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.


  1. Thank you friend. As our Lord allows, I hope this is not the last time you hear from me. I am in research mode right now for a paper on Pauline theology regarding the law, so any reflection on anything remotely theological will most naturally come out headed on that trajectory. I know you can wade through such academically-oriented verbiage, and that is why I felt comfortable engaging in that tone. I will try to alter it as needed.

    How does that kind of theology play out? Good question. I have no idea! I am struggling (and failing most of the time) to live out what is floating around in my head.

    I apologize for reading too much into your inclusion of the Hebrews text. I probably jumped a bit too quickly to assuming your intent. I agree with your clarifications.

    I also agree that the apostle Paul was a 'special case' in his relationship after meeting the resurrected Lord. I can assure you that I too do not share Paul's experience to such a degree as he described, and I agree with your assessment of us falling short of Paul's faithfulness. I would affirm your note on our sinful nature too, and join you in acknowledging that I cannot say of myself that I come close to 'walking side by side with the LORD as Paul did'.

    I would not expect most third world believers, regardless of maturity, to fully understand what I wrote. As I noted above, with you in mind as my primary audience, I felt comfortable expressing myself in that manner. But, that obviously does not mean that I can be content with always communicating in such a way. I know that I did not talk in those terms with a homeless guy I had lunch with the other day. It is sobering to express such weighty truths without relying on our nice, smart, western, comfortable, theological talk.

    I understand your concern and critique regarding the study of theology. I feel a great tension between learning and studying for seminary and serving the needy through the local church. I will be moving into one of the roughest and rundown neighborhoods of Louisville in the coming weeks where I will be a minority surrounded by people with little biblical understanding. I will also drive out of that neighborhood regularly to attend classes in nice buildings with people just like me who like to talk about theology. I desire to spend as little time on campus as possible, and our pastors encourage us to not live or work on campus but to live and work in the city. I appreciate their counsel in that direction.

    All of that to say, I am only beginning to learn how to do what you are trying to do. I know I have no idea what I am doing, but I hope to do all that I can to learn.

    I wholeheartedly agree that the 'theological answer' does not aid me much either. I am trying to live life in light of the death and resurrection of our Lord in every area of my life. But I find myself failing continually and going to our Father in prayer, simply crying out that I do not know what I am doing and I need help.

  2. Ok, I hear ya, time for me to tag in. I was an 'Applied' theology major so let me try to do just that ;) I totally understand the pull to go and do what you feel the Lord is calling you to do and not feel like you are doing it, but you are, intermission and prep count as work too, and There is work to be done everywhere. The level of commitment that we put into something until we are satisfied and content to keep that level of integrity is something we will struggle with but I think the answer is simpler than you think. And can be clarified by a question or two. What exactly are you not content with: the level of performance in being sinless or the amount of service in amount? I want to go to Japan and plant churches and minister to one of the largest unreached people groups in the East though they are so "west" it’s not funny. But I am also not in a place spiritually that I feel the Lord is calling me to be. When I was a youth pastor and teaching 4+ hours every week, I wanted to do more and then I did pulpit supply and wanted to do more and then started to preach at my own church and wanted to do more with the MMA ministry that I had been a part of for the last year but found I couldn't do anymore apart from witnessing in the streets on my way to and from these things, and maybe I should have been! No reason to waste that precious time merely walking! I wasn’t content I wanted to do more, until I realized I really couldn’t do “more” and had to be content to serve faithfully in only one or two capacities. More in one sense is more ministries. More in the Biblical sense would have been more commitment and contentment to be like Christ where I was first, then let that natural expansion happen as I was faithful with little and so much more was being given in terms of depth and intensity of responsibility. This is not just an end times principle only to be played out in the world to come but also now and we see it in the scriptures.

    We think that newer and greater abundances of situations will bring greater depth but the truth is that greater commitment brings greater depth and contentment. We aren't (self included) as faithful with what we already have to be content. What we long for is depth and satisfaction with the Lord's satisfaction in us. We all the brethren want to hear "Well" done, good and faithful servant. He won't say, "much done" but "Well done" The Lord wants commitment for what He has already given; for in that is contentment. This is true even with how Christ speaks to Nicodemus and the other Pharisees, "If you don't understand earthly things, how will I tell you of heavenly things" and with the Pharisees, "If you don't understand how the son of man is Lord and a descendant of David than neither will you understand who I am" though you claim to desire to know. (paraphrase), " taken from John 3 and Matt 22:41-46. These are not evangelizations that didn't pan out but an issue of faithfulness with what they had. Though true eschatological contentment comes through belief (New Creation, Resurrection) the believer’s content comes in being faithful to that reality and knowledge of Christ.

  3. PLUS

    We forget that the Apostle Paul went international as it were because he fished out all the ponds (synagogues) in his area already. He was faithful with little and was given much, though; his charge was big from the start (as was/is ours). And true he gets "called" to Macedonia (Acts 16:9) and away from places that aren't “fished out” yet but only at the Lord's leading because his work there was done, according to the Spirit. His commitment to God overflowed to the nations and in that he could say with a clean heart that he did all that he was commanded to do and has run the race well and finished the course. If we want contentment then I think we need depth leading to breadth not breadth in and of itself. We can acknowledge the seasons of holding in our life as Paul did when he went to Arabia for some years before he came out guns blazing. True also with the Lord who didn't start His ministry till thirty, yet was faithful all His life to whatever God called Him to, so He too was content and not full of want and still pushed on but only when the Lord made it clear that it was time to do so. Until then Jesus was content to be a good son and worker and when it came time to shift focus He did so with contentment from what the Lord commanded on His life. We are to be deeply faithful where ever we are at all times this is mission enough and if we are faithful it will overflow to the nations. I think the reason people have no heart for the nations is because 1.) They don't read their Bibles and to know God's heart and commands. 2.) They are not faithful with what they have, if they have it. If they were I think the natural outpouring of love for ones neighbor demands a love for all people according to the pattern of scripture.

    We need to pray for obedient hearts that we may be full of the Spirit as in Eph 5:18 and be content to do what He has and is commanding us to do in every season of life. We can't do it all at once so be like the Lord and do only what you see your heavenly Father doing, day by day and season by season. If we are content to do that and go as faithfully deep with the people around us until it is time to move on as the Lord directs then I think He will say, "Well done good and faithful servant". The Lord isn't going to fault you for getting deep with people in leading them to and with Christ unto death by the Cross of Christ daily, but I think He will if we all travel all over the world and never do lead anyone to Christ and after that a deep and obedient walk with the Lord. (That was not directed at Ramy, just hypothetically speaking, Ramy has been used of God much and will much more because of his inability to say no for too long! ;) ) The Joy of the servant is found in faithfulness and the satisfaction of the master. In that I think is, the contentment of Paul, his conscious condemns or excuses as it does all people.