Monday, 31 May 2010

Cultivating contentment in the tension of waiting

“Contentment” and “waiting” to me have always seemed somewhat contrary. If you’re waiting, you’re not content, because you are living in anticipation of a change in circumstances. If you’re content, all you want has been achieved, so at last you can relax and be satisfied. No?

Whenever I moaned or complained about my situation in life, my mum would remind me of Philippians 4 – where Paul goes on about how content he is, there in prison, all beaten up with no food. (This was rather annoying, as I liked to feel justified in my complaining). To be content whatever the circumstances is to refuse to allow circumstances to be the defining factor or the source of the contentment.

 If our pursuit of contentment comes from a primary emphasis on circumstances, we will either end up squashing vision, or growing in bitterness (if we are not presently feeling “contented” that is). Contentment is not to say “give up on your dreams, just be happy with how things are”. There is definitely a tension between pursuing what it is God has laid before you that hasn’t yet manifest itself in the present, and basically enjoying the present. We are made to go from glory to glory, so in that respect, becoming “content” with where we are could lead to a level of complacency – contentment is never opposed to vision. On the other hand, when what we want isn’t right here right now, our disappointment and frustration can lead to bitterness if our hearts aren’t kept soft.

The challenge I have felt recently in the midst of deferred hope is to give my entire attention to what God is doing right now. That’s not to say never think about the future, more that it is easy to miss the “right now” breakthrough or revelation God has for us because we’re hung up on something we don’t have.

For example . . .I had a couple of weeks recently in which money I was anticipating didn’t come through when I expected it (a theme this year I think!). It was pretty annoying. I was literally maxed out, couldn’t withdraw a single penny, forget catching the bus, paying the rent. I was checking my balance about ten times a day, hoping that the cash might materialize, but it didn’t.

So how did I respond? I made a list of all the things I needed to buy that week but couldn’t, thought about clothes, obsessed about money and what I would do with it if I had some, envied people withdrawing ten pound notes from cash machines and generally got offended at God in the situation. I went to the park after work one day intending to listen to God but I just sat there reluctant to pay him attention because I knew he’d probably remind me of something I didn’t want to hear, like “I’m teaching you to depend on me”, rather than the answer I wanted, which was more along the lines of “don’t worry someone will right you a big fat cheque this evening” (which , in this instance, they didn’t). Eventually I calmed down, and realized it was easier to relax into trust than take up a permanent residence in stress city, big fat cheque or not.

What point am I making? Whenever we experience discontentment or a lack in our lives, there is an opportunity to either grow in bitterness, or in breakthrough.  The choice is ours. My experience is that I usually begin on the journey towards bitterness before coming out of my sulk and realizing that releasing it to the Lord is a better idea, which is still often painful, but so, so much better in the long run.

Think of it like this, contentment is the norm. Imagine that. In my mind its often like this far and distant land that I will arrive in when I have money/marriage/seen worldwide kingdom breakthrough etc etc. None of these are bad things of course, and if we’re not seeing kingdom breakthrough, dissatisfaction is probably a good thing. However, if this is my constant perspective, discontentment is the norm – we never fully embrace the “right now” call on our lives. When we view contentment as the norm, dissatisfaction and lack (as real as they are) are like a nudge in God’s direction, because there is always a call on my life and a breakthrough and revelation he wants to give me NOW.