Contentment Begins with Obedience

This series on contentment has been a real wake up call for me. Today’s verse is Jeremiah 7:23, “But this is what I commanded them saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I commanded you, that it may be well with you.’” As I was working on the devotional part of my journaling, I felt God say, “Contentment begins with Obedience!” Wow, that was definitely an eyeopener. Then I remembered something I’ve carried with me at least for the last 25 years.

I had heard a Christian radio program while I was driving in my car, and the pastor speaking said, “Look at the word ‘obedience’, right in the middle of the word is another word, ‘DIE’. To be obedient means to die to ourselves and our wants and obey God’s will and desires for our lives.” When I heard God say, “Contentment Begins with Obedience!” it was as if I was being disciplined. My discontent was disobedience to Him. My anger and worry are disobedience to Him. Not only am I miserable when I am angry, worried and discontent, I make everyone else around me miserable, and God is not pleased with me. At that point, I am not allowing Him to rule and reign in my life. I am not displaying God-honoring behavior or attitudes. I am not allowing Jesus to shine in my life, and others don’t see Him in me, they see me in all my ugliness of attitude, words and behavior. I had to stop and ask for forgiveness and ask for His help to be obedient in being content and conquering my issues of anger and worry.

As I read the Scripture passage I read a little before and after the focus verse. God is telling Jeremiah what to tell the Israelites. He reminds them that their forefathers coming out of Egypt on the way to the Promised Land were disobedient in their complaining, stubbornness, always looking back to Egypt and walking in their own way instead of listening to God and obeying Him. Their constant rebellion was what inevitably caused a whole generation to be punished by wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, until everyone in that generation had died, not being able to enter the Promised Land.

With disobedience comes consequences, discontentment, and loss of joy. I need to not just say I’m working on my struggles, but actually put my words into action. Each day, every moment, every second, I must be aware of what I say, reign in my emotions, change my thinking, and trust God that even when I am not happy about something, He knows what is best for me, and will work in that situation for my good. It may not be something I want, but it will be for my good.

This past Sunday’s sermon wasn’t really on contentment, but on changing our thinking, and it ties in with what I’ve been studying in this series on contentment. Everything starts in the mind, which affects attitudes, behaviors, speech, and motivations. At the very beginning, I must decide in my mind that I will be obedient, to be content, to not worry, to not become angry at the drop of a hat. Forgiving others for past injustices also go toward being content. Forgiveness is not actually for the other person, it’s for me! It frees me up to be obedient and thereby be content.

This morning I was watching Kathie Lee and Hoda on the Today Show and they were talking about being happy. Kathie Lee is a Christian and she gave her view on happiness, and she was right on the money. She said happiness is not constant, but joy is. We can be happy one minute but then the next minute not be happy. However, joy is constant, and she said her joy comes from Father God. I love how she boldly proclaims her faith. She works for NBC, a network I used to work for a long time ago, and I know what she preaches flies in the face of the network’s viewpoint. I’m surprised they haven’t toned her down, but I’m glad they haven’t. She is an encouragement to those of us who are Believers living in this world of sin and darkness. Contentment also brings joy, or maybe it should be the other way around, joy brings contentment. When we have the joy that Jesus gives, we are content.

I have a lot of work to do to get to where I need to be, but I’m so glad my Heavenly Father is so patient with me. He keeps at me until I get it right. One day I will be able to look back and see how far I’ve come. It’s during times like this that I grow. I am thankful for His love and discipline.

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Being Content

In my Bible Journaling this month I’m reading about “Being Content”. This is one of those things I have struggled with my whole life. That, and coupled with being a worrier, and having anger issues, it’s a lot of issues that I need to deal with and get resolved. Today’s verse is Matthew 6:31-32, “Do not worry then, saying, ’What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.”

As I said, this is one of the big things I struggle with. Part of it is the old, “keeping up with the Joneses” attitude. The problem is, I was a Jones! So, if everyone is trying to keep up with my family, it’s like there is this thing that says, “You have to keep up appearances for the rest of the world.” The only problem with that is, we weren’t wealthy, didn’t have every latest thing that came along, but we managed. Even though I was reared in a Christian home, it was by no means perfect! I have a lot of issues to weed through from my past. So, in thinking through all of this today, my mind went back to yesterday and the sermon our Pastor delivered. The title of his sermon was, “What Were You Thinking?” He spoke from the Scripture passage, Philippians 4:8-9, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence, and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” It was a tough sermon to hear, because it hit you square in the face. It was one of those kinds of sermons where there wasn’t a peep in the sanctuary because people were deep in thought over what Pastor was saying. Usually, our services are filled with “amen” and “yes”, and periodic applause at something Pastor has said that we agree with. But yesterday, it was like God was saying, “Listen up! I want you to know this, I want you to do this!”

