve and peace. But the lesson to be learned is that there will always be a matter in life in which we find ourselves restless and wondering about. There will always be something that causes us to wrestle with the truth of the character of our God, His particular will for us, and how we are suppose to walk it out. It is a good and necessary that we walk through this again and again.
Now, I know Him who I have believed. I know His specific will for me, even if some of the specific details are hazy, and I have a strong framework to build off of from Scripture. It is through this that I am beginning to grasp (at a basic level, but a level nonetheless!) what it means to experience godliness in contentment. I found this definition of what godliness with contentment means in all circumstances, whether it be waiting through trials (of the heart/soul or physical) or waiting to know where to walk in any particular matter of life.

{Godliness in contentment}...It is NOT bucking yourself up to be all happy and smiley with your situation. Contentment is not a command to be OK with something God Himself says is not good. You long for something that is normal to long for by the very nature of your creation by God. Yet in our fallen world, that God-given aspect of your nature is unfulfilled. Contentment is understanding that you are not left as an orphan in this longing. You can say, “This sucks!” Because it does, but you can say it hand in hand with God, who said it first but in nobler terms. And you can say it knowing that you are equipped by the gospel to do battle and not be overwhelmed in this season.

{It means} stay engaged with God in the wrestling. It's not to put to death longings that are part of your very God-given nature. And it's not to disengage with God because He refuses to answer those longings. It's to stay engaged with Him, alternately crying out in longing and resting in peace in His arms, calling on Him at every moment to meet the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs exposed by your unfulfilled longing.

Not left as an orphan in this longing. The longing to see Christ formed and the Word confirmed in the souls around me? The longing to see those at peace who have for so long been grieving or hurting? The longing to be free of various burdens? The longing to have Him meet the very desires that He formed in me? The longing to not feel conflicted and confused sometimes in where He is taking me?
Yes, lots of longings. Life is so full that, I think, it would be strange not be bursting with them. But, He is Father to me through them all.
I found some more Gospel commentary on this godly contentment through the longings:

Am I supposed to encourage myself to be content with this mess of a life? Well, if by contentment I mean passive acceptance, then NO, I'm not supposed to passively accept all the ways this life does not reflect King Jesus. But if by contentment I mean that I have faith that God has adequately supplied me and you through Christ's life and death and resurrection; that He has sufficiently equipped us by lavishing on us a spiritual bank account with great equity to face this struggle head on; that the same power that rose Christ from the dead is now the power supernaturally at work in us, equipping us to deal with these struggles – if THAT's contentment, now I understand why devotion to God coupled with that confidence is GREAT GAIN.

Godliness with contentment is great gain in deep, hurtful circumstances. But it's also GREAT GAIN in the daily, humdrum muck of life. Godliness with contentment does not mean pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. If the phrase fills you with guilt, you are missing the point. The gospel doesn't obligate me to contentment, it equips me for contentment.

In returning to the verse from 1 John 5, I am learning to see how His ear is inclined to our requests because He is a Father who delights in the joy of His children. This is His aim in all that He does in our lives:
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
(John 15:11 ESV)
In connection to 1 John 5:15, I am beginning to find comfort in how we can be certain that we have what we have requested of Him.


Nolan said...

Amen to this. I was having a conversation with someone about firmly trusting when life has inconsistent trials as though riding the waves of stormy ocean waters.

Prayer is the way we remain firmly trusting in Him, keeping our eyes on Him, and affirming to ourselves through it the truths of His Word. Saying "God, your Word says this, and I am going to believe it by faith as I am going through this trial."

It's also much easier to remain in prayer when being thankful. Waking up every day in thanksgiving, not focusing on the bad as much as the promises and the deliverances that He has been faithful to lead us through.

It's a life-long process of gaining different bearings in which we will need Jesus through all of it. But there are the consistencies of His faith toward us and a hope that anchors us to Him in the waters. :-)