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Posts Tagged ‘Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment’

What follows is a guest post from my brother-in-law, Larry.  Yesterday in
church we had a Sharing Day, something we’ve done now and again to
provide testimony to what God is doing on behalf of his people.  Larry
stood up and gave such beautiful voice to many of the thoughts and
feelings that those of us in the family business have experienced during
the past decade as we have struggled with earthly loss only to find
unspeakably great gain in Christ along the way.  Through it all, Jesus has
been careful to teach us, to cut away idols and character flaws that do not
represent him, to provide in ways that we couldn’t have dreamed, to show
us his beautiful, tender nature, and to allow us to share in these
ordained sufferings.  [For more background on that, see here.]

 

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.
For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).

This has proven a true saying as the three (two brothers and their dad)
have been able to lift each other up when one or the other on any given
day was sinking below the weight of care.  God provided personal
encouragement to each man, which was used to encourage the others
in due season.  It is also a testament to the character of these three
and to the power of God within them, that after ten plus stressful
years they find themselves on good and loving terms.

– – – – –

 

In November of 2008, I (Larry) had been sharing about our business troubles that had begun just two years earlier in 2006. Well, just to bring you up to date – things got worse.

 

These have been long and stressful years for my wife Kim and me, for my brother Dana and his wife Kim, and for our Dad, Roland – years filled with financial hardships, difficulties and challenges resulting in many hard and difficult lessons learned.  There have been questions, realizations, and consequences – all stemming from decisions made, actions taken, and probably from actions taken too late.

 

Some verses come to mind –

Proverbs 22:7 “…The borrower is servant to the lender.”

Proverbs 27:23-24 “Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds; for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations.”

Proverbs 23:5 “Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

 

This has not been a quick test for us. The feelings and emotions we’ve experienced during this time along with the reaction to our circumstances have included confusion, frustration, uncertainty, uneasiness, anxiety, weariness, anger, and despondency. We’ve asked “Lord, will this never end?” At times I was tempted to apply Proverbs 31:6-7.

 

Now I have taken note of the difference between my plans and God’s plans. More so, up until this point, I had considered myself a man-of-action. I would go after projects, anticipate, think ahead, make lists, get supplies, get equipped, make – build – create – do – go, go, go!  Proverbs 16:9 tells us: “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps”; and Psalm 46:10 tells me to “be still…”

 

At times God says to me: “No,” “Stop,” “Not now,” “Wait,” “This way,” “Not that way.” Then, while in this position I find myself stuck and in an uncomfortable, unnerving, and seemingly unending set of circumstances. I’ve realized I can’t fix it, I can’t stop it, I can’t change it, I can’t free myself – God has brought me to the end of myself!  I’ve come to treasure this verse from 2 Chronicles 20:12 “…We do not know what to do, Oh God, but our eyes are on you!”

 

We’ve been learning that this is an example of how God may, at times, use the storms and afflictions of our lives to work His will and accomplish His good purposes. What are his purposes? Well, among them, He intends to make us aware of our dependence upon Him; to show His glory and power; to show His goodness and loving care; perhaps to discipline us, his sons (as in Hebrews 12); or perhaps to humble us; to turn our attention away from idols and earthly things – Pastor Walt recently reminded us this world is not our home.  Another important lesson God wants us to learn is the rare jewel of Christian contentment.

 

We can take comfort in knowing and believing that God’s timing is always perfect. He brings the storms. He controls the timing, intensity and duration of the storm. Remember the disciples in the boat with Jesus (Mark 4:35-41)? “…Even the winds and waves obey him!” The Lord our God is sovereign over the times and seasons and all circumstances of my life. From Ecclesiastes 3 we are reminded that there is a time to weep and a time to laugh. Then later in chapter 7 we read: “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other.”

 

God gives us rest. He gives us his peace and comfort. He sustains me. He gives me my daily bread. He gives us hope, his mercies are new every morning! He delivers me, he rescues me. He lifts me up!

 

Perhaps God has brought you through the storm. Perhaps God has proven his faithfulness to you over and over and over again.  Walk with me, dare to trust God and lean on him when you enter the slimy pit and cannot find your own way out. Follow him where he leads, when times are hard and hopeless.  Do not become bitter toward your Savior. Do not be anxious.  Keep your eyes on Jesus. No whining, don’t grumble. Be thankful in all things.