I pondered the sermon for most of yesterday. God was dealing with me. I began to think that maybe this is my time to get this settled, because not only was my study for this month on contentment, but yesterday’s sermon was about where this all starts. In my thoughts! Pastor asked us, “What do you spend your day thinking about?” Wow! It never occurred to me that what I focus on in my thoughts dictates my actions and attitudes. He said that what consumes our thought life will develop our character. Ok, so for me, I guess one of my issues is appearances, or how others perceive me. My hubby has observed that about me. I’m worried about what other people will think if I do something, or how my house will look to other people, whether they will like it, or me, or not. My Dad used to say that I shouldn’t worry about what other people think, even him. I tried all my life as a kid to make my Dad proud of me. Sometimes he would tell me, other times I never was sure. It left me feeling like I wasn’t good enough, that I needed to do something else to gain his approval. I’m sure that is the basis for my worry about how things appear to others. I need to remember that the only person I need to be concerned about what they think of me, is God! My job is to please Him!

The Scripture in Matthew plainly says that we are not to worry! That’s a command, not a suggestion! God already knows what we need, so why are we so consumed by acquiring money, food, clothes, and the things of this world? Part of the issue is what we spend time thinking about. In today’s society, we have television, radio, and advertisements all over telling us that we NEED the latest and greatest whatever it is. We can see and hear these things for so long before it begins to overtake our thoughts. Then we start seeking our WANTS instead of our NEEDS. The news on TV and radio nowadays is filled with negative reports of all kinds of things, and that leads to us worrying about our safety, will something happen to us that will cause irreparable harm? That leads to a lot of “What if’s” that most likely will never happen.

What are we focusing our thoughts upon, the things of this world or God’s Word? Pastor also said that the enemy wants to get our minds away from our focus on God. That means we must be aware of his traps. Trusting God for everything begins with keeping our minds upon Him and His Word. Another thing my Pastor said yesterday was, “The Word of God is a discerner of your thoughts.” God knows what we think about, whether it is good or bad, worth the time to think on or not. Therefore, if we keep our focus on His Word, seeking His opinion rather than others, praying and trusting that He will “work everything for our good” (Romans 8:28) then we have no cause to worry or be discontent with our situation.

In case, my readers think I’m pointing fingers, this is as much a preaching to myself as it is an encouragement for you. For me, this is a long journey, not a sprint, but a marathon. I have a lifetime of issues to resolve. It took a lifetime to develop them and it will take a lifetime to conquer each one of them. I hope this has been an encouragement to my readers, and that you will keep your mind focused on God and trust Him for all of your needs and desires.

Don’t Worry Be Happy!

Ok, this is confession time…when it comes to being content, I am a long ways from getting to that point. The Bible says that we are to be content in all circumstances…well, sorry to say, I’m not there yet. Today’s Bible Journaling is from Philippians 4:6, “Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done.” (NLT) I must admit, I tend to do the worrying part more than the praying part. I also do quite a bit of complaining. So, this verse is talking to me a lot!

The Apostle Paul was encouraging the Philippians to do the same thing…pray, don’t worry, thank God, BE HAPPY! Remember the popular song a few years ago, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”? It’s a catchy little tune, and when things are going well, it’s easy to sing it. But when things are not going well, then it’s not so easy. When we were kids our parents used to tell us not to complain because there was always someone who was worse off then we were. For me, that didn’t help me in my situation. I couldn’t do anything about that person who was worse off than me, and I sure wasn’t happy about where I was…so what was the point of that little lesson? It has taken me a very long time to figure that one out. God has blessed me so much! I have no right to complain. I have a roof over my head, food on my table, and a wonderful husband to share my life with. Maybe I don’t have everything I want, but God never promised to meet all my WANTS, He promised to supply all my NEEDS according to His riches in glory! (Philippians 4:19)

This is where contentment comes in. Once we figure out that what we have is what we need, then we can be content in knowing God is watching over us and supplying everything we need, and the wants will come if it’s for our good. This is can be a hard lesson to learn, and for me, it’s a life-long learning experience. I wish I could say I am there, but I can’t. God and I have a lot of work to do for me to get to that point.

