by Paul Tripp
Why do we all seem to want more?
Why is it so hard for us to accept less?
Why do we get haunted by bigger and better?
Why is it so difficult to be satisfied?
Why it is so hard to be content?
Maybe it's a better job, maybe it's a more succulent steak, maybe it's a nicer boss, maybe it's a prettier girlfriend, maybe it's a nicer car, maybe it's a more luxurious condo, maybe it's a better vacation than last year, or maybe it is as little as a better cup of coffee than yesterday's, but the spiritual energies of your life can be consumed by working your way up. What do I mean by working your way up? I mean that, in reality, you are living in a state of constant discontent. Yes, you are thankful for the joy of the moment, but you do not have your head down in prayerful thanks. No, your head is up and you eyes are scanning for the next bigger, better, more satisfying thing. When you are discontent, you are always in some way working your way up the ladder of personally satisfying delights. You're not really thankful for or committed to what you have because in your heart you think that there must be something better out there and so you are on the hunt.
What is the hunt all about? It is about IDENTITY and WORSHIP. When I begin to humbly accept who I am as a sinner, when I honestly face the fact the my deepest problem in life exists inside of me and not outside of me, and when I begin to grasp the reality that God sent his Son to free me from my biggest problem - me, then I will quit working my way up. Why? Because I will be so filled with gratitude that the one thing I desperately needed, God freely gave me in his Son, Christ Jesus. What is this one thing? It is the thing in life that I could not do for myself, yet I cannot live without. By an act of his grace, God has freed me from my bondage to me. He has freed me from my addiction to having me at the center of my universe. He has freed me from the ravenous and unsatisfiable appetite of sin, so that I may begin to experience true personal satifaction where it can only be found - in worship of him. He has broken the power of this addiction over me so that I can be increasingly free where I live everyday.
The key to getting off the ladder and experiencing true contentment is not having more or learning to live with less. The key to contentment is worship. It is only when my heart is satified because of what I have been given in Christ and so much more delighted with God's glory than in the possibilty of possessing the next glorious physical thing, that I will leave the hunt.
Where do you struggle with discontent? Where do you tend to reach for the next best thing? What are you telling yourself that you need? Do you daily remind yourself of who you really are? Do you constantly remember your deepest need? Are you increasing satisfied because you have begun to grasp that you have been given everything you need? And have you realized that that "everything" is HIM?
I was amazed to see that no one intervened to help the oppressed. So I myself stepped in to save them with my strong arm.
Don lumbered into my office, shoulders stooped. He was the pastor of a mid-sized congregation in my area. He referred clients to me in the past. He stopped by to talk over whether or not he should resign as pastor from his church.
“Last Sunday was a horrible day. I don’t know how much more of this I can take,” he said. “After church I went home and spent the rest of the day in bed. My wife is really worried about me.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“Each week I spend hours preparing my sermon, I do the best I can, but Steve had to give me his two cents as usual. It’s so demoralizing. Sometimes I feel like I can’t do anything right. Two days ago he called me on the carpet because I didn’t run the elder’s meeting efficiently. Last week it was something else. I’ve put up with his criticism, his sarcasm and undermining me for years. I don’t know how much more I can take. Steve has a lot of power in the church. He’s beginning to tell others he’s unhappy with my performance. My elders are starting to take sides. I’d rather quit than be fired.”
“Steve is really getting to you isn’t he?” I said.
“I try not to let his words eat at me, but they still do. When I’m preaching if I see his disapproving look, I start to shake inside and then I can’t think. My words get all mixed up in my head and even I know I’m not preaching well. Maybe it’s time I resign.”
“Have you tried talking with him and telling him how his negativity is impacting you?”
“I have but it does no good. He gets defensive and turns it back on me. I’m the problem, not him. He’s not going to change.”
“Have you talked with your elders about his behaviors?” I asked.
“Are you kidding? He’s a big financial contributor in the church. He’s always helping out around here and has his fingers in everything. They would never stand up to him, even if some of them were on my side. The church would have too much to lose.”
I don’t know a pastor in ministry that hasn’t encountered someone like Steve in his congregation nor felt the inner turmoil people like Steve bring to a pastor’s heart. Steve’s words and actions caused Don to question his calling from God. They made his stomach churn, his body shake, his confidence waver, and his mind get fuzzy. Don never lived with Steve, but the toxic impact Steve had on him caused Don considerable distress. It’s not easy to shake off the negative effects destructive people have on us, even if we tell ourselves not to let them get to us.
If Don told his story to a colleague in ministry, I have no doubt he or she would be sympathetic to Don’s plight. They’ve been there. They know how it feels. Then why as pastors and counselors are we slow to validate the emotional pain a woman feels when she is married to a man like Steve? Why do we not believe her when she says he has a public persona and a private persona and they are very different? Why can we not see the stress and hardship of an emotionally destructive marriage when we have tasted its bile within ministry?
The Scriptures never invalidate or minimize the effects someone’s harsh actions and cruel words have on another person’s soul, spirit, and body. A cursory reading through Scripture amply illustrates God’s disdain for mockers, abusers, deceivers, those who misuse their power, oppressors, revilers, ragers, hypocrites, and slanderers.... David cries out to God, “Please listen and answer me, for I am overwhelmed by my troubles… My heart pounds in my chest. The terror of death assaults me. Fear and trembling overwhelm me, and I can’t stop shaking. …. It is not an enemy who taunts me—I could bear that. It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me— I could have hidden from them. Instead, it is you—my equal, my companion and close friend” (Psalms 55:2-13).
