That was my foster granddaughter Chloe…not that long ago she really wanted to walk…now she is super discontent with just being able to walk…she wants to do other stuff…like climb up on the coffee table.
She is, after all, a baby…
But be honest…do you see just a little bit of yourself in her?
Have you been ever become discontent with your discontentment?
Being discontent can get really old…if you think about…it’s annoying to not be happy for long
“Can I get just a minute to just be grateful?”
“I just got here, and I’ll already discontent.”
Now there are situations where discontentment is good…I call it healthy discontent.
It’s were we need to change our choices or life circumstances…and it often takes a level of discontentment in our current situation to make those changes.
“We often won’t change until the pain of not changing exceeds the pain of changing.”
But today…I want to suggest that we need to become discontent with our discontentment…specifically the kind that makes us prone to being perpetually ungrateful and likely to miss the opportunities in our present circumstances.
We often come to see discontentment as an inevitability so we fail to take consistent action against it…even though it is really annoying and unhelpful.
It consistently steals life from us…but we continue to allow it to hang around in our minds and lives…we just think it’s normal…can’t be helped…part of being human.
*Your throat is terribly sore, or you are up at night with stomach flu…or with sick kids.
-You finally feel better, kids are better…you are so happy with just a normal level of health or sleep.
“I will be forever grateful with life like this.”
Forever is usually about 24 hours.
*You dream of a new work situation, a promotion, or graduation, or a family, kids…whatever…then you find yourself “living the dream”…but now a new, different dream has caused this one to be less than what you had hoped for.
-Or the reality that this “dream” has its own share of problems…causes you to not really enjoy the “dream.”
But if dreams do become reality…well then reality has a lot more complexity and problems than dreams do.
*I’ve watched spouses break their marriage covenant for another man or woman…to find, very quickly…that this new “dream spouse” is not a dream…just another person…but now their life is much more difficult and complex…and they are still discontent.
*Christ has transformed you…you are so grateful for the differences he is making…then it all becomes, well, “normal”…you forget what it was like before and so you fail to see how much he has done now…you are focused on the all ways things are not what you want them to be.
-This is a much better life now than it was…but it’s not good enough.
*I’ve watched my grandkids (and it reminds me of me as a kid) counting days till Christmas or Birthdays…then tearing through paper to get to gifts they had dreamed of…then very quickly becoming used to the gifts…in a few hours asking “What are we going to do now?”
We have enormous capacity for discontentment.
When will we become discontent with our discontentment?
Enough to do something…because this treadmill of discontentment…it’s really a bummer…we ought to be looking for ways to get off of it.
When will we begin to consistently look at it and say “Really, you again?”
“You’re back already…you were just here.”
“You’re not welcome…you act like my old friend but all you have ever done is rip me off.”
But is this realistic? Can we become people of increasing contentment?
Are we hard wired for discontent…so no amount of “reprogramming” is going to change us?
Well…we are well practiced at it…but as followers of Christ…we are no longer “hard-wired” for it…we are new creations in Christ with new capacities.
But we must take consistent mental action against it.
Listen to last week, if you missed it, to get the fuller picture on this…in fact all four messages of November go together…they are incomplete by themselves.
In November we are looking at the four pillars of human thriving: physical, spiritual, mental, and relational…and how gratitude is essential to all four pillars.
Today we look at mental resilience…and the vital importance of becoming people who are increasing content with what God provides…rather than increasingly discontent.
We really ought to become discontent with our own discontentment.
However…having said that…we don’t have to take any action towards contentment and God will still love us…this is not about earning something, it is about enjoying something.
We can be dearly loved, unhappy people if we want to…it is entirely up to us…God won’t force us to become content…he just offers it to us.
As we saw last week we are secure in Christ…there is no condemnation and there will be no final separation…if you have believed the Gospel…God takes you “as is.”
However…the choice is ours as to whether we want to enjoy our birthright as his “kids”
Do we want to become more content or stay perpetually discontent?
I don’t think we are going to ever live for very long in stasis regarding contentment.
Stasis is a period of staying the same…neither more content or less content…I doubt this happens for very long.
We are moving forward or we are moving backwards.
It sounds tiring to always be driving forward.
But…discontentment is tiring…it’s tedious…it will take and take and take…until we are consumed by it.
It’s not hard to see how perpetual discontentment makes us less resilient people…less able to thrive.
