3 Keys to Finding Contentment

Peaceful-WomanIt seems to me that finding contentment is one of the greatest challenges of the human race. I know it often is a huge challenge for me, and I see the effects of discontentment all around me every day. Some days I feel more content than others; what about you? On those days when everything seems to be going well; I’m not struggling with some major crisis; I have what I need, and even many things that I want – those are the times I feel the most content. But is that true contentment? I’m not sure if I can honestly say that it is.

According to the dictionary, the word means, the state of being contented; satisfaction; ease of mind.” One synonym that comes to mind is peace. To be at peace is to be content, and to be content is to be at peace. A familiar passage of Scripture that speaks of this is Philippians 4:11-13, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.”  Paul had learned that being content had nothing to do with his external circumstances. 

For me, finding contentment when circumstances are not in my favor does not come naturally. I would guess that most of us are the same way. After all, we are human and we still have a body of flesh to contend with. Flesh wants what it wants, when it wants it, much like a small child. It is self, therefore it is selfish and greedy. Our flesh is never satisfied, never content, never at peace. And it never will be. Paul had learned this after facing many trials and troubles along his journey. In the verses above the ones quoted here, we see how he arrived at this place of contentment no matter what. Beginning in verse 4, he outlines it for us.

First, we must rejoice in the Lord – always. This means to be glad, to take delight, and make joyful. We do this as we focus upon Him and His goodness and nature, which leads us to worship, thank, and praise Him for who He is.

Second, we must display gentleness, or patience, and be fair and mild tempered with everyone. This is not something you can fake, at least not for long. This is the nature of Christ who was meek and humble. His nature must be displayed in and through us. We are to be peacemakers, just as He was.

Third, instead of worrying and being anxious, we are to pray, give our cares to God and thank Him for answering and taking care of us and our needs.

The result of these three activities will be that God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds. We will have peace that doesn’t make sense to the world, or even to us at times. Paul then goes on to say that we must think about, or meditate upon, those things that are good. Focus on the positive, not the negative. Train your mind to look for the good in everything and everyone. I have been learning this for the past year or so, and it has made a huge difference in my attitude! You can do it too, just try it and see!

This was Paul’s secret to finding contentment no matter what. He also acknowledged that it was God’s grace that enabled him to do this. Elsewhere, he spoke of crucifying his flesh daily. This is something we all have to do if we want to be at peace. Our flesh and spirit are constantly at war, but the spirit, in union with God’s Spirit, must rule and subdue the flesh. Everyone wants to be content and at peace in the depths of their being. God created us that way, and His all-sufficient grace that enabled Paul to do this, can, and will, enable us as well!

What is Written in Your Book in Heaven?

b78b6da3cdb52d22e3971392d2d031adDid you know there are books in heaven? Or, that you have a book in heaven, specifically written for and about you? As a writer, this greatly intrigues me! When the Lord began to show these truths to me, I began asking Him to show me what is written in mine. There are several places in Scripture where these books are mentioned. Daniel 7:10 says, “A fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.”  This was shown to Daniel in a dream.

David spoke of personal books as well, “…Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16) Even Jesus has a book. “Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: ‘Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come–in the volume of the book it is written of Me to do Your will, O God.'” (Heb. 10:5-7)

These books contain the plans and purposes of God for each one of us. Before we were born on the earth, even from before creation, we were each a thought in God’s mind. Immediately after David wrote verse 16 of Psalm 139, he wrote, “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” (Ps. 139:17)  God “saw” us and wrote down His thoughts about us, what we would do in our life on earth and beyond. Paul said, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10) The word workmanship literally means a poem. A poem is a message, and our lives are also a message to the world.

The challenge for us is to discover what is written in our book, and to walk it out in the earth by God’s grace. Timothy tells us that grace has also been there, waiting for us, from before creation, “…who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.” (2 Tim. 1:9) We have the ability to fulfill God’s plans and purposes through His all sufficient, empowering grace.

The Apostle John wrote, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) We know that we are created in God’s image and are now one with Him through His indwelling Spirit. Therefore, we, too, must become God’s Word – written in our book – made into flesh, so that the world can see Him in and through us. We can, by His grace, walk in the fullness of His plans and purposes, which He destined us to walk in before creation. Discovering what is written in our book, agreeing with it, and by His grace, fulfilling it, will be the most satisfying and rewarding adventure of our lives.