 

“It is good for me that I was afflicted” (Psalm 119:71).  Don’t give up on God before his work in you is completed. Remember Joseph in prison – wait on the Lord. He brought me in and he will bring me out!

 

I like the concept of restoration. These are comforting verses:

Psalm 90:15 “Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble.”

Joel 2:25 “I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten…”

 

I don’t know for sure what God has planned for all of my tomorrows. I know that my life is but a mist, a vapor that appears for a while and then vanishes (James 4:14). This world and all its troubles will soon be forgotten. But I do know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth (Job 19:25).

 

We want to express our sincere appreciation and thanks to all of you who have been praying for us.  We are privileged to call you our brothers and sisters in Christ!

 

So in closing I can say though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, …no sheep in the pens, no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior (Habakkuk 3:17-18)!  Praise the Lord!

 

– – – –
Painting: “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” by Rembrandt

 

 

 

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“Is He – quite safe?

“Safe?  Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe.
But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

I lived many, many years as a regenerated Christian without understanding or embracing the sovereignty of God in all things.  I thought I believed that God was sovereign, but when put to the test in the arena of salvation or the evil found in the world, I delicately tried to distance God from those things.  But the Holy Spirit slowly but surely has unveiled my eyes to see his glory in his sovereignty over all things.

Recently, I feel that God is using a mix of resources to impress upon me that not only is God sovereign in all things, but that he uses his sovereignty to bring me, his child, only good.  Reading John Piper‘s Desiring God was a first exposure, but more recently, a couple Puritan authors have been preaching to me:  Jeremiah Burroughs in The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment and Thomas Watson in All Things for Good.

Both books are distinct in their content, but they overlap as they disciple me to consider that my entire life is in God’s care and all of that care is good. When we murmur, complain or covet, we essentially accuse God, as another author has put it, of “a failure to reign well over the events of our lives.”  Burroughs presses the point by identifying a murmuring, fretting spirit as an “inflammation of the heart” and claims it “a greater evil than any affliction” we incur.  To this argument, he makes much of God’s responses to the complaining Israelites of the Exodus.  Both authors affirm – all of God’s plans for me (the easy and the hard) are working for my good.

Watson bases his book on the familiar Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” He would remind us, though, that this promise is “children’s bread; it belongs only to them that love God.”  The “despisers and haters of God have no lot or part in this privilege.”

So, if the promise of Romans 8:28 is one on which the child of God can depend, what does this mean for us?  I’m glad you asked, because Thomas Watson has an answer for you.

[Caveat – the Puritans, it would seem, were much more direct and un-nuanced than we are today.  They also used certain words a bit differently than we do.  Though, I do not disagree with Watson, I might have found a more delicate way to say a few of these things.]

Ten inferences that can be made by the proposition
that all things work for the good of the saints?

 

1.  There is a providence which governs our lives. Things do not work of themselves, but God sets them working for good. “His kingdom ruleth over all” (Ps. 103:19).  There are three parts to providence:   God’s foreknowing, God’s determining, and God’s directing all things to their periods and events.  That which is by some called chance is nothing else but the result of providence.

2.  Every child of God finds himself in a happy condition when all things work for his good, the “best and worst” things (i.e. the easy and the hard things). What a blessed condition is that of a true believer!  When he dies he goes to God, and while he lives, everything shall do him good – even affliction, which does what the Word many times will not, it “opens the ear to discipline “ (Job 36:10) and also yields the sweet fruit of righteousness (Heb. 12:11).

3.  There is an encouragement here to become godly when all things work for our good. No man did ever come off a loser by his acquaintance with God.

4.  The condition of the “wicked” (i.e. the unregenerate) is miserable. To them, good things work for hurt until they yield their sins to the effective work of Christ on the cross.

a.  Temporal good things work for hurt to the wicked. Riches and prosperity are not benefits but snares.  Pride and luxury are the twins of prosperity which lead the wicked to forsake God.  The common mercies wicked men have are not lodestones to draw them nearer to God, but millstones to sink them deeper in hell (1 Tim. 6:9).

b.  Spiritual good things work for hurt to the wicked:

(1)   The ministers of God work for their hurt.  The same breath in the ministry that blow a godly man to heaven, blow a profane sinner to hell.  Wicked men are worse for preaching.  Sinners grow more resolved in sin; let God say what He will, they will do what they wish.  The word preached is not healing, but hardening.  And how dreadful is this for me to be sunk to hell with sermons!

