For it is by grace you have been saved...

Monday, November 19, 2012

On Contentment and Thanksgiving

As we consider the issue of giving thanks this week, I can’t help but think the reason we’re not more thankful is because we’re not more content.  I mean, where else can you find people who celebrate being thankful by the biggest, and becoming the bloodiest, holiday shopping spree/riot of the year.  

So, just to help us think more in terms of being content, leading to true thankfulness, consider these wise words from ThomasWatson.  Written as part of an exposition of the book of Philippians called The Art of Divine Contentment, Watson gives us some “proofs” to see if we have such contentment in our own lives.  It is written primarily concerning Paul’s words in Philippians 4:11 – “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” (ESV)

Concerning the connection to thanksgiving, note the 3rd “character” especially.  Enjoy…

How may a Christian know that he hath learned this lesson of contentment? I shall lay down some characters by which you shall know it.

Character 1st. A contented spirit is a silent spirit; he hath not one word to say against God; “I was dumb and silent, because thou didst it.” (Ps. 39. 9) Contentment silenceth all dispute: “he sitteth alone and keepeth silence.” (La. 3. 28) …A discontented spirit saith as Pharaoh, “who is the Lord?” why should I suffer all this? why should I be brought into this low condition? “who is the Lord?” But a gracious heart saith, as Eli, “it is the Lord,” let him do what he will with me… A contented spirit is never angry unless with himself for having hard thoughts of God. When Jonah said, “I do well to be angry,” this was not a contented spirit, it did not become a prophet.

Character 2nd. A contented spirit is a cheerful spirit; the Greeks call it euthema. Contentment is something more than patience; for patience denotes only submission, contentment denotes cheerfulness. A contented Christian is more than passive; he doth not only bear the cross, but take up the cross. (Mat. 6. 24) He looks upon God as a wise God; and whatever he doth, though it be not willingly, yet sensibly, it is in order to a cure. Hence the contented Christian is cheerful, and with the apostle, “takes pleasure in infirmities, distresses,” &c. (2 Cor. 12. 10) He doth not only submit to God’s dealings, but rejoice in them; he doth not only say, “just is the Lord in all that hath befallen me,” but “good is the Lord.” This is to be contented… He that is contented with his condition, doth not abate of his spiritual joy; and indeed he hath that within him which is the ground of cheerfulness; he carries a pardon sealed in his heart. (Mat. 9. 2)

Character 3rd. A contented spirit is a thankful spirit. This is a degree above the other; “in every thing giving thanks.” (1 Th. 5. 18) A gracious heart spies mercy in every condition, therefore hath his heart screwed up to thankfulness; others will bless God for prosperity, he blesseth him for affliction. Thus he reasons with himself; am I in want? God sees it better for me to want than to abound; God is now dieting of me, he sees it better for my spiritual health sometimes to be kept fasting; therefore he doth not only submit but is thankful. The malcontent is ever complaining of his condition; the contented spirit is ever giving thanks. O what height of grace is this! A contented heart is a temple where the praises of God are sung forth, not a sepulchre wherein they are buried.

A contented Christian in the greatest straits hath his heart enlarged and dilated in thankfulness; he oft contemplates God’s love in election; he sees that he is a monument of mercy, therefore desires to be a pattern of praise. There is always gratulatory music in a contented soul; the Spirit of grace works in the heart like new wine, which under the heaviest pressures of sorrow will have a vent open for thankfulness: this is to be content.

Character 4th. He that is content, no condition comes amiss to him; so it is in the text, “in whatever state I am.” A contented Christian can turn himself to anything; either want or abound…Paul knew how to manage every state; he could be either a note higher or lower; he was in this sense an universalist, he could do anything that God would have him: if he were in prosperity, he knew how to be thankful; if in adversity, he knew how to be patient; he was neither lifted up with the one, nor cast down with the other. He could carry a greater sail, or lesser. Thus a contented Christian knows how to turn himself to any condition... In a word, a contented Christian, being sweetly captivated under the authority of the word, desires to be wholly at God’s disposal, and is willing to live in that sphere and climate where God has set him. And if at any time he hath been an instrument of doing noble and brave service in the public, he knows he is but a rational tool, a servant to authority, and is content to return to his former condition of life.

Character 5th. He that is contented with his condition, to rid himself out of trouble, will not turn himself into sin. I deny not but a Christian may lawfully seek to change his condition: so far as God’s providence doth go before, he may follow… A contented Christian is willing to wait God’s leisure, and will not stir till God open a door. As Paul said in another case, “they have beaten us openly, uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison, and now do they thrust us out privily? nay, verily, but let them come themselves and fetch us out:” (Ac. 16. 37) so, with reverence, saith the contented Christian, God hath cast me into this condition; and though it be sad, and troublesome, yet I will not stir, till God by a clear providence fetch me out...A contented Christian will not remove, till as the Israelites he sees a pillar of cloud and fire going before him. “It is good that a man should both hope, and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord. (La. 3. 26) It is good to stay God’s leisure and not to extricate ourselves out of trouble, till we see the star of God’s providence pointing out a way to us.

The old Puritan certainly gives food for thought.  But if that’s a bit much for you, maybe you could simply remember the lesson taught in this timeless classic from those great theologians over at VeggieTales.

Whatever motivates you, though, I hope you find contentedness in Christ and that remembering His grace truly makes you thankful.  

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