Sadly we’ve sometimes failed to validate the destructive consequences of living with a foolish, argumentative, angry, deceitful, contentious, indifferent, hard-hearted, or evil person when the Scriptures are quite clear that the effects are real. The psalmist said, “Their insults have broken my heart and I am in despair” (Psalms 69:20).
I wonder if we haven’t valued honesty as much as we preach it. When a woman goes to her church leadership and discloses what’s going on at home, she hopes to be supported and protected, but for some women, that’s not her experience. Instead, she’s been scolded, shamed or shunned. She’s been told to bring her husband in for his side of the story. But how can she speak honestly with him present if she’s afraid of what will happen when they get home? She’s been told that she needs to be more submissive and try harder to make things work. She’s been told that there is nothing in the Bible called emotional abuse and therefore what she’s experiencing has no validity. She’s been told that God wants her to somehow figure out how to make her marriage work because God hates divorce.
By our words are we telling her we don’t want to get involved or help her? Do we inadvertently encourage her to keep quiet, placate, and pretend? And, if she refuses and gets persistent or demanding in her plea for our help, do we start to label her aggressive, contentious, rebellious, unsubmissive, deceitful, or unstable?
I think sometimes we’re afraid to get involved because if we open our eyes to what’s going on in some homes we’re not sure what to do. We’ve valued the sanctity of marriage over the safety and sanity of the people in it. Therefore we’ve encouraged women to put up with abusive behavior rather than speak up or stand up and have our biblical categories challenged. Yet, Jesus commended the persistent widow in Luke 18, who kept pestering the judge for legal protection against the injustice she was experiencing.
God has put the church together not only to model a loving family to a broken world, but also to model justice and protection when one of its members is destructive and unrepentant toward another.
Deitrich Bonhoeffer said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Too often the use of a journal has been dismissed as feminine, “something you do when you need counseling,” or too time consuming. But with a bit of reflection (which is all journaling is) we might come to a different conclusion. Many of the great figures in church history have kept a journal, and the church has benefited greatly from this window into their daily life (not as a voyeur, but to understand what spiritual greatness looks like in the mundane-ness of daily life). And while not a theologian, the great Socrates famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
If you are interested in starting the exercise of journaling let me offer the following suggestions. Journal during the time when you do your daily Bible study. Do not feel compelled to write something every day. Do not write for an audience; write for your benefit and as it comes naturally for you.
When you begin with your journal consider the following subjects and review them annually in your journal.
As for the journal entries that you write after these core reflections are in place, consider the following subjects.
I encourage you to consider this practice. Many have found it as an immensely profitable way to (1) maintain a focus on your purpose in life, (2) increase the level of intentionality with which they live; (3) enhance the depth of their relationships, especially marriage and family; (4) measure progress and gain encouragement in their walk with God; and (5) remember God’s faithfulness during times that are difficult.
by Paul Tripp
Have you noticed that everything in your life wears out? The sweater that you loved so much and wore winter after winter, is now stuffed in the bottom drawer of your dresser, threadbare, unused, and unwanted. The car that excited you so and that even smelled new, is now just a car, with scratches and squeaks to prove it. The stain-resistant carpet ended up not being so stain-resistant after all.
The list could go on and on, but the point is, that this side of heaven, everything in your life wears out somehow, someway. In fact, even you wear out. Your body grows old, weak, and tired. You joints hurt because they are wearing out from all the stress of exercise over the many years of your life.
It's something you and I are used to. So we are happy when a car or an appliance lasts for ten years before it wears out. We are all quite accustomed to living in a world where things simply do not last.
But, if you are one of God's children, there is something in your life that will not wear out. In fact, it has the amazing capacity to be new day after day after day. Scripture says that God's mercies are "New every morning." Now, you know you need mercy, because you know you need forgiveness and help. Almost everyday you mess up in some way. Almost everyday you face things that are bigger than the size of your personal wisdom and strength. You and I constantly need the mercy of forgiveness and the mercy of enablement. And so, it is very encouraging to know that God's mercy is new every day! God's mercy never grows stale and it never loses it's transforming power. God's mercy is brand new morning after morning after morning.
This also means that God's mercy is form-fit for the problems that you are facing right here, right now. Each morning you are given new mercies for the particular things that you will face that day.
So, you can wake up tomorrow with courage and hope. And you can do this, not because of your strength and wisdom, but because you know that the most important thing you have ever been given will never wear out. You can also have hope because you know that the God who has given that new mercy, knows exactly what you are about to face.
The Association of Biblical Counselors (ABC) exists to encourage, equip, and empower people everywhere to live and counsel the Word, applying the Gospel to the whole experience of life.
Encourage: ABC provides a fellowship of believers committed to life transformation through the Living Word.
Equip: ABC promotes training in biblical counseling and points to resources that deal biblically with all of the issues of life.
Empower: ABC provides excellent materials for growth in Christ and for use in effective biblical counseling.
To find out more, visit the Association of Biblical Counselors website.