Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Secret of Contentment – Part Two

This is the second blog in a series of finding your contentment. In the first part, The Secret of Contentment – Part One, I was (upon re-reading it) somewhat negative. And it can read like it was imploring you to believe the worst in everything. And, after careful review, I was still completely correct; if however, a bit blunt and straightforward. Also, notice I said this is about “finding” your contentment. Contentment isn’t made, like there is a recipe; it’s found. It’s already there; like it’s buried treasure. Obviously, I get impassioned when I speak about topics, but I like passion.

[I like loving life again. Being close to the grave will do that to you.]

I like being “involved” in my own life. That makes me happy – makes my life an enjoyable and never-boring endeavor. It’s better to be involved than to feel like your life is unmanageable and that you are just drifting along a current, which you can’t do anything except hold on and worry. But, I am beginning to understand that not everyone operates that level of activity, care, and that level of interest. I even “get” why. It can be quite exhausting to always be high-functioning. But, being that involved and doing the things I do are part of my contentment. It reminds me that I am no longer a passive viewer of my life. I don’t merely watch what others do to me, and then wonder why I feel powerless. I don’t merely allow the course of my life to be directed by external circumstance, and then wonder why I feel lost and confused. William Carey was a great preacher that noted, “Expect great things FROM God. Attempt great things FOR God.” I love that. When you are active in your life, you become better informed about your life.

[Re-read that.]

Yes, when you take part in your life, you are better informed. You make better decisions. You make better choices. You lay the foundation to be content… even if you are not “there,” you can be content in the journey towards your goals. However, aimless drifting? No. No plans or cares about where you end up? No. No way to have system of “roots” in family and friends to support you and remind you of who you really are? No. Like Carey implied, God will give you great things. You will do great things. Believe that. Live like that. Once you do, you’ll be amazed at the things that start happening in your life and the sense of self, sense of purpose and sense of contentment that flood you, and your situation.

I will further use this to elaborate my point: “But, Michael, how can we be content in this day and age? If you are not exceptionally thin, ultra-rich or uber-talented… you can hang it up. Right?” Wrong. In the age where everything is a superlative, is anything really special? Everyone takes a picture of every meal and every cup of coffee and posts it. They claim it’s the BEST they have ever had. Most people live in such un-noticed luxury that they don’t realize they get depressed when they live a “normal” day. If you just get up, pray, eat breakfast, go to work, eat lunch, go to work, go to happy hour, meet friends, go home, eat dinner, clean your house and get ready to do it all over again… THAT is suddenly drudgery. That USED to be the American Dream. Now, if you are not strikingly good looking, eating, drinking and wearing the best and taking a private car to a friend’s Lear and jetting off to some exotic locale, then your life isn’t great and you are not “successful.” And I buy that to a degree. I balk when I fly coach. I balk when I have to wait more than four minutes for a gourmet coffee that used to be my whole week’s lunch money. We look at what media sells us as the top of success. That’s a minimum of looking a certain way, making a certain amount of money; living is a certain amount of square footage, and then UPPING that amount annually. We raise the bar every year so that where we were a few years ago (perfectly happy with our lives and friends) we would now not be content. Some might say, “Michael, you have to strive for more, for better, right?”

If you read the first part of this, I leave us with hope in Christ after I point out a pretty bleak landscape. But, let’s take this down a notch… from national politics and personal responsibility for national epidemics in murder, morality, and finance to your church experience, to your personal experience.

We, as a people lash out at society because we are unhappy personally. We crave attention, recognition, and we want to be involved. But, involvement is something that isn’t always a “right.” Sometimes you need to earn your recognition. And what if you don’t get what you feel you “deserve.” What of your contentment then? What is your motivation? What is your initial drive? How and why you begin something will lay the foundation for the peace you experience during any project, and will also drive the contentment you feel upon completion.

--Do you have to feel heard?
--Are your voice and your opinion the only “right” one(s)?
--Do you need to have your vision accomplished for the project to be a success?

I ask these for very pointed reasons. Whether in business, in the organization of a church, or even in your social circles… people take these things seriously. People, yes, need to feel heard. But that’s from a managerial standpoint and ensuring that you value people. That’s HR and business 101. But there is a converse… why volunteer if your main goal is recognition? Why let pride and the need to be in control be the reason you feed hungry people? Why let the need to feel valued and talented be the reason you simply MUST be a praise singer, even if you miss one Sunday a month and there are faithful, more talented singers that would truly worship vs. be on platform? Why let your service be diluted? Re-ask yourself those same questions:
--Do you “have” to feel heard? Or are you content within yourself that you are on your best path? Do you need that validation, or can you have the confidence in yourself that you have given your best?
--Are your voice and your opinion the only “right” one(s)? Do you accept collaboration? Are you open to others’ advice or opinions? If you are not open, why? What is empty inside you that you must be the savior of a project? What is driving the need for you to have the only valid opinion?
--Do you need to have your vision accomplished for the project to be a success? If things that are not your way, or your vision for a project, a ministry, an outing, where to go eat, what movie to watch, where to vacation, etc… if any of the things are not your vision, why is that wrong? Not just finding consensus and realizing that we must all compromise from time to time, but if it must always adhere to your way, why? There is something missing if you need that constant control to be content.

