So The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment is quite a book.
I read the second chapter while biking at the gym. I might have concerned some of my fellow bikers with my hemming and hawing and emphatic nodding.
This book is just so rich and deep and powerful, I couldn’t do it justice to give a commentary. So I’ll list the “seven things that make contentment a mystery” here and add some moanings about my own life and my spiritual state in light of Christian contentment.
1. The first thing is … that he is the most contented man in the world, and yet the most unsatisfied man in the world.
I had to read this a couple times to get it through my thick skull. It begged me to ask myself, “Am I so content in God that I am dissatisfied with the world?” And I’m forced to acknowledge that no, I am not. I can’t even get past the first mystery of contentment without hanging my soul’s head in shame. Sometimes I’m so caught up in the events of the world, that I forget I am heaven-bound. I lose sight of the ultimate prize, Jesus Christ. I’m so busy with this Vanity Fair that Bunyan so accurately describes in Pilgrim’s Progress that I fail to remember who my true delight should be, where my contentment should be found.
2. A Christian comes to contentment, not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction. … But contentment does not come in that way, it does not come, I say, by adding to what you want, but by subtracting from your desires.
I shouldn’t simply stifle my desires. My desires will still rage on inside of me… and as I learned from the previous chapter, an outward appearance of contentment does not always equal true contentment. Instead, I need to lower my desires to my condition. God must be the one desire that can be satisfied, and after that, I am content.
3. A Christian comes to contentment, not so much by getting rid of the burden that is on him, as by adding another burden to himself.
So many times, I feel, Christians pray that the burden or affliction would be removed, lifted, eliminated, forgotten. While, of course, it is good to faithfully pray for deliverance, trusting God’s power and authority over that burden or affliction, that is not the point. The point is — do you show contentment in your current burden or affliction? I can never say I have gained the art of contentment, but I will say that, after being in the dregs of affliction (Lyme) and coming out of it by the grace of God, I was glad for the affliction. Why? Because during affliction, my sins are brought to the forefront. I am clinging more closely to the Lord for deliverance from my sins during these afflictions than during the “good times”.
Jeremiah Burroughs puts it so quaintly: “Add therefore to the breaking of your estate, the breaking of your heart, and that is the way to be contented in a Christian manner, which is the third mystery in Christian contentment.”
4. It is not so much the removing of the affliction that is upon us as the changing of the affliction, the metamorphosing of the affliction, so that it is quite turned and changed into something else.
Jeremiah Burroughs explains it best: “The way of contentment to a carnal heart is only the removing of the affliction. O that it may be gone! ‘No,’ says a gracious heart, ‘God has taught me a way to be content though the affliction itself still continues.’ There is a power of grace to turn this affliction into good; it takes away the sting and poison of it.”
The emphasis I noticed is that a Christian can only come to this state of contentment by God’s grace. Many of my dear friends have worse afflictions than I have yet to bear. The afflictions never seem to lift, never seem to waver in their attempt to ruin them. They update prayer groups concerning their affliction and my heart aches and breaks for them. I cry out to the Lord, “How could you let this go on?” I watch them bear the burden with a soft voice and a calm spirit and think, “I could learn so much from them.” These friends of mine have continuing afflictions. Most are not physical, but are instead spiritual and often threaten to rip apart their families or destroy their career and ultimately throw them into a fit of discontentment.
But by the grace of God, these beautiful, wonderful, godly friends of mine bear the cross well, reminding themselves and me of the Lord’s goodness and gleaning from the lessons sprouting from the affliction.
5. A Christian comes to this contentment not by making up the wants of his circumstances, but by the performance of the work of his circumstances.
This seems to go hand-in-hand with Burroughs’ second point. And I will leave the explanation of it to a quote from Burroughs himself:
“You should labour to bring your heart to quiet and contentment by setting your soul to work in the duties of your present condition. And the truth is, I know nothing more effective for quieting a Christian soul and getting contentment than this, setting your heart to work in the duties of the immediate circumstances that you are now in, and taking heed of your thoughts about other conditions as a mere temptation.”
6. A gracious heart is contented by the melting of his will and desires into God’s will and desires; by this means he gets contentment.
I love this quote by Burroughs: “So that, in one sense, he comes to have his desires satisfied though he does not obtain the thing that he desired before; still he comes to be satisfied with this, because he makes his will to be at one with God’s will. This is a small degree higher than submitting to the will of God. You all say that you should submit to God’s will; a Christian has got beyond this. He can make God’s will and his own the same.”
I confess I was thinking of merely submitting to God’s will when I read this. But this is shallow thinking. I’m not merely submitting to God’s will because I have to, because I have mental knowledge that He knows best. I’m sharing God’s will. I want what God wants, therefore I’m not just submitting and perhaps having a disquieted heart, but I am at one with God’s will.
Whew I have a lot to work on. And I haven’t even finished. Last but not least:
7. The mystery consists not in bringing anything from outside to make my condition more comfortable, but in purging out something that is within.
This goes well with points 3 and 4. Temporary contentment offered by the world will not make me truly content. Next thing I know, I’ll be wanting something else to patch up the discontent, and on it goes. Instead, as Burroughs puts it, I must cleanse myself of my disgusting, sinful habits. The same way a juice cleanse strips you clean, I must strip my soul clean of its warring lusts in order to be content.
“The way to contentment is to purge out your lusts and bitter humours. ‘From whence are wars, and strifes? are they not from your lusts that are within you?’ (James 4.1).”
Oh, you will be bunglers in this trade of Christianity. But the right perceiving of these things will help you to be instructed in it, as in a mystery.