And how growing in contentment is a key factor in mental resiliency.
Please stand and join me in reading Phil. 4:4-7
Phil. 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The letter we call Philippians was written by Paul to a Church in what is now Greece while he was in prison in Rome.
He tells the church in the city of Philippi that he is encouraged by their faith that is evidenced in their love for others.
He encourages them to not worry about him (His imprisonment)…because he was doing quite well.
He was basically on “house arrest” so though he couldn’t come and go, lots of people came to him…his imprisonment made him: more well-known and very easy to find.
He wasn’t on a journey somewhere…if want to talk to Paul…go to Rome he will be at home and happy to talk to you.
The result of his imprisonment was the gospel was spreading…in Rome and elsewhere…others were being encouraged in their faith by watching his.
He had an expectation that he would be released from prison and he was, at least this time.
Just few years after this letter was written, he was re-incarcerated back in Rome…and executed there.
Paul had planted the church at Philippi and so this very personal letter was to friends he had lived in community with.
If you read Acts 16:9-40 you can find some of the interesting things that happened during Paul’s time in their city.
For instance…there was a slave girl who made money for her owners by predicting the future…when Paul cast a demon out of her…she lost the ability to tell the future.
You might ask…what is that about?
Probably these demons would tell of some bad thing that were going to happen to someone…then go make it happen.
*Like this “I predict that in the future this iPad will lift from this podium”.
“See I can predict the future.”
Demons had and have influence in the lives of people.
Keep in mind this was not Wichita, this was a place where the demonic was more overt…demonic activity is present here in our city…but it operates mostly under cover.
The enemy is smart…his strategies match his battlespace…if he were more obvious/overt here…it would probably push more people towards the gospel.
Other places…he is more direct not indirect.
My Daughter was in Haiti earlier this year and she encountered, for her first time, a demonized woman.
It was a powerful and startling and sobering event for my daughter and son-in-law…but it was almost boring to the people who lived there…it was common place.
Anyway…these men who owned the slave and lost their business…had Paul thrown in Jail
During the night…while Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns (who does that when you have wrongly been imprisoned?) …and the other prisoners were listening…God shook the prison with an earthquake.
The prison doors were opened, their chains fell off (clearly not just a natural occurrence) …earthquakes are not that specific…shake off handcuffs.
The Jailer woke up in the dark confusion and thought the prisoners had escaped so he drew his sword to kill himself.
If the prisoners had escaped on his watch…he would have been executed in a painful fashion.
But…Paul said… “Hold on…we are still here”
Lights were brought in… there they sat.
You see, prison was not Paul’s problem…it was, at the time, his opportunity in line with his life purpose.
The jailer was very interested in the gospel at this point…he was saved along with his family.
Paul and Silas ended up having dinner at the jailor’s house that night…and were released the next day when it was discovered he was a Roman citizen by birth…and his imprisonment was illegal.
Very cool start of the church at Philippi…naturally Paul had some good memories and warm friendships there.
You can also see…he had experiential reasons to believe…that if God wants me out of prison here in Rome…he can get it done…if not…it’s his call.
In fact, in both cases, in Philippi and now in his current imprisonment in Rome…nothing kept Paul from just walking out.
Nothing except…the opportunity presented by his imprisonments.
His goal in life was not “how do I minimize my discomfort and maximize my pleasure”
That is most common version of the “good life”
A version that never works well for long.
His life objective and the heart of this letter can be summed up in…Phil. 1:21 “For to me, to live is Christ to die is gain”
As I said a couple of weeks ago…it is a “win/win” approach to life.
If I live, I live for Christ…I have plenty to do, my life is full of meaning and impact…even in jail, at work, in sickness…whenever, where ever to live in Christ.
If I die…all the better.
He was not suicidal or depressed when he said “to die is gain”…he was the opposite of that…his life was full of purpose as was his joy.
Contrast Paul’s “win/win” lifestyle to the more common “lose/lose” scenario of our times.
Life is without meaning, death is extinction.
Let’s go back to our passage now that we can read it in context.
Phil. 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Rejoice means to feel and to show great joy or delight.
We don’t use the word in our everyday language…at least I don’t use it or hear it.
“I rejoice that the Shockers won.”
“Rejoice, school is over, Christmas break has arrived.”
“Rejoice the light has turned green…you can go now.”
