Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Contentment and Going for Broke

I spend Quiet Time with God most mornings. (Quiet Time is explained here.) The focus of my time with God today was Genesis 10 and 11 and Psalm 4. God seemed to most speak to me in two verses from the Psalm. (If you would like help in starting your own Quiet Time with God for five days a week, let me know. I'll be glad to point you to resources that will help you do that.) Here's some of what I wrote in my journal today.
Look: The Psalm seems to begin with a plea from David to his people. Some scholars suggest that it was written as “David was asking his enemies to reconsider their support of Absalom” during Absalom’s rebellion against KIng David, his father. [Life Application Bible]

But then, a shift takes place. David talks about his own approach to life and, he can’t seem to help himself. He praises God:

“There are many who pray: ‘Give us more blessings, O Lord. Look on us with kindness!’ But the joy that you have given me is more than they will ever have with all their grain and wine.” (Psalm 4:6-7, Good News Translation)

David seems to be saying that he has learned contentment. He’s not always looking for more; he thanks God for what he has.

That’s easy enough for a king to say, I suppose. And given that David’s son, Absalom, is appealing to the people’s sense that David isn’t sharing enough, this statement by David may have landed like a lead balloon in the eyes of his opponents. Didn’t David understand their grievances? Probably. David probably also understood that this was a rebellion of elitists, of people like Henry Ford, who, when asked how much a man needed to live on, answered, “Just a little more.”

David is saying that what God has given to him, much of which could not be measured in material things, but in joy, is more than any of the craving rebels will ever have. You can have stuff, power, and success and still not be content, not have joy. Joy seems to not be happiness, but contentment that I have because I live in peace with God, a peace that passes understanding and a peace that never ends. My sins are forgiven. I have been made new (2 Corinthians 5:17). And God is walking with me through everything I experience in life (Psalm 23; Romans 8:31-39; Matthew 28:20).

Paul writes to believers in the New Testament: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

The risen Jesus tells His followers in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

It is this peace that I think David is talking about, a peace not dependent on outward circumstances, but on God alone.

Paul had that contentment, though, unlike David, he was far from wealthy or powerful: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11)

Paul isn’t saying that he’s content with the circumstances he’s in (he was imprisoned at the time he wrote them), but that he’s content in the midst of whatever circumstances.

There’s a difference.

I think that David’s sentiments here in Psalm 4:6-7 are compatible with Paul’s from Philippians 4:11. David is trying to convince the rebels to lay down their arms. There is nothing wrong with followers of the God we know in Jesus wanting things: outcomes, situations, etc. But they view everything through the perspective of faith. What they want will not stop them from thanking God for the eternal relationship with Him they already have through faith in Christ. And not getting what they want will not destroy their faith.

Listen: Lord, I swing between wanting outrageous things that are clearly not in Your will, on the one hand, and giving up on asking You for anything, on the other.

Neither is faith: one is covetousness; the other is resignation. Both are sins, failures to trust in God as God.

I allow my thoughts and feelings to shape my faith and moods at any given time, rather than allowing myself to be shaped by what You teach in Your Word.

In John 16:24, Jesus says, “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”

To ask in Jesus’ name, as I have reminded people over the years (and which I need to constantly remind myself), doesn’t mean that Jesus’ name is a good luck charm that makes the request acceptable to God. That would be superstition and attempted manipulation of God.

John, who records Jesus words there, helps to clarify their meaning in his first letter: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” (1 John 5:14)

So, to pray in Jesus’ name is to ask God to grant our prayer request only if their consistent with the will, the character, and the intentions of the God we know in Jesus.

I take this as a license to go for broke: to ask for anything. But I also take it to mean that, when we sense from God’s Word or the promptings of His Spirit that the things we’re asking for aren’t in His plan, for whatever reason, that we will change our prayers.

Even when God says, “No,” that’s an answer to prayer.

And, as David reminds in this passage from Psalm 4, the joy God has given us by allowing us to be in relationship with Him is greater than all the good stuff this world has to offer.

And in Christ, we know that an eternity of perfection is in store for those who remain faithful in following Christ. Paul talks about this in 2 Timothy 4:8: “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

There are some prayers though that we may pray for long years and even if there is no hint of improvement, we must keep praying them because we know that they are consistent with the will of God. This includes prayers like those in which we ask that God will send workers into the harvest so that new millions will come to faith in Christ (Matthew 9:38); that God will orchestrate the coming to faith of some prodigal we may know (Luke 15:11-32); and that God’s justice and mercy will come to all people (Micah 6:8), to name just a few. These are big prayers and there’s a lot of sin and bad habits and demonic opposition to the fulfillment of any of them. But when I know that something we pray for is in the will of God, I must not stop. Such persistence in praying--driven by love and not by selfishness--is one way I acknowledge the joy that God has given to me through Christ and that I want all people to experience.

Respond: Today, let me be intentional in thanking You for all Your blessings, most especially for Jesus. Help me pray for workers in the harvest; for justice for the oppressed--for blacks, the unborn, refugees, women, minorities around the world; for the return of prodigals who have left You; and for me to be a disciple-maker. In Jesus’ name.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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