(2)   Prayer works for their hurt.  “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord” (Pr. 15:8).  A wicked man is in a great strait:  if he prays not, he sins; if he prays, he sins.  His duties (of prayer) are tainted with atheism, fly-blown with hypocrisy; God abhors them.

(3)   The Lord’s Supper works for their hurt.  Profane persons feast with their sins; yet will come to feast at the Lord’s Table.  This is to provoke God.  To a sinner there is death in the cup; he “eats and drinks his own damnation” (1 Cor. 11:29).

(4)   Christ Himself works for hurt as He is a “stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” (1 Pet. 2:8). Instead of believing in him, they are offended by him.  Sinners stumble at a Savior and pluck death from the tree of life.  The blood of Christ, though to some it is a medicine, to others it is condemnation.

5.  The wisdom of God is revealed as He makes the worst things imaginable turn to the good of the saints. He enriches by impoverishing; He causes the augmentation of grace by the diminution of an estate.  When creature comforts go further from us, it is that Christ may come nearer to us.  He frequently makes use of unjust men to do that which is just.  He made use of the high-priest’s malice and Judas’ treason to redeem the world.  There is never a providence of God, but has either a mercy or a wonder in it.

6.  We have little cause to be discontented at outward trials and emergencies. There are no sins God’s people are more subject to than unbelief and impatience.  They are ready either to faint through unbelief or to fret through impatience.  Discontent is an ungrateful sin because we have more mercies than afflictions, and it is an irrational sin because afflictions work for good.

7.  The Scripture “God is good to Israel” (Ps. 73:1) is fulfilled for us included in the promises of Abraham (Romans 9:6-8). When we look upon adverse providences we may be ready to call in question the love of God and to say that He deals hardly with his people.  But, oh no, yet God is good to Israel because He makes all things work for good.  He works out sin and works in grace, is not this good? Let us always justify God; when our outward condition is ever so bad, let us say, “Yet God is good.”

8.  The saints have cause to be frequent in the work of thanksgiving. Why so?  Because God makes everything work for our good.  Many will thank God when He gives; Job thanked him when He took away because he knew God would work good out of it.  “The Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).  To be thankful in affliction is a work peculiar to a saint – a true saint can be thankful in adversity.

9.  Think, if the worst things work for good to a believer, what shall the best things work for us, namely Christ and heaven?! We may comfort one another with these thoughts:  If the cross has so much good in it, what has the crown which we await?  If God’s blow and stroke work for good, what shall the smiles of his face do?  If temptations and sufferings have matter of joy in them, what shall glory have?  If God’s chastening mercies are so great, what will his crowing mercies be?

10.  If God makes all things to turn to our good, consider how right it is that we should make all things tend to his glory. “Do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).  Consider all that God has done for our good:  He has dignified mankind by uniting our nature with the Godhead; He has laid a plan for our salvation; Christ has died for us; He has bestowed upon us his Spirit; He has enriched us with covenant blessings; He seeks our good and makes everything work for our good.  Shall we not seek his glory?

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Refreshing Dew by Dr. Pardington

I am reading through The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by the Puritan preacher, Jeremiah Burroughs, published post-humously in 1648 (1). Dana and I have a special affinity for Jeremiah Burroughs. It was in studying his book, Gospel Worship, and in discussions with the teacher and his wife, Chris and Mary Axtel, that we realized our theology aligned joyfully to Reformed theology.

Burroughs spends the first third of The Rare Jewel defining godly contentment which is not to be confused with resignation or simple happiness. The contentment of which Burroughs speaks is the same that Paul claimed in Philippians 4:11-13, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (2).  Paul’s contentment is a settled, pleased, resting in the sovereign, benevolent rule and reign of King Jesus in his life, no matter his circumstances.

In his first chapters, Burroughs dives deep into “the mystery of contentment” of which the world can only speculate and wonder. One of the fifteen mysteries identified by Burroughs is that the godly (Burrough’s word for the redeemed) live on the dew of God’s blessing, that the Christian can get food that the world does not know of; he is fed in a secret way by the dew of the blessing of God (pp. 56 – 60).

Burroughs observes that the poor man or woman who has but a little with grace, lives a more contented life than his rich neighbor who has a great income… though they have but a little, yet they have a secret blessing of God with it, which they cannot express to anyone else. If you were to come to them, Burroughs contends, and say, “How is it that you live as happily as you do?” they cannot tell you what they have; but they find there is a sweetness in what they enjoy and they know by experience that they never had such sweetness in former times. Even though they had a greater abundance in former times than they have now, yet they know they never had such sweetness; but how this comes about they cannot tell.

