Learning to be Content
Paul talks of this principle of “Learning to be Content” in Philippians. In Christianity there are doctrines and many times they oppose one another, even when there is scriptual basis for both. The illustration of a “teeter-tooter” can be used to explain. There is a fulcrum (a support structure) in the middle. On either end we have the extremes. Many doctrines in the Church have both extremes. The following verses give an example:
Philippians 4:11-13 (NIV)
11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.
12 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.
13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Here, Paul is talking about being in need (poor) versus to have plenty (rich). But he is saying he has learned to be content in all situations, because of Jesus helping him. Today there are Christians who embrace the poverty message and there are those who embrace the plenty message. They tend to set their goal to show off their “Christianity” by how poor or how rich they are. Have you not heard, “ We are children of the King and all the cattle on a thousand hills are His. So we need to embrace our inheritance and live in it now.” Also, there are those who live an improvished life so they do not become wordly or “you know how hard it is for a rich man to enter in”. So which is right and how are we to live? Both can be what He wants for us.
When Lori and I started off in Jesus, we did not have much money - sound familar? We did not have a choice how to live as there was not enough money for anything but essentials. I think many of us start there. There is still month left when the money has run out. We started off with little and so we had to pray for the food to come in. And when it did, we knew it came from Him who strengthens us. We were thankful and dependant upon Him. Here are some stories from those early days that will help to explain what we went through to learn to be content.
A couple who had a tremendous impact on our Christian lives were Reuben and Betty Korpi. They were evangelists who came to Grande Prairie, Alberta and would always enrich us with their ministry. When they came from Seattle, they usually drove a Lincolin Continental car. It was a beautiful, big car. Now, I do not like to confess to this but there were times when I saw them in that car, I thought, “ Hmm, that is not right for Christians to have a car like that and he being a Christian Leader”. Yes, I did have those thoughts. When it was time for Lori and I to get married, an old time friend decided to give us an old car he had overhauled. You guessed it - a Lincolin Continental. Now, I had a very hard time accepting this gift. Dollar wise it was not too much, but my attitude could not let me accept it. We talked with my cousin, Brian Moffat, who said words that still touch me. “If it is too good to be true, it is probably from the Lord”. It is just like Him to give good gifts to His children. So we decided to accept the gift, but I had to eat humble pie first. I had to ask the Lord to forgive me for judging my brother and for judging the Lord. Let me say that car was a very comfortable ride and when we went on our honeymoon to California and back; we appreciated the luxury. As I am sure Reuben and Betty appreciated the comfort for their long trips. Thank you Jesus for helping us to “learn” to be content in all things.
Another story involves Reuben and Betty again. Shortly after Lori and I were married we were not having enough money to pay the bills. The job I had paid well and Lori was working too. We asked for counselling. Reuben began asking us for details and as we shared them; I explained that I was “double tithing”, that is giving 20 per cent. My philisophy was “that if a little bit was good then a lot was better”. Reuben explained you could not “bribe” God, but you had to be obedient and that you had to do it God’s way. We stopped double tithing and our financial circumstances improved. That did not mean we were out of the woods, just that we had learned another precept.
In many ways it is easier to follow the Lord in the “way of poverty”. There are much fewer choices. When you have no money, you can not be tempted to buy a lot of stuff. We learned to live in poverty and to pray for our “daily bread” and there were times when people literally came with our daily bread. I think it was Harvey and Debbie who came to take Lori shopping for groceries because the Lord was providing that way. (The cupboard was bare). There was one time when petitions were arising to the Lord for financial help that he dropped in my heart to go check the mail. There was a check for a hundred dollars. That was a lot of money. He spoke, “Before you asked, I answered”. He would have had to inspire the other person to write and mail the check days earlier. So we learned dependance on the Lord for finances. Now, how do you keep dependant on the Lord when the financial situation improves? There is the rub. Some adopt the “poverty doctrine” and it becomes easy to always accept the “poor” route. Even though there is money, they live life simply. For some that is the Lord’s direction, for others it is a “cop out”. When the Lord wants to bless you; you refuse because it would tarnish your Christian image. You feel good because you are sacrificing for the Lord. Now, there are those who are called by the Lord to live a life of poverty, there are definite callings - Francis of Assisi was one for sure. But the Lord wants to help us to learn to be obedient to His Spirit and not to learn to be obedient to a set of rules! Hearing and obeying the Voice of the Lord is not easy - but it is what we are called to.