Paul said that he had learned to be content no matter what circumstance he was in. For me, that’s hard to understand. I mean, he was imprisoned, ship-wrecked, beaten, left for dead, persecuted…you name it, he was abused in so many ways. Yet, he could say that he was content. So, from where does this contentment come? From Jesus Christ. He is the One who gives us contentment. He is the One who knows and understands all the things we encounter in our lives. He has taught us by His life how to be content. The Bible says that Jesus didn’t even have a place to lay His head! So, He understands being homeless! He was betrayed, He understands when we are betrayed by those we had trusted. He endured so much persecution, even to the point of death, He understands when we are persecuted for our faith. Everything we go through in life, He also had to endure. His life, and how He reacted to each situation, is an example for us. We are to be imitators of Jesus.

Will we do it perfectly? No, but then we aren’t perfect creatures. Only Jesus was perfect, and He was able to be the perfect example for us. We are, to the best of our ability, to imitate Him, learn to be content in whatever situation we find ourselves. With that contentment comes joy. Philippians 4:4 says, “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again – rejoice!” (NLT) Contentment and joy are attitudes that we are to incorporate into the very fabric of our being. So, I hope this encourages you. For me, it’s a good kick in the seat to get me to that point of being content in every situation.

Count it All Joy

I’ve been on vacation for the last month so, I haven’t had an opportunity to blog or do my Bible Journaling. I must say, I have missed this time of getting into God’s Word and sharing with you. Today’s Bible Journaling is from James 1:2-3, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” (KJV) Divers temptations can be defined as trials, those hard situations that we go through in life. They can also literally be temptations.

Patience! Boy that is a big one for me. I am really bad about being patient. That goes along with my issue of anger. They kind of go hand in hand. I think this is a life-long struggle…I am more like my earthly father than I am my Heavenly Father, and that is something that bothers me, especially in this area. As a kid, I vowed I would never be like my Dad. He had a hair trigger temper, and I’m just like him. It makes me angry at myself because I don’t want to be like that. As hard as I try, every time something happens that sets me off, I automatically go to my default of being angry or being impatient.

James says that the trying of our faith works patience….so that means the only way to gain patience is through trials. Now, trials can be anything from life happening, hard situations, to our own expectations of how things should be. I have to admit, sometimes I do better with hard things like the death of my first husband, as hard as that was, than I do with everyday irritations. As I was doing my journaling today I realized that it’s the everyday stuff that seems to trip me up. Dealing with people that seem to have a knack of finding my “buttons” and pushing them just to see me blow. Sometimes it happens so quickly I don’t realize it until the storm is already passed, or the words are already out of my mouth. The counting to ten thing before speaking just doesn’t seem to work for me. I can’t seem to get to that point of even starting with one. It’s an automatic reaction to get angry or become aggravated.

While I was journaling the page, I had to remind myself that I need to “count it all joy”, and the realization came that there is joy in trials. Maybe we don’t realize it as we are going through it, but after we have had a chance to look back, we can see periods of growth in our lives, and those growth periods come during trials. There are times when the hard stuff comes that we can be glad we went through it, but we wouldn’t want to go through it again. We learn things through those hard struggles in life. If you are like me, we find ourselves going around the same mountain trying to conquer the same thing, over and over again. God tends to keep us there until we learn our lesson. I have a tendency to be hard-headed…so God has to practically beat me over the head to get me to learn anything. I feel sorry for Him …. how patient He is with me! My desire is to have that same patience. I am definitely a work in progress.

Trials are a necessary part of life. They take us from one level to another. The struggles we face are in preparation for the next level, where we need to use what we have just learned. They also show us God’s faithfulness. We can see that if He brought us through this trial, He can, and will, bring us through the next one. He doesn’t leave us to struggle alone, He walks with us, encouraging us, and helping us get through the trial so that we can come out victorious on the other side. And, in the meantime, we learn something as well.

If you are disappointed with yourself like I am, just remember, we are a work in progress, and even though we don’t want to go through those struggles, they are placed in our lives to help us grow and become more like our Heavenly Father. Be encouraged! Remember, He will never leave you to fend for yourself, He is always with you.