Burroughs identifies considerations with which a godly man finds contentment in what he has, “though it is ever so little.”

1. In what he has, he has the love of God to him.  Every good thing the people of God enjoy, they enjoy it in God’s love, as a token of God’s love, and coming from God’s eternal love to them, and this can’t help but be sweet to them.

2. What they have is sanctified to them for good.  A gracious heart (i.e. one who has received God’s grace) finds contentment in this: I have it and I have a sanctified use of it too. I find God goes along with what I have – to draw my heart nearer to him and sanctify my heart to him. If I find my heart drawn nearer to God by what I enjoy, that is much more than if I have it without any sanctifying of my heart by it. “There is a secret dew that goes along with it.”

3. A godly man may very well be content though he has only a little, for what he does have he has by right of Jesus Christ, by the purchase of Jesus Christ. A child of God has not a right merely by donation; what he has is his own, through the purchase of Christ. Every bit of bread you eat, if you are a godly man or woman, Jesus Christ has bought it for you. You go to market and buy your meat and drink with your money, but know that before you buy it, or pay money, Christ has bought it at the hand of God the Father with his blood. You have it at the hands of men for money, but Christ has bought it at the hand of his father by his blood.

4. Every little that they have is as an earnest payment for all the glory that is reserved for them; it is given them by God as the forerunner of those eternal mercies that the Lord intends for them. Just as every affliction the unsaved have here is but the beginning of sorrows, and forerunner of those eternal sorrows that they are likely to have hereafter in Hell, so every comfort the child of God has is a forerunner of those eternal mercies he shall have with God in Heaven. Not only are the consolations of God’s Spirit the forerunners of those eternal comforts you shall have in Heaven, but when you sit at your table and rejoice with your wife and children and friends you may look upon every one of those as a forerunner, yea, the very earnest payment of eternal life to you.

I can testify to this dew, this sweetness of life, which I first experienced shortly after the Lord saved me from my religion of works. I was in college at the time and I just remember walking through campus marveling at God’s creation – everything just seemed to invoke praise in my heart and was more beautiful, more awe-inspiring than I had ever known it to be prior to my conversion. My experience is echoed in the the second verse of George Wade Robinson’s hymn, “I am His and He is Mine”:

Heav’n above is softer blue, Earth around is sweeter green!
Something lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen;
Birds with gladder songs o’erflow, flowers with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know, I am His, and He is mine.
Since I know, as now I know, I am His, and He is mine.

“Christless eyes have never seen.” In his book A Praying Life (2), Dr. Paul Miller recounts an article he read in The New York Times Magazine by Dana Tierney. Dana and her husband, John, both rejected the faith presented to them in childhood. Yet Dana feels as if she’s missing out. When she watches her religious friends, she notices that they “have an expansiveness of spirit. When they walk along a stream, they don’t just see water falling over rocks; the sight fills them with ecstasy. [They] see a realm of hope beyond this world. I just see a babbling brook” (pp.109-110).

This dew of God’s blessing brings a sweet aroma to our celebrations as we remember the giver of all good things and know that he attends us in our joys. It lends eternal significance to our present realities, even our sufferings. It comforts us in difficult days – our Father, who controls the path of every speck of dust and particle of water, is working all of history to his great glory and our good. Oh, yes… “There is a secret dew of God’s goodness and blessing upon [God’s people] in his estate that others have not.”

Soul, then know thy full salvation
Rise o’er sin and fear and care
Joy to find in every station,
Something still to do or bear.

Think what Spirit dwells within thee,
Think what Father’s smiles are thine,
Think that Jesus died to win thee,
Child of heaven, canst thou repine?

~ “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken”

(1) Burroughs, Jeremiah. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. Carlisle: Banner of Truth Trust, 1964. 56-60. Print. Puritan Paperbacks.

(2) My Dana is right to observe that the oft-claimed v. 13 of Philippians 4 is not meant by Paul to be an affirmation of how we can achieve great things because Christ will give us the strength to do so (often proclaimed loudly and with great conviction and determination). Instead, it is a testimony to the sufficiency of Christ, knowing he will attend us and strengthen us when we are “brought low.”

(3) Miller, Paul E. A Praying Life. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2009. Print.
[Photo: Refreshing Dew by Dr. Pardington]

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