Even though we don’t use the word day to day…we do pursue the reality of the word.
Words are verbal symbols of real things.
Rejoice is a verbal symbol of a “good thing” something that brings us delight.
Paul says here, and elsewhere… “Rejoice in the Lord”
Then for emphasis…he immediately repeats himself. “I will say it again rejoice.”
The word used indicates ongoing action…keep on rejoicing (delighting( in the Lord.
He adds another word to emphasize that reality…always, keep on rejoicing.
So, keep on continually rejoicing…in the Lord…we will return to this at our conclusion.
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
Gentleness is translated “graciousness, reasonableness, considerate”
Here’s my take on this… “Find your delight, your hearts joy in the Lord…so you don’t have to demand that life and others do things your way.”
Be gracious, gentle, reasonable, considerate.
Stop believing in your heart that you are in charge, that life is about you…settle down…be gentle (word means “controlled strength”)
Instead of believing you can and trying to control all outcomes, including what happens in the future (which of course, you can’t…)
Let your gentleness not your demandness be evidence to all.
Little children are not really gentle…in this sense…they are weak…but they are demanding.
They have little strength, little control over the outcomes of their lives…but they make a lot of demands on others.
They do not have controlled strength (this kind of gentleness here) …they have uncontrolled weakness.
We are to be spiritual adults…people whose “controlled strength” is evident to all.
We are not to be known as demanding people but grateful, trusting people.
Do you a reputation of being a demanding person?
If you say “No, because what I want/need is reasonable…others are problem.”
Then the answer is…Yes…you are a demanding person…but you don’t have to be.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Okay, that’s helpful… “I’m anxious, having trouble trusting God…what should I do Paul?”
“Well you should stop being anxious.”
That’s not what Paul is saying here…his answer is not merely “stop worrying”.
It is more proactive…this is about what he is saying we should be doing…rather than what we should not be doing.
“Anxious” here is a word that means “pulled into tension (like a rubber band)” …it can also mean to be distracted.
When we are stretched into anxiety…we are distracted from what is really happening around us…all we can see and feel is that we are anxious.
So, don’t be distracted…but rather live focused…how?
By living a life of prayer…see God not just your own anxiety or current circumstances.
But not prayer as in “say your prayers.”
Not prayer as merely a spiritual exercise
But a life of prayer…a communicating relationship with God.
Prayer is communication with God.
Communication is essential to relationship.
It is not the “saying of prayers” that is powerful here…it is God who is powerful…the key here is a communicating relationship with God.
Paul uses two different words…prayer and petition.
Prayer is a general word for talking to God and listening to him about all kinds of things.
Petition is a word that involves asking for specific things.
So… all kinds of praying… talking openly and honestly with God…and asking God to do things you would like him to do.
Do all this with thanksgiving…put that together and what do you have?
A trust relationship with God…where you ask God for what you want, trust God with what you get.
Relationships that are healthy are open and honest…about desires, needs, confusion…but they are not demanding.
The opposite of thanksgiving is demanding.
“If God does not do things the way I want them done…then I will give him the cold shoulder he deserves.”
Okay…you can, but you will suffer God will not.
His joy remains undimmed…but yours can go away completely…you can become content with perpetual discontent.
Look at the benefits of living this non-demanding, thankful life with God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This verse has at times in my life confused more than comforted me.
I have determined, after a decade of evaluating a particularly difficult time in my life…why I was confused about this verse.
It’s because I was actively seeking the feeling of peace…an emotional feeling of well-being.
Which is, I think, a legitimate application.
Yet…I still had ongoing feelings of distress…feeling anxious.
“So, are you are saying it didn’t work…you figured out this verse is not real?”
No, I’m saying it worked…but not like I wanted it to work.
In retrospect…I was looking for a “peace vaccination” so I would be cured of all future anxiety…not just helped in this moment.
Then I wouldn’t need to continually keep turning to him in desperation in order to have peace.
I didn’t get the vaccination…I did get minute by minute help…not what I preferred…not what I wanted.
So, the principle here is…keep turning to God in relationship…prayer…conversation…and his peace…will keep guarding your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Guard is a military word (Hey, I didn’t write this Paul did).
The word “guard” can be “garrison” …soldiers sitting in watch over your heart and minds.
So, God’s peace is the watchman… “Halt…who goes there?”
