Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Response (Follow Up) to The Problematic Attainment of Contentment

Aahhh, Chris, thank you for giving me the answer I was expecting someone to say. Although I must say, you write like a theology book, oh man. Reading your response is like reading an academic intro to theology, it definitely shows how much you have grown in the knowledge of our LORD, I was impressed with your answer. And I might say, I completely agree with the theology of what you wrote. However, you bring up another issue with your answer, and you have proved an underlying point by your answer.

Yes, I agree that full contentment will come at the restoration of all things, as we await our fulfillment in being the new creation and that true contentment is only found by the Holy Spirit through the knowledge of the resurrected atoning Christ, and His propitiation to all of mankind.
But just as your response showed, we can attain and believe in the theology (theory) of it all, but when the rubber meets the road, how does it pan out practically. Yes I understand what it means to attain true Spirit filled contentment in being a new creation through the knowledge of the resurrected Christ, but how does it play out practically? That was the point, I wanted people to take the theology of what we are encouraged/commanded and try to apply it practically.

You said that I took the Hebrews passage out of context. I think you read too much into my listing of the passage. All I was doing was listing two verses that talk about contentment, one where Paul says in all facets of life he tries to find contentment, and the other that says seek out contentment in love. I think it is not reading too much into Scripture or painting a broad stroke (as you claim) to say that the disciple of Christ should seek contentment in all things. Nowhere did I imply that the Hebrews passage said something more than it did, I was just listing it.
You also said, “I take that to mean that the Lord strengthens Paul as a new creation through present suffering and future hope. So, we indeed see contentment and ‘aspiration’, as you put it, coupled together in the power of the resurrection and new creation.” I think you would agree that Paul was a special case as He individually was in the LORD’S determined will and had an extraordinary relationship with the Living God that most of us today do not. I don’t know maybe you have this same relationship and contact with the LORD, I know I do not? So to Paul’s case I would agree with you that through Paul’s suffering the LORD strengthened Paul as a new creation which coupled aspiration and contentment together. I don't think we can apply this same idea to most of us, because most of us are not as disciplined as Paul was, and are not faithful enough to have the relationship with the LORD that Paul had. Now one can take what I am saying to the extreme and say that if you agree to this, then you can not use or apply most of the Epistles (Paul’s experiences) to our lives today. I am not saying that, all I am saying is Paul was a special case, and to assume we have what he had with the LORD is arrogant (We could have what he had, but most of us are not faithful enough). The reason I think contentment and aspiration are two separate things is because the majority of us have an overarching sinful nature that always craves more (if we are unequivocally honest with ourselves). Of course if one is walking side by side with the LORD as Paul did, then he or she would not struggle with this, I can not say this for myself though.

You might disagree with me Chris, but I do not think that an average Yemeni or Omani (for that matter most of third world believers) believer of ten years, would be able to wrap his mind around what you wrote (I think I say this with experience). Or be able to explain it in a practical way. What you wrote is great for academia and is true theology (I agree with it), but what does theology do for us if we can not understand it enough to apply it to practical living. Or to explain it to a simple minded believer. In my time in the third world I have come across hundreds (I am not exaggerating) of simple minded believers, who have no education, who struggle to read and who live very basic lives. And yet, they live more according to the Scriptural life then many of the Bible Students I have come across in my life. And this greatly challenges me, and forces me to ask a question. WHat good is the study of theology for us in the west, if we cant simplify it to the God fearing simpletons? Why do we, unbenonst to us, sit atop our lofty academia pulpits and criticize this belief of that belief, this struggle or that struggle and turn a blind eye to the practicality of theology?
I’m not trying to come down on theology students (I am one myself), I am just trying to say that in my experience the “theological answer” does not do the majority of believers in the world (living under the poverty line) any good. Instead, lets understand the theology of our studies, and try and find a way to make it practical for those who cannot understand the theology of it all. This might not be an issue for you in the west, but its something I come across weekly. When you live with the poor (least of these) you have different problems, when you live away from the poor you don’t have to struggle with these things.

Take the example I gave of my own struggle. I am struggling to find contentment in ministry when I am in this location or that. Do I understand and believe that Jesus is the Propitiation of my sins and that I am made a new creation by this work; that true and final contentment will be realized at the renewal of all things in the Kingdom and that I eagerly await the dwelling of all nations in the presence of our LORD and King?? OF COURSE I DO!!! But the knowledge of all this extraordinary, life giving truth does not help my struggle of always wanting to minister in another location. Maybe I am lost in my sin, or totally missing the point of my theological study? Whatever it is, this is a struggle, and the “theological answer” does not really help me, although I agree with it. So I wanted to spur people on to look past it, and try and come up with an answer, because there is one. I am trying to get people to question what they believe and why the believe it, its better than trust telling them the answer.

