We are taking a break for the summer until futher notice.

(Tuesday 02/19/08) Woman of Excellence Part 1- Contentment

Part 1 - Contentment
Proverbs 31:10-31

We have all heard the phrase (and may have used it ourselves with our children): Contentment is next to godliness. Many times we say things without understanding what they mean. What does contentment mean? What things does the term encompass? How can it change my life and make me more like that "woman of excellence"?

General Definition:
*happy enough with what one has
*not desiring something more or different

Whoa! That strums on some uncomfortable chords, doesn't it. Now don't give up. Let's keep going and see where this leads.

If you were asked to describe your mental picture of a contented woman, what would you say?

Some answers might be:
*sitting back on soft cushions eating strawberries and ice cream
*peace that just surrounds her and follows her wherever she goes
*no void areas in her life
*not looking around for something else to satisfy or occupy her time or desires
*a smile on her lips, a twinkle in her eye, a bounce in her step
*at peace with herself, so she can be at peace with others and with her surroundings

Take a moment and list some ways in which the "world" seeks to fill its need for contentment:

There are three basic areas in which people strive to fill their cup of contentment. The first one is that of material things -- cars, houses, boats, clothes, large bank and retirement accounts, jewelry, trips/vacations, the newest gadgets, memberships, etc. Next is that of status -- the ranking within society, such as poverty, lower middle class, middle class, upper middle class, wealthy, millionaire, etc. Lastly, there is position -- particularly with respect to education and employment. The problem is that we get caught on the "keeping up with the Jones" treadmill. We work and work only to find that someone else got something we don't have or that changes in industry or technology have left us just shy of "the best". There is a thirst for more that isn't ever satisfied -- at least not for long.

Paul tells us in 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."

One Key Truth:
* be satisfied with what you have

Why is this truth so important for us to understand and apply? When we are content, we are at peace with ourselves, others, our surroundings, and our circumstances. Within that peace there is freedom. Then we are not only healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally, but we are also healthy spiritually which nurtures spiritual growth.

How do we get it?

Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11 "...I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances." Did you catch that? "I have LEARNED." (Sounds like school, doesn't it.) To learn means: to get knowledge of or skill in by study, experience, instruction; to come to know how; to acquire as a habit or attitude.

Paul learned three specific principles about contentment:
*Learn to appreciate the basics of life (1 Timothy 6:8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.)
*Learn to simplify the lifestyle (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.)
*Learn to fear (trust) the Lord (Proverbs 19:23 The fear of the LORD leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble.)

Let's take a quick look at each of these.

Learn to appreciate the basics of life. This is a touchy area with most of us, especially in today's society. We have so much already compared to most countries and there are so many modern conveniences at our disposal that we have lost touch with what is practically needed to get by. Things become handy gadgets that we feel we just can't live without. Everything we have and do becomes taken for granted. We feel we have to pile on lots of extras in order to feel good. Let me give you a simple example -- the all-American hot dog. Remember when you were little? All you had on your hot dog was the hot dog. As you grew up, however, you started to add the bun, and then the mustard/catsup, and then the chili, onions, relish and cheese. Pretty soon, there was so much "stuff" on top of the hot dog, that you couldn't really enjoy the taste of the hot dog -- it was too covered up with everything else!

Take a moment to read Matthew 6 and 1 Timothy 6:8. There are two, maybe even three, basic needs in life -- food, clothing, and a place to stay. That is all we NEED. (We won't get into whether food includes steak for every meal, or whether clothing means two closets full, or whether a place to stay means a mansion.) This is simply where we need to start to find our basic contentment; anything over that is to be considered an extra blessing from God (but not to be counted on).

Learn to simplify the lifestyle. This principle piggy-backs perfectly onto the previous one. Getting back to the basics means that we must simplify our lifestyle (make it less complex). This may mean getting rid of some of our "stuff". Quick example. Have you moved lately? No fun, is it! You start to pack and uncover things that have been squirreled away for that "I might need this some day". Then you have to load the truck. It seems that there is no end to the boxes and furniture. Sometimes you even have to leave things behind that you don't want to because there simply isn't room in the truck. Finally, you arrive at your new house -- ah, the task of finding a new spot for all the stuff! The task becomes even harder when you move into a smaller house and again you have to give up some cherished "things". Isn't it amazing how things seem to stick to us like fly paper?