The Key to Freedom from the Comparison Trap

img_0910Have you ever struggled with comparing yourself to other people? Do you see others’ lives and feel that somehow yours is inferior? Ever compared your children to someone else’s children? Or your appearance to another’s? How about your house or car? Do you often doubt your worth when looking at others? If we are honest, we would all answer these questions with an emphatic, “Yes!” It seems to be a part of our human nature to compare ourselves with other people. It can be our appearance (weight, height, looks, perceived flaws, etc.); or our social status (wealth or lack of it, career, education, friendships, material things, etc.). Or maybe it is our family (spouses, children, pets, etc.). It could even be our spirituality (our experiences, knowledge, ministry, etc.). The list could go on and on.

If you’re like me and have battled this common malady, how has that been working for you? For many years I was miserable no matter what I accomplished, what compliments or affirmation I received, or any satisfaction I may have felt occasionally; nothing was ever good enough. I always managed to find someone that seemed better than me. Many others struggle with this as well. Why do we do this? What is it that drives us to constantly compare ourselves to our fellow humans? In a nutshell, it is insecurity. It is a lack of knowing our true identity as unique, gifted, beloved, accepted, and significant sons and daughters of God. How can we possibly compare ourselves to another when our Creator has made us to be totally unique? That is like comparing an apple to an orange. They are totally different except that they are both fruits. Likewise, we are all humans, and may be similar in many ways, but we are also totally different in terms of our identity.

The comparison trap is a futile, fruitless, and destructive pit that we too easily fall into. It results in basically one of two things: we look at others and think we are somehow better, resulting in pride, or, we consider that they are better, leading to self-deprecation and false humility which is also pride. In other words, either way, measuring ourselves against others leads to self-absorption, which is pride and idolatry. Paul wrote, “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.” (2 Cor. 10:12) The only One we are required to compare ourselves to is Jesus. When we focus on Him, we are all equally in need of His mercy, love, and grace.

The key to getting free from the comparison trap is to meditate on who God says we are as stated in His Word, allowing His truth to renew our minds, our ways of seeing and thinking about ourselves and others. As we spend time in His presence and His Word, we will begin to see ourselves as He sees us. Then we can learn to love ourselves as He loves us. This is the first step to loving our neighbors as ourselves. Comparison provokes envy, jealousy, and dissatisfaction. Security in our identity enables us to love as He does while expecting nothing in return.

The majority of the world and even the Church is caught in this deadly comparison trap. When we seek God and receive freedom, He will then use us to set many others free – free to be the special, unique, son or daughter He has created and called them to be. Not only does that bring Him untold pleasure, but it will also bring Him the glory and honor He alone deserves.

Survivor or Overcomer? The Choice is Yours.

tmp475674510146666496Years ago I used to watch a television show called Survivor. I’m sure most of us are familiar with the premise of it. A group of strangers was taken to a remote location, given very limited provisions, and a predetermined length of time to figure out how to survive. Though we may not be faced with those types of challenges on a daily basis, many live in what I call survivor mode. We go through life reacting to difficult circumstances, trying to make it through each day. For some it means making it from paycheck to paycheck. Others may be enduring from one treatment to the next. It could be attempting to cope with multiple bad relationships. Generally speaking, challenges turn into crises and life becomes a battle we hope to withstand. Somehow that doesn’t sound to me like the abundant life Jesus promised He came to give us.

