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Posts Tagged ‘contentment’

The two chapters I read yesterday in Rory Noland’s Heart of the Artist were not only great chapters, but in many ways they spoke to where I am, reiterated what I’ve been learning and brought back to mind various scriptures which God has been pointing out to me lately.  So I thought I’d ponder them a little more…

The artist who was given one talent was waiting by the baggage claim. “Master,” he sheepishly started, “I didn’t want you to get mad at me. I’m pretty sensitive, you know, and I don’t handle rejection very well, and it’s so hard being an artist in this cold, cruel world.  I wasn’t really good enough to make it big-time, because you only gave me one talent, so I didn’t do anything with my talent.  I hid it. Here, you can have it all back.” The artist opened his hand and looked straight down at his shoes. The talent was as new and undeveloped as the day he got it.

The old man was silent. Then he responded in a soft voice, “My dear friend, you have squandered a fortune. I gave you something that was meant to be used. The issue was not how much I gave but what you did with what you had.”

If you did not recognize it, this is a retelling of Jesus’ parable of the talents as found in Matthew 25.  Noland’s creative approach caught my attention.  I mean, I know the parable.  I know it well.  But sometimes when something is so familiar, we overlook it or take it for granted until deeper  truths are revealed by a fresh perspective.

Noland’s retelling was a fresh perspective for me.  I think the first thing that really hit home was the simple, sad statement of “The talent was as new and undeveloped as the day he got it.”  He had done nothing.  Out of fear.  Out of insignificance.  In either case, the gift was squandered.

The second thing that I took notice of was the reply of the “master.”

The issue was not how much I gave but what you did with what you had.

I have several talents.  None of them outstanding or superior or in any way fit to make me a super star.  And while a few of them could be developed much more than they are, mostly my design is such that I have a smattering of gifts which are broad but not deep.  Which has caused me (I sheepishly admit) to disparage of what I have been given and to look with jealousy or envy on others more than once.  I see others who are far more talented, far more dedicated, (far more healthy), far more successful… and though I generally rejoice in the success of my friends and others in my fields, sometimes… sometimes it’s hard.

But it’s not about me.

Or comparisons.

What matters is the stewardship – my faithfulness – with what I’ve been given.

Noland gives good advice on dealing with jealousy and envy: confess it as sin, appreciate your God-given talent and give credit where credit is due… bringing it all back to faithfulness and stewardship.  And in the process of describing all that as well as in the following chapter on handling emotions, he mentions Bible characters, stories and passages which I’ve previously connected with or from which God has recently revealed truths in my life.

Like Peter wanting to know “what about him?” referring to John who was behind them as Jesus was giving an assignment (“feed my sheep”) to Peter.  Jesus’ response? “What is that to you? You follow me.”

Hmm…

Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” seen in conjunction with James 4 “You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

Hmm…

He re-tells the parable of the workers from Matthew 20 using artists and arts ministry, bringing home the point with verse 15, “Or are you envious because I am generous?”  God in his sovereignty decides who gets which skills and talents and we in worship need to submit our attitudes to God’s sovereignty and be content (and faithful) with what we’ve been given rather than questioning the “fairness” of it all.

So he points to David who, though it was a “good thing to want” was told by God not to build a temple.  David’s son would do it.  He had a heart of worship and so desired to see a temple built and used for the worship and glory of God.  But he was told ‘no.’  He wouldn’t even get to see it.  But he didn’t sulk or complain.  Instead, he accepted God’s word and helped his son in preparations.

Hmm… wasn’t that a passage that God caught my attention with several weeks back?

Hmm…

Even Jonathan and David.  If anyone had a good “excuse” to be jealous or envious it was Jonathan, the king’s son, one who could have inherited his father’s throne… except it had been given to David.  But Jonathan accepted that and became a dear, dear friend to David.