Paul tells us in Hebrews 12:1 "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." Can there be contentment in having a lot? Absolutely. Can there be contentment in having a little? Absolutely. The amount of what we have isn't what is important. The point is that sometimes our "things" get in the way of us obeying the Lord -- doing what He wants us to do, going where He wants us to go. Stop for a few minutes and ask the Holy Spirit to point out anything in your life that may be holding you back -- something you may need to simplify. Remember, our "things" only have earthly significance; it stays behind when we die. (1 Timothy 6:7 "For we brought nothing into the world, and we can taking nothing out of it.")

Learn to fear (trust) the Lord. For most of us, trust is a difficult issue to resolve in our lives. It is much easier to trust in those things we can see (such as our bank accounts, our jobs, our "things"). They become a 'god' that we worship and strive for. Or, it is much easier to trust in something we can control -- which is usually ourselves. We think: if I can control myself and as many things around me that affect me, then I am relatively safe. Hebrews 11:1 gives us a good definition of faith: "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." A minister once put it this way: Count so (you can go to the bank on it) what isn't so (those things which you cannot see or understand) in order for it to be so (changing your perspective many times changes the outcome) because God said so (the buck stops here)! I like that!

Sometimes we struggle with trusting God because we don't know Him. The truth is that He isn't hiding Himself from us; He is waiting, willing, and able to reveal Himself and establish an intimate relationship with us. Instead, it is our unwillingness that hinders a deeper relationship with Him. Perhaps we struggle with trusting God because we have been abandoned or let down by significant others so many times that we hide behind walls of fear or indifference or stubbornness, etc. Let's go back to a passage we mentioned earlier (Hebrews 13:5), where Paul reminds us that God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." Sometimes we just have to take God at His word and hang on to those promises. Want to get off the circumstance roller coaster? Then trust in the Lord -- it leads to life and rest.

Enemies that rob us of our contentment:
*Love of money (Hebrews 13:5 Keep your lives free from the love of money) (1 Timothy 6:9-10 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.) When our passion, our craving, our inner drive for money and the things or power that money can buy becomes our "god", we are headed down a road filled with unrest and trouble.
*Discouragement (Joshua 7:7 And Joshua said, "Ah, Sovereign LORD, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan!) God provided a way for the Israelites to leave a life of slavery in Egypt, He led them across the Red Sea and through the desert to a land He had chosen specifically for His people. But things got tough and discouragement set in. They were afraid of the future, frustrated with the present, and envious of the past. We often fall into this same trap, and when we do, contentment becomes an illusive dream.

Am I willing to pay the price?

Everything worthwhile comes with a price, doesn't it.

Remember the phrase we started today with -- "Contentment is next to godliness"? Well, Scripture actually says, "But godliness with contentment is great gain." (1Timothy 6:6) We don't see the actual word "contentment" used of our Proverbs 31 woman, but we do hear the praises of her family for the attitude towards life which she established for herself and those within her home:

*Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her (verse 28)
*Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all (verse 29)
*Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate (verse 31)

Is having a peaceful, loving, content home worth the effort and sacrifice? What will it cost? Where do we start?

If contentment is something that is learned, the best place to start is at the feet of our loving Heavenly Father. Come before Him with a humble heart and simply say, "I am asking You to TEACH ME. I am willing for you to PLACE ME in circumstances to learn."

That's a simple statement, but oh so hard to say. Fear wraps its ugly claws around our heart when we get ready to voice that prayer. "Maybe God will make me do something I don't want to do -- like be a missionary or something." "Maybe God will take away things that I love very dearly." "Maybe life will get too hard for me."

Sometimes, my dear friend, God wants us to lay everything down on the altar so He can give us something better or more in return. Remember when God told Abraham to sacrifice his one and only son, the one through whom God would fulfill His blood covenant with Abraham? Abraham probably didn't understand, but he was obedient anyway. Do you remember what happened? God provided a lamb caught in a bush to be sacrificed instead of Isaac. Do you think Abraham learned a few things that day? I imagine he learned lessons that he never forgot! (You can read this account in Genesis 22.)

You see, growth in our spiritual life is a journey -- not just a destination. It will take a lifetime. But we have a very loving, understanding Heavenly Father to walk that path with us. All we have to do is invite Him to join us, to guide us, to teach us. And no matter what circumstances that path leads us through, we can count on the promise that He will go with us, He will never leave us or forsake us. What a precious blessing!

Closing Thoughts to Ponder:
"Wrong attitudes need to be replaced by godly responses. Greed can be overcome by generosity and giving. Coveteousness must be replaced by a content spirit. Ignorance can be overcome by obtaining wisdom, understanding, and instruction. Impatience can be replaced by trust in God's timely provision. Indulgence can be replaced by thriftiness."

"Contentment is wanting what we have."

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