Of course, everyone faces difficulties; Jesus never said it would be easy. In fact, He forewarned us that this would be the case. But He never intended for us to hang on, hoping to be rescued one day. His plan was, and still is, for us to overcome. An overcomer thinks, and looks, nothing like a survivor. Those who believe they can overcome will let nothing stop them. They “grab the bull by the horns,” so to speak, using trials to propel them to new levels of growth and maturity. An overcomer runs to the battle, not from it, believing they can and will win. They meet challenges with steely determination, not dread and foreboding. Overcomers do not deny the pain, but are convinced they will conquer it. They have undaunted zeal to reach their greatest potential. Even when they get knocked down, they respond with perseverance, getting back up again and again. The Apostle Paul said it well, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Cor. 4:8-9)

The difference between a survivor and an overcomer is in what they believe. The good news is, we get to choose what we believe! No one else can do it for us. We are not victims of our circumstances, unless we choose to be. God gave us free choice, and He will always honor whatever choice we make, good or bad. If you’ve been living in survivor mode, ask yourself these questions: Do I want to be a victim? Can I control this situation (whatever you’re facing right now)? Will I decide to react to it, based on how I feel? Will I choose to respond to it, believing God will bring good from it? Can I choose to trust God will walk with me through this?

Remember, reactions are always rooted in the flesh; responses are rooted in the Spirit. When we react to something, it comes from our feelings, which is part of our soul. We react in fear, worry, dread, anger, despair, etc. If we train ourselves to stop and think for a moment, we are more apt to respond than react. Responses are easier if we’ll immediately focus on God rather than how we feel. We must pause and ask ourselves, is He with me right now? Does He know what is happening? Does He know and care how I feel? Is He still in control? Can I trust His goodness in spite of this pain? These and similar questions will help us to quiet our soul and choose to trust Him.

Jesus has made it possible for us to overcome even the most difficult situations, for He overcame them all, including death and hell. He calls us overcomers, more than conquerors, and we can be, if we choose to see ourselves as such. We must take Him at His word, and trust His grace to enable us in our weakness. We don’t have to live in survivor mode any longer. Overcoming life is abundant life; the life He makes available to all who choose to receive it. We honor and glorify Him when we decide to use to the fullest this amazing grace!

Finishing Well

finishing race“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Heb. 12:1-3)

In our instantaneous society of fast food, microwave meals, instant internet, and Amazon Prime, it is easy to miss the importance of endurance. Yet endurance is a virtue that is attributed to God Himself. We see that in the verses above, as well as others like, Acts 13:17-18 where He endured the rebelliousness of the children of Israel. He is said to give us endurance in Romans 15:5. He commended the church of Ephesus for their endurance in Revelation 2:2-3.

Endurance is defined as, “the fact or power of enduring or bearing pain, hardships, etc. The ability or strength to continue or last, especially despite fatigue,stress, or other adverse conditions; stamina; lasting quality; duration.” According to the passage in Hebrews, endurance is required to finish our race. In order to learn endurance, we are told to fix our eyes on Jesus, the perfect model of perseverance.

Not only are we to look to Jesus, who is both the Author, or Pioneer of our faith, but we are to consider those who have gone before us – the great cloud of witnesses. They are called witnesses because they have seen the truth of God’s promises to complete the good work He began in them. Jesus is the Author and Finisher, or Perfecter of our faith. In other words, our faith begins and ends in and with Him. He alone is able to help us endure to the end, and He will, if we are willing.

Jesus endured by focusing on the “joy set before Him.” What was that joy? I believe it was the joy of knowing He would have a bride without spot, wrinkle or blemish, one who loved Him enough to endure whatever came against her. One who wouldn’t give up or quit when the going got tough because His love for her would sustain her. The joy of His future wedding day, I believe, is what enabled Him to endure the pain and shame of the cross. And when He returned to His Father, He sat down at His right hand – the place of authority, favor, and power. He finished His race – the work His Father gave Him to do from before creation – and He finished it well. We are called to do the same.

We are to consider Him, what He went through and endured, so we do not grow weary and lose heart. The more we behold Him, the more we become like Him. Meditating on these truths will enable us, by His grace, to finish our race and to finish it well. We cannot lose if we do not quit. He will be faithful to complete what He began in us if we will trust Him.

Learning to Embrace Weakness

Many years ago, at the end of each year, I began to ask the Lord to give me a verse for the new year, a sort of “life” verse that would be the theme of what He was doing in my life that year. I remember one particular year He gave me John 15:5, “If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” The emphasis seemed to be on the second part – “apart from Me, you can do nothing.” This verse stayed with me for probably three years as God taught me in many ways what that simple, yet profound statement meant and looked like when lived out day after day.

