A Forced Rest and Contentment

“Forced rest” was a phrase a friend of mine used a few weeks ago during a prayer time. I’ve been thinking about that phrase a lot since then. The phrase wasn’t directed at me but even so, it got my attention. The pain in my lower back is so intense that I am forced to seriously edit what activities I engage in. Typically, I’d be ultra-busy during my vacation; there are workouts to do, hikes to take, blogs to write, books to read, home improvement or other fixer upper stuff to do, and so on. Instead, I’m spending an inordinate amount of time on my rump simply reading or journaling.

Then yesterday my devotional was about contentment; another area that has recentlycontentment garnered my attention. Pain sometimes causes contentment to be elusive if not wholly absent. Still, Scripture states we are to learn contentment.

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.

—Philippians 4:11

Paul is stating that he had to acquire the knowledge to be content in all circumstances. Such learning is an active pursuit of knowledge with the goal of applying that knowledge in everyday life. In other words, Paul is continuing to expand his understanding of contentment. Interestingly, contentment actually means “self-sufficient;” however, Paul doesn’t stop here. He goes onto say in verses 12 and 13 that he has learned to be content when life is going well and when life is not going well. But he is careful to note that this ability, this learning, is enabled “through Christ who strengthens me” (v. 13). No, this isn’t some sort of mystical strength allowing Paul to somehow change his circumstances through enhanced faith; it’s much more practical than that. It is the Holy Spirit enabling Paul to contentedly endure whatever circumstances he’s facing.

This is easier said than done, of course. One exercise that helps me in contentment is from a song in the movie White Christmas, “Count Your Blessings.” It is so simple to do and yet, for some reason, seems archaic; but it works. For instance, despite the pain, I have a family that loves me that includes a wonderful Bride that is cheerfully picking up chores I’m currently unable to do, two healthy sons that are loving and helpful, a beautiful home, great friends, a career I enjoy…you get the point. To my knowledge, Paul had none of these. In fact, many Bible scholars and historians suggest that Philippians was written while Paul was imprisoned in Rome. Hello!? In prison and he’s still writing about contentment? That’s a sobering thought; so who am I to wallow in self-pity? Contentment is a much happier space to be in.

Another tool I’ve discovered on my journey toward contentment is to stop the “what-if-ing.” Though no specific event caused my current pain, I still am tempted to second-guess things I’ve done in my past that may have contributed to increased wear and tear. This is fruitless and only leads to self-shame.

I also strive to stop daydreaming about what I wish I was doing. We recently bought some snowshoes, but they’re still in their packaging in the garage. My bike is primed and ready to ride, plus the weather has been decent; but it, to, sits in the garage. And I’ve recently learned about some hiking trails close to home we’ve never ventured on. None of these activities are doable right now; so why focus on them in wishful bitterness?

I can still walk and do a few other little “exercise-y” things, so I’m choosing to embrace those with thankfulness. And, of course, I pray—often! I pray that my joy may be full (1 John 1:4, John 15:11 & 16:24), that my peace may be deep (Philippians 4:7), that my love is real (Matthew 5:44, John 13:35 & 15:12-13, Romans 12:9 and 1 Thessalonians 5:8), and, of course, for healing (Matthew 4:23, Acts 9:34 and 1 Peter 2:24).

Leaning into Christ will enable us to endure through any circumstance with contentment. And one day, all pain will cease (Revelation 21:4); but until that day, we can be thankful that the Lord is with us no matter what we are going through.

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Church Fires and Ducks

Oh_Bible_2

“Our church is on fire,” read the text. Janey got the same message. Incredulous, she went to the fount of breaking news, Facebook. There it was, posts from staff and even a reference to the local paper. Our church was indeed on fire. It had already been confirmed there were no injuries—praise God—but it was a three-alarm fire with firefighters from two different municipal jurisdictions, Salem and Keizer. When the smoke cleared, it was determined an upstairs wall-heater in a storage room had accidentally been turned on.

Just Hours Later

The insurance adjuster responded quickly and within hours of the blaze a professional cleaning company was on site with a swarm of workers and equipment. The building was not a total loss, but damage, especially from smoke, is extensive. The final tally is still undetermined, even after a week. Evidently smoke, when mixed with water vapor, turns into an acid and permeates any surface it possible can, drywall, carpeting, paint, computers, everything. Just cleaning up is a massive enterprise.

Yet we persevere. We recall God’s sovereignty and praise Him that passersby pounded on the church doors and called 9-1-1. We are thankful for quick and competent emergency responders. We pray blessing over their lives. We also start reflecting on what we need to learn though this.

Why? No, What!

Most of us are not asking God the ‘why’ question but the ‘what’ question: “What are we to learn from this?” Have we become too complacent? Too comfortable? To worldly? Maybe, maybe not.

What we do know, however, is that God is our refuge:

God is our refuge and strength,

A very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear.

—Psalms 46:1-2a

We also know that our families, church and immediate, are intact and we are reminded that church is not a building or even a specific locale; church is people and relationships seeking Jesus together.

Ducks

Then the Ducks lost, actually, got thumped, in the national championship game. But what’s interesting is days before the game, their offensive coordinator, Scott Frost, told Fellowship of Christian Athletes something to the effect that when you are “all-in for God,” even if you lose, you won’t be shaken because your life is built on the Rock, Christ Jesus. Amen! (http://savingourfuture.com/2015/01/oregon-offensive-coordinator-scott-frost-god-first-video/).

I have been a life-long Duck fan (class of ‘84) and so was my father (class of ’58). We used to go to a lot of games in the ‘70s; we didn’t do much else together, but we did share Duck sports. So sometimes when I see them lose I also start to miss my dad a bit. Oh well, God is still God.

What’s the Point?

The point I’m rambling on about is God is the point, He is sovereign, He is trustworthy, and He will always be there through big stuff (church fires) and the little stuff (favorite teams losing and lost memories). Yes, we shouldn’t get too comfortable this side of Heaven, so maybe the disruption of these events are really to shake the dust off worshipping Jesus to then spark greater desire to move closer to Him.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

—James 4:8