“What is that that is trying to sneak into your thoughts and your will (mind and heart)?”
Is it opposed to the peace of God…is it demandingness, is it anxiety?
Don’t let it in…don’t harbor it.
Again, we are physical, spiritual, mental, relational beings.
So, let’s walk through this briefly and then make some application.
- Physical: I may lack peace (a sense of well-being) and have anxiety because something is physically wrong with me. It may very well be an entirely physical issue.
-If your toe is infected and throbbing in pain you probably understand you have a physical problem with a physical solution…medical care.
-When we have issues that don’t seem “physical” …but rather emotional, or mental, or spiritual…we have trouble at times looking for underlying physical issues.
Maybe your perpetual discontentment, your anxiety…has an underlying physical cause.
*Don’t know? God see a medical doctor…get checked out.
- Spiritual: Maybe I lack peace…and/or live in perpetual discontent… because I am living in willful rebellion to God. Perhaps it is a spiritual problem. I need to be clear if this is the case.
-Because the solution is tied to the cause.
-I don’t need medicine or counseling if my cause is straight up rebellion…I need repentance and restoration…I need to stop sinning.
“Well that’s not helpful…makes me feel bad.”
Of course, it’s helpful…if that is the problem…I am choosing to continue in sin…then repentance (change of mind leading to change of direction) is clearly the solution.
*So, watch for imbalances: Much of culture would always medicate (even if the solution is repentance and prayer) …others would never medicate, even if the root cause is physical not spiritual…not just spiritual.
- Then there is the mental, emotional piece.
-Sure, wrong or right thinking is “spiritual” in a sense, and physical in a sense…like I said…we are like “stew
But our problem may be largely or at least partially the results of wrong thinking patterns…thinking wrong ways over time…changes us into certain kinds of people.
But we can, and must…pay attention to our thinking…to become different kinds of people.
*We will add the 4th pillar…relational next week.
From today’s passage let’s make some application: I am discontent with my discontentment…I want to get on a different path.
I want to deal with unhealthy thinking about God and my life.
Keep on rejoicing in the Lord always.
-How do I rejoice (delight) in the Lord not just in favorable life circumstances…but always.
Delight in Christ when life is not delightful…is not resiliency.
How do we become more resilient?
I think we have to see this as a path not a destination.
Or to use another analogy…this is about training not trying.
If we see “Rejoice in the lord always” as destination…I need to get to the place where I do this perfectly…
Then we will fail to understand this is about growth…or as we discussed last year “closing the gap.”
The real issue is trajectory…Is my contentment in the Lord in other than favorable circumstances trending up or trending down?
Be honest…are you becoming more and more content with less and less.
Or less and less content…with more and more.
If you are discontent with that trajectory…then take steps to change it.
If this were about perfection not direction…then we would give a lot of energy to guilt.
-Every day we fail at this…every day we are guilty.
But since we are training not merely trying…we are looking for growth…trends.
When we fail…we repent…get back to training…not wasting time and energy wallowing in guilt.
There are two good ways given here to train for this:
- Let your gentleness be evidence to all, the Lord is near
- Don’t be anxious…live in a thankful relationship with Jesus.
Let’s unpack just a bit:
- Let your gentleness be evidence to all, the Lord is near
Gentleness, as I said…is about controlled strength.
It is the opposite of demandness…I would call uncontrolled weakness.
Not that we are strong…but that we are learning to find our strength in the Lord (listen to last week) …and we are turning away from childish demandingness.
The culture around you and the sin nature within you are dominated by demanding.
We demand that life, God, others…do what we want or what think we need.
We break off relationships…we become bitter and desperate when life does not comply with our demands.
*OT History is replete with this picture of God’s kids demanding from him…not trusting him.
Die to demanding that God do what you want him to do…see opportunity in what God brings to you.
Again…this is a path to walk…the key is trajectory…move this way…you can.
Key to moving this way is…
- Don’t be anxious…but live in a thankful relationship with Jesus.
Paul specifically says “in everything present by prayer and petition present your requests to God.”
But think about it…in everything…in all kinds of conversations…is more than just “Say your prayers at night or in the morning.”
It implies a life of relationship with God…a conversational, personal relationship.
It’s okay to become discontent with discontentment…in facts it’s highly recommended.
And there is a clear path towards a different way of thinking and living.