Several years later, I was praying and talking with the Lord one day about some EmbracingWeaknesssignificant health issues I had been having. I was having trouble understanding what He was doing in my life and why the problems seemed to go on for so long. In the middle of this conversation I clearly heard Him speak to my heart, “I’ve been trying to teach you to embrace weakness.” Period. I felt like I had been hit in the head with a brick. Suddenly I realized how much I despised weakness, and it greatly disturbed me in light of what He had said. I could think of nothing to say in response.

Immediately after that, the passage Paul wrote came to mind, Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  (2 Cor. 12:8-10) Paul, through trials and troubles too numerous to list, had learned what it meant to embrace weakness. Not only had he learned to embrace weakness, he said he actually delighted in it!

The phrase, “made perfect” actually means, “to perform; to complete; to accomplish or fulfill.” The word “sufficient” means, “to be possessed of unfailing strength; to suffice; to be enough; to be satisfied; to be content.” The word “weakness” speaks of the “want of strength, weakness, of the body – it’s native weakness and frailty; feebleness of health or sickness; and of the soul – it’s want of strength to understand a thing; to do things great and glorious; to restrain corrupt desires; to bear trials and troubles.” In other words I believe God is saying that we lack the strength both physically and mentally to perform, complete, accomplish or fulfill God’s plans and purposes. We desire to do great and glorious things, we desire to understand God’s ways, but we are incapable in and of ourselves. Apart from Him, we can do nothing.

God’s grace – His enabling power and strength – empowers us to do that which we lack the power to do, but we must first learn to acknowledge, embrace, and even delight in our inability to do anything! Then, and only then, will His power rest upon us, because we will give Him all the glory knowing it was only by His strength that anything good was accomplished. I wish I could say I was where Paul was, but I can’t. I am still learning to embrace my weakness, longing for the day I can actually delight in it. I am grateful for His patience in the process, and I know that He is able to complete what He has begun in me!

A Real Life Fairy Tale

No matter how old I get, I will always love the story of Cinderella. I recently went to seecinderella Disney’s newest version of the beloved classic and was reminded again why I love it so much. I love it because Cinderella is my story…and it is yours. It is our story. The story of a beautiful maiden who had a wonderful, loving family as a child. She wanted for nothing. She was cherished and adored, and life was good. And then tragedy struck. The loss of her mother eventually led to the remarriage of her father to another woman. In time she also loses her beloved father, and becomes a slave in her own house. Jealously despised by her step-mother and two step-sisters, she is forced to wait on them hand and foot. She endures much cruelty from their words and actions.

As she grows into young womanhood, the opportunity comes for every maiden to attend a ball so that the prince might choose a bride. She actually meets him by chance one day, though his identity is kept a secret. It was love at first sight for them both. Despite the objections and attempts of her step-mother and sisters to keep her from attending the ball, she does show up, through the grace of her fairy god-mother. She meets the prince again and he is captivated by her beauty. Before the magic ends and she is discovered to be a peasant girl, she disappears suddenly, leaving one glass slipper behind. After searching throughout the kingdom for the maiden who lost the shoe, the prince discovers her to be a servant, not the princess he had thought her to be. Nevertheless, his love remains the same for her and they get married and live happily ever after.

We were once that beautiful maiden, (sorry guys, you’ll have to stretch that imagination!) deeply loved and cherished by our Heavenly Father. Then tragedy struck in the Garden and we became slaves in the place we once knew as paradise. Much suffering entered the world and we continually faced many troubles and trials. Yet there is a Prince, a King, who in spite of our poverty, shame, and brokenness, is captivated by our beauty. He has already planned in His heart His royal wedding, and intends to marry us and make us His beloved bride. Even now, He is searching throughout His kingdom for those who have lost their way. He intends to find all who will say “Yes” to Him and we will live with Him in His kingdom forever and ever.

The truth that makes our story even more powerful than Cinderella, is that we chose to walk away from Him. We chose to reject the One who loves us the greatest. We chose the sin that has marred us and the earth we live in. Yet His love remains unrelenting, and He will not be denied. His desire is for us and He has done all that was necessary to make a way back to Him, including laying down His life. His grace makes it possible for us to become the princess He intended us to be. Our story is a real life fairy tale.