Whatever it Takes

It’s early morning and I’ve been up since 3:30.  I’ve been awakened by a song, Damaris Carbaugh sings called, “Whatever it Takes”.  Sometimes God wakes me in the middle of the night because He wants to talk to me.  This song is running in my mind over and over.  The words are so haunting, and it causes me to stop and re-evaluate my relationship with Jesus.

There’s a voice calling me from an old rugged tree
And it whispers, “Draw closer to Me;
Leave this world far behind, there are new heights to climb,
And a new place in Me you will find.”

CHORUS: For whatever it takes to draw closer to You, Lord,
That’s what I’ll be willing to do;
For whatever it takes to be more like You,
That’s what I’ll be willing to do.

Take the dearest things to me, if that’s how it must be
To draw me closer to You;
Let the disappointments come, lonely days without the sun,
If through sorrow more like You I’ll become.

Take my houses and lands, change my dreams and my plans,
For I’m placing my whole life in Your hands;
And if You call me today to a land far away,
Lord, I’ll go and Your will obey.

I can hear Damaris singing, with her deep, rich, alto voice resonating in my mind, and my heart is stirred within me.

I used to sing this song, without much thought to what it really was saying, not really applying it to my life.  But, one day my first husband asked me if I really meant what I was singing. Then he said, “You’d better be sure, because you don’t know what the future holds or if God will hold you to the words you sing.  Do you really mean, “Whatever it takes”? His statement and question caught me off guard.  I hadn’t really considered the fact that what I was singing, God may some day require me to prove my words.  Shortly after that my husband and I went through a very long trial. He had two strokes and became an invalid and I had to put him into a nursing home.  I had to carry a full-time job, try to manage all the things he had always taken care of, take care of him, and try to keep my head above water financially.  After a very long illness of seven years, God took him Home.  Then I spent six years alone before meeting my second husband.

I learned what those words meant! My second husband calls it my Job’s Trial. They were very dark days, but as I wandered through that haze of feeling nothing, I found out something. I found out that deep down inside, I really did mean those words.

It was so hard, but God showed me how I could trust Him with everything. I found that I had no one else to turn to, not in the way that I needed. Yes, God brought people into my pathway to help me, but they couldn’t be the Rock I needed to keep me standing.

So, as I listen to this song in my mind, I question, why is this song running through my mind now? It’s been a very long time since I’ve played the CD on which it is listed. God, what are You trying to tell me? I searched for Scriptures where Jesus is asking us to draw closer to Him and I found Matthew 16:24, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.’” (NASB) Then the thought crossed my mind, “Am I about to go through a trial?” I don’t have to fear, because God has already proved Himself strong, and I know that whatever He asks me to do, I will be able to accomplish with Him by my side.

The verse talks about taking up our cross. Crosses are heavy. They are burdens we carry and can be almost anything that drags us down or brings us to a point of desperation. Do we try to carry them ourselves, or do we go to the One who says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29 NASB) Rest, that’s what we find when we draw closer to Jesus. Peace floods our soul as we lean upon Him to carry those things that overwhelm us. The closer we get to Jesus, the easier it is to carry the burden, because we are not carrying it alone, He is taking the brunt of the weight. It is much like oxen who are tied together in a yoke, they each carry a portion of the weight as they pull the plow across the field. The burden is lighter.

So, as I think about the words to this song, I can say, “Yes, Lord, whatever it takes, because You have already proven to me that You are faithful, and I have nothing to fear.”

Do Not Fear

There are many things that make us fearful. We can be afraid of anything from snakes and creepy crawlies to fear of being in a crowd, or fear of heights. I was curious as to how many phobias existed, and according to what I found on the Internet, there are more than 500 phobias, things that are legitimate fears and those that are not so much. Our society today is troubled by fear. We see it everyday just in the news reports alone. People are afraid to walk out their front door for fear that they will be harmed by violence. Fear permeates almost every area of people lives and some are so fearful they can’t function in society.

The children of Israel had a fear. They had been across the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land and now they were standing on the banks of the Jordan getting ready to cross over into the Promised Land. The spies were sent to scout out the land. When they came back to give a report to the people, the spies said that the land was rich with good things, but said the land was filled with giants and walled cities. They were so afraid, that they gave a bad report, and made the people fearful as well. However, Joshua and Caleb, who were with the spies, gave a good report and implored with the people to not be afraid, but trust God. They told the people that God would go before them and give their enemies into their hand. But the people became rebellious to the point of wanting to stone Joshua and Caleb. Joshua and Caleb told the people, “Only do not rebel against the Lord; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” (Numbers 14:9) God was angry at the people’s rebellion and they paid for their disobedience. God made them wander in the wilderness for 40 years until that generation of fearful, disobedient, rebellious people had died.