Romans 8:14 (KJV)
14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
That is where He wants to take us - into Sonship. My prayer always is “Lord let me hear your Voice and do your will”.
The “name it and claim” group believes that they will please God by doing exploits in His name and by professing their great faith. Their heroes are those who have “made it” by stretching their faith and believing for all good things. Many of the them have received riches and received healings. This is the other side of the poverty “coin”. Here everything must appear that all is going better than alright. There can be nothing amiss because your faith will make you whole. Only believe! This is another part of Christianity that is in error. Now I am not saying, all are in error. I am sure there are those who have truly heard from the Lord and have exercised that faith to change their circumstances. Jesus did say:
Mark 11:22-24 (NIV)
22 "Have faith in God," Jesus answered.
23 "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.
24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
A dear, dear brother (Rev. Norm Labrentz) explained faith to me when I was trying to understand it. He said that Abraham had great faith because he heard from God and obeyed. He heard the Lord speaking to him and then he went out to a new land. He heard and then obeyed. He heard from the Spirit of the Lord and then he acted. That was and is Faith, the hearing and the obeying, together. One without the other is “wishful thinking”. Many times today we hear from other voices. Sometimes it is the successful preacher saying, we can have the riches as well. Sometimes it is our own spirit, secretly coveting. (Note from Lori: In my early days (Bible School), there were lots of girls wanting boyfriends and many believed that God had said “this was the one”; only to find out later that it came from self. It is hard to know our own heart and that is why we need to diligently seek Him.) Sometimes we so desire healing for ourselves or others that we “hear something” or know something from the scriptures. And the scriptures talk a lot about healing including the verse “...by His stripes we are healed”.
For me the key is “hearing” from the Lord. Jesus said His sheep hear His voice. Learning to hear is a process. We have to work at it. Labour to enter in. We do believe that the Lord wants to do “good works” and it is easy to believe He wants to do them to help us or our friends. There are many examples of people being healed through faith. Here are some examples where hearing first is important:
My cousin was dying with cancer. His brother called me and asked me to pray as he was “on death’s bed”. As I went to prayer, I saw in the Spirit; cousin David flying past me towards heaven. We were both in the sky and he was going very fast. When I looked over at him, I got jealous - he was going to be with Jesus before me. I knew then he was going to pass over and there was no way I was going to pray to stop that joyful reunion. Most others “believed” for his healing and much faith was shaken when he crossed over. I had joy because I knew David had joy. Many dear Saints had prayed and believed. Would it not a be a good idea for him to be healed? Does not the Bible teach healing? It was a hard time for many, but our Lord was taking David home.
Another example - a dear friend was asked to pray for a lady confined to her bed due to sickness. As was his custom, before he prayed - he listened. He wanted to hear what the Lord wanted him to pray. He heard - “tell her to get ready to come home. My heart breaks in being apart from her and so I am taking her home”. He shared that with her and found out that she knew it already and had been preparing. When he asked, what about all the others praying and believing for your healing. She said she just let them go on, but she knew what Jesus wanted for her.
So the message is that - yes, the Lord wants to heal us; but we need to hear His Voice and then do His will.
From the Old Testament:
1 Samuel 15:17-24 (NIV)
17 Samuel said, "Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel.
18 And he sent you on a mission, saying, 'Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out.'
19 Why did you not obey the LORD? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the LORD?"
20 "But I did obey the LORD," Saul said. "I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king.
21 The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal."
22 But Samuel replied: "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king."
24 Then Saul said to Samuel, "I have sinned. I violated the LORD's command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them.
I think this is the crux of the matter. It is easier to follow “rules” than to hear the voice of the Lord and obey. Sometimes, it is easy to do good works. I remember the time when meeting with a dear brother who I knew had some financial needs. So I reached into my wallet to give him some money. The Lord asked what I was doing, I explained; helping my brother who needs money. Sounds like the right thing to do, or so I thought. The Lord then explained to me that He had gone to great lengths to get me that money for a purpose that was coming up in my life. He stated that I could give it away, but that He would not supply more finances for the upcoming need. So I could disobey by giving a sacrificial gift to a dear brother, or I could let the Lord supply his need. Sometimes we want to be god.