Hmm…

Remember Cain and Abel?  Abel was faithful and obedient in his offering and Cain was not.  But “the Bible doesn’t say that God was made at Cain” Noland points out – in fact, he was given a second chance and God laid it out for him, “If you do well, surely you will be accepted. And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Hmm…

Proverbs 13:12 says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”  And often as artists we are not able to be doing exactly what we want in the way we want or as much as we want.  For a myriad of reasons.  Sometimes it’s that something stands in our way (lack of skill, lack of discipline, lack of opportunity, persons or groups who will not allow or don’t want our art, etc) and sometimes it’s God standing in the way telling us to wait.  The Bible tells about a lot of people who had to wait – Noah (to get off the ark), Israel (to get into the Promised Land), Abraham & Sarah (to have a baby), Job (to hear from God) and so on!  And often we don’t understand it.  What’s the point in waiting?

Perhaps obedience.

Faithfulness.

Stewardship.

Because it’s really not about me. It’s not about my great abilities, or lack thereof.  It’s not about what God gave someone else and didn’t give me.  It’s not about being unfulfilled or disappointed or being put on hold.

It’s about stewardship, faithfulness and obedience to God… with what he’s given… in what he’s commanded…

Because ultimately, God is sovereign.  And generous.  And gracious.  And good.  And created us and knows us and redeems us and calls us.  And we can be content in that.

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There’s this song I’ve always loved by PFR that says, “I never want to be satisfied…”  And the song is really speaking about being stagnant and not growing.  So the more I think about it these days, the more I think the wording of the oft repeated line is off.  It shouldn’t be “I never want to be satisfied” but rather “I never want to be complacent.”

Because never being satisfied is bad.

Yes, we are told in the scriptures to hunger and thirst for righteousness and to strive to enter the narrow door and to strive together for the faith… But we are also told that Jesus is the bread of life and the living water and that no one who drinks the living water He gives will be thirsty again.  And we are told that we are to “cease striving” and know that God is God!

There is a place to yearn for God like the deer yearns for water and we certainly do not want to become complacent.  But we must also learn contentment.  To be content in God and with God.

One of the main themes that really struck me when reading C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra was the issue of contentment.  He hints at, suggests and alludes several times throughout the book that our being discontent is a result of sin.  Since sin entered the world, we seem to have these voracious appetites.  And I am not simply referring to an appetite for food.

But let’s start there.  Why can we not be content with a simple, single serving of something really delicious – like ice cream.  Why are we not satisfied with it?  Why must we always go back for more and more?  Watch people – or watch yourself – at a buffet.  The tendency is to eat more because it tastes so good – not because we need it, but because we simply think we must have more.

The same holds true for material possessions, for love, for attention, for achievement, for success, for praise… the list goes on.  After reading Lewis, I’ve begun to think that our materialistic society is not causing us to be unsatisfied and discontent so much as it is simply the end result (and also reinforcing) this sinful tendency we already have!

In reading a vastly different book this evening, another picture came to mind.  Perhaps because writing this blog on Lewis and contentment was on my mind.  Or because Lewis did have a fascinating book on what hell might be like.  Or because this new author was already referring to hungering for God and having unsatisfied (his term was roving) appetites.  In speaking of these things, this author used the illustration of a tape worm.  He had a friend who kept eating and eating but was losing weight.  Truth is, the friend could have “starved” to death while eating all the time!

But it was the word “worm” that struck the chord and brought all those notes together into a new melody for me.  Jesus referred to hell as a place where the worm does not die.  Now I’m fairly sure he was not referring to tapeworms, but doesn’t it make a good illustration?  Correlation?  Where the worm never dies? You can eat and eat and eat but never be satisfied.  Our sinful state is like a tapeworm that never allows us to be satisfied…

Just now BarlowGirl’s “Psalm 73” song came on and even as I type I can hear them singing over and over, “My God’s enough for me.”

Isn’t that the truth?  God is all we need.  God provides all we need.  We should be content in Him.

I think in part we, being sinful, are naturally prone to being discontented.  To having that tapeworm.  But, praise be to God, his sacrifice on the cross means that the chains can be broken and that sinful nature does not need to have control!  The tapeworm can be removed!

But, creatures of habit that we are, it takes us awhile to unlearn the voracious hunger that will not be satisfied.  We must learn to be content in God.

Because our God is enough.

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