Fear can rob us of so many things. It can rob us of peace and joy. It can make us see only what we are so fearful of and gets our eyes off God. We forget that God has promised that He will always be with us. There are at least 20 verses that remind us that God is with us. Even His name, Immanuel, is a reminder that He is with us because His name means, “God with us.” One of my favorite verses is Hebrews 13:5,” …. I will never desert you, nor will I forsake you.” (NASB) He promises to stay with us always!

When we get our eyes off God and look at the circumstances around us or the thing that has us entrapped in fear, all we see is that fear, and God becomes so small. There is a saying that my husband uses that says, “Big problem, little God, little problem, big God”. The idea is to remember that no problem is bigger than God. When we focus on that problem, we make God so small that we see no way that He could ever solve the problem. But when our eyes are on God, He becomes bigger than any problem, and our faith is increased as we watch Him work on our behalf and remove that fear, that thing, that problem that has us entrapped. We must remember that our God is not a little God, He is greater than anything you may face!

When we give our fears over to Him, He releases us from what the Devil has had us bound. He breaks those chains, shows Himself strong, and delivers us from the fear that surrounds us. Peace begins to flood our soul, real joy begins to bubble up, and we find we can rest in His arms and allow Him to bring relief. The prison we have been in is opened and we can then walk in freedom. The chains of fear are broken!

How Long O Lord?

 

Today’s Bible Journaling is from Psalm 13:1, How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?” King David is questioning in the midst of a very difficult time in his life. He feels as if God has abandoned him. He doesn’t feel God’s presence, he prays and hears nothing. We’ve all been in that circumstance, haven’t we?

Life gets hard, God seems far away, our prayers seem to hit the ceiling and bounce back to the floor. “Where are You God?” I’ve certainly been there. I’ve recounted before the hardest time in my life when my first husband was so sick and eventually passed away. It took a long time for me to actually sense God’s presence and working in my life. But once I did, I was amazed at what He had been doing even though I, at the time, couldn’t see it.

David must have been very depressed, but despite his searching and feelings of being abandoned, if you read the rest of the chapter, David ends up rejoicing and worshipping God. The verses that really jumped out at me were verses 5 and 6. “But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.” Even though he felt like God left him to fend for himself, he realizes that he must trust God and His plan.

I love this about David! He spends the majority of the chapter pleading and complaining and then it’s almost like he comes to himself and remembers that he must trust God no matter what he is going through. How like David we are, aren’t we? We gripe and complain that God isn’t doing anything, or He has abandoned us, or isn’t working in our time frame and then it’s like we need a good smack in the head to remind us that no matter the situation, the first thing is TRUST GOD!

We forget to pray, or if we are praying, our prayers can be full of impatience or sound like a 2-year old temper tantrum…” I want it my way, and I want it now!” Never remembering that all things are done in HIS timing, not ours. He sees the big picture, He has a plan for our lives and sees the end from the beginning. All we can see is what is just in front of us.

Trusting is sometimes so hard to do, especially if we have been in the position of trusting someone only to have them leave us standing on our own without what was promised. We tend to not want to trust them again. We can only get left hanging for so long before we realize it isn’t worth the hurt and pain to trust.

However, God is always faithful! He never goes back on His word. If He has promised it, He will do it, and we can rely on His word. Sometimes it seems like He has moved far away, but in reality, we are the ones who have moved. He is always right at our side, holding us, walking with us, guiding us in the right way to go. It is up to us to stay with Him, to follow His leading. And, in those times when we feel He has left continue to trust whatever He has planned for us. Resting in His arms is the best place to be.
Sometimes God allows the hard times to build our faith, to make us stronger, or to prepare us for something that is coming down the road. We can look back and say, “If God could bring me through that, He can bring me through this.” Our strength comes from trusting in His Divine Plan for our lives and allowing Him to work through us and in us.

So, if you are going through a difficult time, remember it’s ok to ask, “How long, O Lord?” Just remember, He hasn’t abandoned you, He is right with you. Trust in His plan for your life and walk the pathway He has laid out for you with patience. He will never fail you!