The Lord wants to teach us to obey, not to follow rules. Most of the time we know the right thing to do and we do it, but there are times the Lord has us do things that appear foolish. I remember the time we were on vacation in British Columbia. There was a desire to go to Vancouver Island for part of our holiday, but the ferry workers were going on strike. The TV was warning everyone to get off the Island before the strike happened. Guess what, the Spirit of the Lord impressed on us to go to the Island. When we got there - there were very few people; all the tourists had left. I remember us taking the kids swimming in the motel pool and we had it to ourselves. It was a wonderful vacation but it was contrary to the “voices” and to the prevailing logic. He wants us to learn to obey. Why obedience? He wants to be our shepherd. A sheep learns to obey his shepherd, for his own good. Many of us have other shepherds in our lives telling us what to do. Telling us the rules - the “do’s and the do nots”. It is easier, but not as fullfilling. He first wants us to be servants and to learn to do His ways; then He wants us to be friends. Remember Jesus learned to obey through suffering. And there are times we need to suffer - to be in need and there are times we need to abound.
How we do learn to abound and not get caught up in the riches? Remember it is not the riches that get us into trouble - it is the love of riches. In our lives, it was a “talking to” the Lord gave me that I think started to help me to accept plenty.
At that time we were having troubles meeting our financial obligations. I had started working and there were lots of bills to pay. It was overwhelming. While in prayer asking for financial help, a dialogue took place between the Lord and I.
Me - “Need help on finances”.
Jesus - “Yes,,,,,,,,, Maybe, Maybe I will bankrupt you. Is that ok?”
Me - “Ah”, and I saw all the implications, telling our folks, friends, etc. And I was in a leadership position in the Christian community, so I was worried about the Lord’s reputation (not being able to take care of His servants). “Lord, your name would get dragged through the mud”
Jesus - “I can take care of My Name” and I saw Him carrying His cross and being spat on and called all kinds of names. And I realized His Name has been through the mud and much worse before.
Me - “Ah - it is my name I am worried about”
Jesus - “Yes”
Me - after much contemplating and having seen what could happen - “Yes, Lord if that is what you want”.
Jesus - “I just might”.
Now that was 40 years ago and sometime He reminds me that He still “just might bankrupt me”. That breaking of my need for reputation helped me to be willing to be abased or to abound. It is all about learning to obey.
Another example of plenty was when the Lord started to lay on my heart to purchase a new car. Through a series of events, we had been exposed to the Chrysler 300 and really liked it. It drove so nice and still does. But it took 5 years for us to be able to purchase the car. Money was not the issue, but there was false pride. It took a lot of soul searching but the opposition to the purchase was “What would other Christians think? That money could have helped so many in missions”. It was a real battle and it took 5 years before it was dealt with. Even if the Lord want us to have something good, it can be so hard to accept. Our Christian pride can get in the way.
While reading the book “How the Scots Created Canada”, there was an observation from that book that I think is applicable to us today, in regards to plenty. In the book it explains that the early Scottish immigrants made a lot of money from the beaver trade. What did these rich Scotsmen do with their wealth? Many practised their Christian faith by setting up hospitals and universities. They took their wealth and gave back to their community. They made their communities better. I know of Christian businessmen today who take their wealth and encourage other Christians to get their businesses going. It is ok to be wealthy, that is not a sin. It is a sin to not stay in obedience to the Lord. It is hard to not meet every need that comes your way; when you have the means to. Jesus only healed one person at the pool of Siloam. He heard from His Father and then He acted. A person with money has to be finely tuned to the Voice of the Lord so that he does not give it all away out of sacrifice! It is actually much easier to live in the land of poverty than in the land of plenty. In poverty there are not many decisions to make. In abundance one needs to hear where and when to spend the money one has. It is harder!
There have been times when the Lord has had us give a lot and other times give little - but all the time trying to stay in the Spirit. We need the same obedience in determining how much of our time to give to family, work, friends, hobbies, prayer, Bible reading, etc. Again obedience is the only way. So that we do not feel guilty about how we have divided our time, we can fall back on Hearing His Voice and Doing His Will. He gives us confidence in our walk, as we learn to obey. It is too easy to hear the other voices that want to rob us of the good life the Lord has given us.
John 10:10 (NIV)
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Jesus learned obedience through suffering. That does not mean we go into self flagellation or double tithing; it means we hear His voice and do His will. He does not ask us to sacrifice.
HE has done the SACRIFICING for US! It is complete - IT IS FINISHED!!!!
Let us live life to the full and let us be willing to travel through poverty and through abundance and all points in between - let us Hear His Voice and Do His Will!
Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Amen and Amen.