By Julie Simmons
Picture the scene – you are driving your shiny, new car past well-manicured lawns on a bright, sunny day. You and your well-dressed friends are laughing at a clever joke. All of you are perfectly happy, without a care in the world. The commercials would make you think it is all because of your new automobile. Ok, maybe the car commercial seems rather far-fetched. But the marketing of such products draws on our basic emotions of longing to be more happy, more attractive, more popular, or more fulfilled. Maybe car
Perhaps from the outside your life looks fine – you have a loving family, a job that pays the bills, good health, and some leisure time to relax. Or perhaps you are walking through a trying time right now, and you don’t know why God is allowing you to endure such hardship. How can we wake up each day with joy and hope, when it is difficult even to put one foot in front of the other? What should we do when our minds are gripped with disappointments or longing for what we do not have?
When we look to the Psalms, it is clear that David had opened up about what tragedies and points of discouragement he had faced. And yet, in Psalm 103, David provides a fitting exultation of God’s worth that shows how we should find our contentment in Him, despite our circumstances. Verses 9-12 state:
“He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal
with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as
high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward
those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove
our transgressions from us.”
In Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s moving work, The Cost of Discipleship, he entreats us to consider the attitude of faithful Christians who suffer:
“They simply bear the suffering which comes their way as they try to follow Jesus Christ, and bear it for hissake. Sorrow cannot tire them or wear them down, it cannot embitter them or cause them to break down under the strain; far from it for they bear their sorrow in the strength of him who bears them up, who bore the whole suffering of the world upon the cross. They stand as the bearers of sorrow in the fellowship of the Crucified . . . This is their comfort, or better still, this Manis their comfort, the Comforter (Luke 2:25).”
When we lose sight of our Comforter, we can slip into discontentment. But Paul warns us against this attitude in Colossians 3:15 – “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” If we are supposed to be thankful in every circumstance, how can we complain at the same time? When we begin lamenting our circumstances, it often leads to comparing ourselves to friends, family members, or neighbors. We start to wonder “Why me? Why can’t I have what they have?” But Paul also exhorts us in Galatians 5:26 not to “become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”
If we are constantly focused on our circumstances, are not we, in essence, saying to God “I am better than these circumstances. I don’t deserve this. I should have more.” But, in fact, Romans 6:23 teaches us that we do not deserve more. “The wages of sin is death…”. Because we are sinners, we should have eternal punishment. But God is merciful, and every breath we breathe is a testament to His grace. In Him, we obtain forgiveness of sin, Christ’s righteousness, and a glorious home in heaven one day, in short, every spiritual blessing we could ever imagine.
As we consider the posture we should take concerning our circumstances, let us look to Christ’s example. He lived a perfect life. He never had a sinful action, word, or thought. And yet He endured unimaginable suffering. As He prepared to go to the cross, He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). He laid His emotions before His Father, yet He submitted to His Father’s will. God wants us to be honest about how we feel. If you are a parent, you know the pain of seeing your child hurting. Your heart empathizes with theirs and you want to share their burdens.
Our Heavenly Father also wants to share our burdens, but, unlike earthly parents, He has perfectly orchestrated our present circumstances and knows why we are in the season we are in. He knows what we need and which lessons are to be learned. He sees us and is sovereign over all. So when we complain to Him, what we are really saying is “No, God, I don’t trust Your plan. You are not sovereign. You are not good.” And, yet, these proclamations go against God’s character. Psalm 33:4 tells us that “all his work is done in faithfulness”. God is a good God. He Himself is love. By His very nature, He cannot and will not do anything unloving toward us.
Whatever the circumstance, God is using it to mold me into His image. “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”(I Peter 4:19). Though much of society’s worldview pushes us to strive for happiness over everything else, God’s ultimate design is not just for our happiness, but for our holiness. He commanded of His people in Leviticus 11:44 to “consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.”
On the night before Jesus was crucified, as He shared His final words of loving wisdom with His disciples, He told them how to fulfill that command to be holy and find lasting joy – “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11). So in seeking holiness, we are not forfeiting joy but actually finding the fullest joy possible – living in Him, and He in us.
We know that our contentment should be based on Christ. So what are some practical ways we can set our hearts on His goodness?
- Keep a gratitude list. Write or type what you are thankful for. Looking back at your list will remind you how much God has done for you.
- Memorize scripture. This is the best way to keep our minds on Christ. Some rich passages to begin with are Psalm 16, Romans 8, and Ephesians 1.
- Balance serving with rest. Spending too much time on one of those extremes can be unhealthy and make it hard to remember our place in God’s hands.
- Ask others to pray for you. Let your friends and family help carry your burdens. This is one of the purposes that God designed community.
- Most importantly, remember that joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Living in His Spirit produces lasting joy.
Julie is a wife, mother, and educator to those with special needs. When she’s not serving her family or at work, she enjoys crossfit, reading a good book, or writing. Julie has a degree in Elementary Education from Campbell University.