Thanks so much Chris for your response, I was hoping more people would respond, but its good to hear from you, I appreciate it. I hope this wont be the last time I hear from you.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Problematic Attainment of Contentment

Before I get on a Political blog, I wanted to write a little about the struggle with Contentment. This is directed toward the serious disciple of Christ.

Philippians 4:11-12 "I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want."

Hebrews 13:5 "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'"

We, as believers in the LORD and followers of His word, are to be content in all things. That is plain and simple. However, I wonder, if we are truly honest with ourselves, how many of us could honestly admit that we are content most of the time? If you think about it, this idea is near impossible for a human being (realize I said "near" impossible, not impossible). For as human nature goes, we are inherently greedy. We always want more, whether it be things, or relationships or opportunities, even in ministry. As human beings we always want to improve in whatever we embark on. If its a job, then we want a raise/promotion, if its school, we want a higher GPA, if its sports we want the championship, and then the next championship. If its ministry, we want it to be more effective, even in our own personal lives, we always want to be better human beings. So how can we honestly say we are content?

Allow me to address the distinction between contentment and aspiration, as I am sure this is the first thing that would pop in ones mind. One might argue, that you can aspire to be better or more successful and still be content where you are. Because aspiration and contentment are two separate achievements. However, I beg to dislodge this claim. I do not think you can claim to have both, contentment and aspiration. At the root of aspiration is hope, and hope is the desire for a certain thing to happen. Hope has at its foundation "desire" and desire is wanting what you do not have. If you aspire you are in all practicality wanting more of what you are attempting, you would not aspire if you were happy (content) with the position/place you were in. Why would you want to leave? Why would you want to change, if you were truly content with the position/place you were in, then why in the world would you put in any amount of effort to change your content paradigm? The answer is you would not! You would stay where you are, happy and satisfied. The problem is, most of us are not like this, we always need to improve, we always need to get better, we always want more! So then, this brings me back to my earlier question, how can we do as Paul writes and be content as we have a greedy human nature?

I will use myself as an example of the imperfection of a lack of contentment in life. Many of you know of the volunteer work I do overseas, what you don't know is the battle I have within myself when I am overseas or at home in the States. When I have spent a fair amount of time in the States, I find myself longing for the adventure of the Middle East/Africa, the desire for extreme, effective ministry. I yearn for the spontaneity and I long for the great fellowship I get from the community I have out there. Pleasant pictures of service and doing good come to my head and a yearning to leave the comforts of America and immerse myself in the troubles and sacrifices of overseas ministry pleasantly overtake me! Basically, I see only the good of overseas work and I see only the bad of life in America. And yet, when I have spent a fair amount of time in the Middle East/Africa, the exact opposite happens. I see the opportunities I am missing in the States, I yearn for the fellowship of friends and family and good food. I see the different kinds of opportunities for ministry in the States and convince myself that I am made for that. I see all the pitfalls of life in the Middle East/Africa and am blinded to any good of that life.

My dilemma goes one step further. When I am in one place yearning for the other, I am AlWAYS aware that after some time I will want the location I am currently in. I am actually AWARE of the dichotomy that I face in both locations and I try my hardest to remember the good of the location I am in and remind myself of all the good I thought about it when I was in the other location. (I hope that made sense) This is not something that I have struggled with two or three times, but every single year of my life for the past seven years. If I find myself in the States, I yearn to leave. If I find myself in the Middle East/North Africa, I yearn to leave. I ALWAYS WANT WHAT I DO NOT HAVE! Please keep in mind, I am not talking about material things, but about service about ministry about helping others. So if I can not find contentment in something as important and descent as helping others, then how in the world am I expected to find contentment in less important things like what I own? How can I do it with my inherent sinful nature?

I am completely aware of my inability to be content in life. And as a serious disciple, I find it daunting to obey this advice written by Paul in Philippians and this command in Hebrews. I might be alone in this, but I know I am not! Why? because we are all human and I know, that if we are all TRULY HONEST with ourselves we would admit that, at times we have been content, but only for a short time until our eyes or aspirations set themselves on the next best thing. If you can honestly admit that you have found contentment in life and have stayed in that contentment, THEN PLEASE, PLEASE PLEASE TELL ME HOW YOU DID IT! BECAUSE I DO NOT SEE HOW PEOPLE WHO ARE HONEST WITH THEIR SINFUL HUMAN NATURE CAN ACHIEVE TRUE, CONSISTENT CONTENTMENT IN LIFE!!!!!

I am pretty sure I know what some of you might say in response to this, and I have a response of my own to that, but I will see if anyone steps up! Just be warned, if you use Scripture, make sure you use it in context.