I say something is missing because there are people that cannot function if any kind of deviation is taken. You ask for a day off, the boss says, we need you this day, but here is another. That’s never good enough. Or, you offer to do x, y, and z at church, but they have plenty of people that volunteered for that. So, can you help here? No, no… that’s not what they want to do. I suppose I could say this: Not EVERY person is meant for EVERY ministry. Contentment is not only doing your best, but knowing your place. I will never be happy teaching children’s church. I’d rather go ahead on and be crucified with the Lord than wipe noses, explain why sharing is important or pretend that a handprint is a turkey. Literally, I’ll just go ahead to Glory. Now, if God called me to do it, and God convicted my heart, and God put that in my path… I’d do it. And if, in fact, there was a vacancy and I was asked to help, then I would. But WHY would God make a hand or an eye be a foot? Somebody that loves children, can answer 8072 questions about why, why, why, and would be a perfect fit would be God’s best choice. Likewise, I have talents to do lots of things, and when called upon or asked, I do them. That’s what God expects. And then there are your callings. When God calls you do something, you may not love it in your own strength, or your flesh, but you may love that you feel like you are in God’s will. That may be motive enough. I say all of that to say this… you’ll be content, if you know where you are supposed to be, and you are working to be there. I don’t love to sing tenor, but I get put there a lot. Why? I can hear tenor and sing it. I’d rather sing lead or bass. I don’t love piano, but I play piano a lot. I am good at piano. I am better at piano than keys, strings, or organ. However, I LOVE to play organ. Organ music is my passion. I could listen to it on recordings, I could play it, I can hear it live. It touches me. It’s something I just lean in towards. But generally, I am usually singing or playing piano. I LOVE to be in small group Bible study and talk for hours at coffee shops, but I’m usually in choir or on the road… And God uses me daily on the road to reach people I’d normally never reach. So, do I pout? Do I complain? No. It’s not about me, or my preference, or even my “likes.” It’s not about you. I don’t just absolutely LOVE doing technical reviews of systems, but it’s something I’m good at, so it usually just gets handed to me, regardless of the team I’m working with. Working where you are needed and filling needs are not always something that we are passionate about. It’s not always this thing where we run through a field of flowers, feeling fresh, and the temperature is 72 degrees with the perfect sunny day and low UV, and minimal cloud cover and… and… and…

[Nothing is perfect, nothing is set.]

But… are you where you need to be? I didn’t say “want.” Are you… YOU… where YOU need to be? If you are not where you need to be, are you moving towards where you need to be? There is no failure in not being there yet, because you can’t have failed until you are in the grave, having never been where you should have. But, that’s not my point. My point is… are YOU taking an active part in the direction of YOUR life? Are you working towards your callings, your passions? Or are you only stressing? Do you get stressed and worried over whether every whim and like you have are filled?

[Shut up, Michael.]

You know exactly what I mean. You did a great job on a report at work. You did your part perfectly, and your team members did great on theirs. The project gets kudos. Is the team getting a “good job” good enough? Or do you need to be called out and recognized? I know people that will need a plaque of recognition and to be especially noted, or they will literally talk about it for the next one hundred meetings. We all like recognition, and we all like words of affirmation, but you need to take a realistic look at yourself… if you are a team member, and the team gets kudos… that’s yours, too. Or if you were the leader, or contributed significantly more, I could see wanting it. But usually, those people share the recognition anyway. As a leader, I always pass credit to the team, I couldn’t do it all without them. Contentment is not complicated. Contentment is knowing that you are doing what you are supposed to be doing, when you are supposed to be doing it, and doing your best at that. You will not be content, and you should not be content if you are calling in your performance, and allowing every circumstance to buffer you about your own course of life. But, don’t despair. Contentment is possible. It’s attainable, but it’s not cheap, it’s not free, and it’s not something you trip and fall into.

[What do you mean it’s not cheap?]

The most expensive thing you can do is take responsibility for yourself. It’s hard. It costs time, effort, and sweat. But you have to take responsibility for yourself. Granted, and I mean this facetiously, but there is a grain of truth, “It’s not your fault you want to sin, you were born sinful.” That is a true statement. It is NOT your fault you want to sin. Sin is fun. Sin is abundant. Sin is prevalent. Sin is readily available. God understands that you are sinful… God understands this so much that He prepared multiple ways over the passage of time to reconcile your sinful nature with Him. He made a garden. Nope, we couldn’t do that. We need that fruit from that tree and we needed that confirmation. Granted, I don’t delve into the complex theological issues at work there. There are HORDES of people that blame God anyway. Yet, regardless of what happened, and regardless of the blame game and the fact that HE receives the majority of the ire and vitriol from this, He reached out and created a system by which he had a people. God still reached out. They were HIS people. And we still couldn’t cope. Thanks, God, for the system of sacrifice, and thanks for claiming us and working with us, but… how about no. We heard about the garden and we are pissed. So, He wiped the face of the Earth clean. He repopulated and worked with mankind to establish boundaries and work through prophets. We killed them. We rejected them. We stoned them. He was silent. He “took a break” from His relationship with man, if you will. Well, we didn’t like that either. So, “his” people decided they’d set up some rules, and see who could be the best. But, it turns out, that Type-A-law-lovers did not mind learning the rules and pointing out every behavior that our neighbor could not abide.

[NOTE: Have you ever stopped to consider if the Pharisees were happy? Were they happy with their prayer shawls, special knots, and rules? Do you think they enjoyed the ritual, or did they long for a relationship? What was the need to watch every law, but not have it inside? Lots of people follow the rules, but they don’t have the relationship. You may have a standard, but do you have the substance?]

God, regardless of omniscience, created a system by which to atone for sin. And think about how that feels. You people in bad relationships know how that feels. When your partner or spouse is cheating and you know it. You KNOW something is coming. Something bad is coming, but you can’t stop it. You can’t control them, they won’t be honest, they lie, and you feel it. You know it. But it just keeps coming. God knew we’d cheat on him. God knew we’d abandon Him, not the other way around. Nope, we couldn’t keep up. He saw our struggle. He saw that we could not make it. Enter Jesus. Enter the divine, holy, eternal Creator wrapped in flesh. God came to Earth, lived as a man through Jesus and became the ultimate atonement for our sin and separation from God. We, lost and hopeless, cannot become good enough within ourselves. You will never be content if you think YOU have the power to save yourself. You will never be content if you think YOU have to change yourself, and become “good enough” to commune with God. You will ruin your efficiency and affectability within the Kingdom of God if you think YOU have any worth in and of yourself. Your contentment will be based in the flesh, and you will never be satisfied. You can’t grow your hair long enough, you can’t be strict enough, you can’t have enough liberty, you can’t prove that you don’t have to obey man, you can’t prove that you do, you and your ideas and your thoughts and your efforts and your results will NEVER be the answer. If you only depend on YOUR strength, you will fail. God is the answer. God has the power. God has the reason.

Your contentment is based on the fact that, even though unworthy, you are loved.
Your contentment is based on the fact that, even though unwarranted, you are saved.
Your contentment is based on the fact that, even though unmerited, you are favored.

Yet, we want an out for the blame of sin. We blame God for our nature. We blame Eve, because surely… it’s her fault that we are in this mess, right? Or, let’s blame Adam. He should have led his family better or maybe if he had Adam, or a combination. Feminists will always say Eve got a bad rap. Men feel justified in saying that it’s a woman’s fault that we all don’t live in paradise and run around “nekkid.” But that’s high level. You don’t want to submit to a pastor, because he’s only human, even though God uses humans to accomplish the divine.


You don’t want to follow personal convictions because they are inconvenient – even though no one has forced anything on you. That’s why they are called “personal” convictions. You don’t want standards of holiness because you feel they are man-made to make women suffer – so you follow them but you are bitter and might as well be running the aisles in thongs and cut hair if that’s your attitude. Sacrifice and standards mean nothing without substance behind them. Just like substance can be there, but if you feel even a twinge of conviction… you should have some real, hard talks with God about what you need to do in your life. But we are told NONE of this is our own fault, our own problem. We carry no responsibility. Why do we even preach repentance for sin, if we don’t really commit sin? Why should we talk about how “we try hard and that’s what matters” when the fact is. Your thoughts, your beliefs, and your hope does not equal what you DO. What you DO matters. What you DO is what is real. We distance ourselves from the confrontation and the difficult. If God comes on too strong, we chalk that up to “bondage” and need a pill to calm the anxiety we feel. I know several holiness, pure-blood, born and raised, xth-generation Pentecostals that can’t make it through a service without a mood stabilizer. They don’t love it. They don’t want it. And that’s not contentment. That nagging feeling in the back of our minds… we can’t name it, we cannot pinpoint what is causing it, we just feel “off.” Something is amiss. Something is not right.

[Duh. It’s God.]

We’ve been told that it’s some type of instability, anxiety, or even just that we can’t focus. But, you think your conscience is just an overactive guilt complex that society made? Will taking that pill really help you? Do you think that voice from God, guiding you is insanity? I mean, you really know what this is, right? There is a difference between someone that is truly mentally ill (that needs meds), and someone that is just too ill-equipped and lazy to confront their own emotions and internal relationship with themselves and with God. And you have to be confident in know that difference. How will we EVER be content in this world, in this chaos? How can we find any peace and contentment when everything we are surrounded by is built to make us unhappy with ourselves and need to spend money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need to fill voids we can’t fill to find peace we can’t create? We can’t. We won’t. Not of ourselves and not “within” ourselves. But I am going to go through Philippians chapter 4 and show you that regardless of your circumstance, regardless of your situation, regardless of where you find yourself – you can be content. You can have peace.

Part Three is coming…

ツ✔ Cheers, #JustBeingMichael ツ

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