2) Substitute Stillness for Striving…Yields Contentment
“Be still, and know that I am God” – Psalm 46:10a. When we submit to our Heavenly Father and His wisdom, experiencing true joy, we are empowered. That empowerment allows us to be still, to be at peace, and to be one with Him and His will. We feel the ultimate satisfaction in knowing and embracing the facts that our God, the great “I AM,” is the very deepest desire of our entire being, and His grace is enough. He always was. He always is. He always will be. Our lasting joy gives way to lasting contentment.
To be still means we stop struggling against our loving Father’s arms…I think of a stubborn toddler crying and wanting to throw herself into harm’s way to reach what she thinks is a toy while her father holds her for her safety because He knows better that it’s a danger. In essence, we begin trusting more deeply and quit striving. The Google definitions of “strive” are to “make great efforts to achieve or obtain something” or to “struggle or fight vigorously.” Striving is worthy if what or whom we are striving after is worthy. Suffering is worthy if what or whom we are suffering for is worthy. The problem is that we are usually striving after the wrong things with the wrong motivations. Ironically, in continually seeking the path we desire, often the path of no pain, we experience great and needless suffering. On the other hand, when we listen to God and do His will, which sometimes will involve needful suffering and pain because we are a living sacrifice for God and others as well as because suffering and pain have roles in purifying us, we can have the strength to endure all things gracefully, keep our gaze fixed on Him, and find the good in all circumstances. When we are content and choose to live based on what we always know versus how we sometimes feel, it becomes very easy – more often than not – to control ourselves, to have mastery over our sinful natures, and to make the right decisions that will lead to more blessings instead of needless striving.
I’ll never forget a revelation I had while reading The Practice of the Presence of God: The Best Rule of Holy Life by Brother Lawrence (Nicholas Herman, c. 1605-1691). It was this: we can be joyful and content while suffering just by making ourselves aware of God with us. I understood the concept, but it was so foreign to me. Joy in suffering? Just like with the image of the Apostle Paul singing and praising God while chained in a dark, damp, foul jail cell, it escaped me. I didn’t get how it could be humanly possible to take joy in suffering. Then, God showed me. One night, I got really sick…bad headache, nausea, cramping, aches, pains. Now, I know I was not enduring this for any honorable cause; most likely, I had gotten sick from too much stress, too many drinks with friends, and/or eating too much of the wrong food. Still, God used the event to show me the meaning of Brother Lawrence’s words. I remember laying on the couch, feeling like I wanted to die, when I sensed Jesus with me…His arms around me like a Father comforting a sick child. Even though the pain and suffering I was enduring continued, I felt His love, peace, and comfort. Being so vividly aware of His presence and focused on Him, gave me joy. And I discovered that I was content to continue suffering…as long as He was with me.
‘Love sweetens pains; and when one loves GOD, one suffers for His sake with joy and courage…I have been often near expiring, though I was never so much satisfied as then. Accordingly I did not pray for any relief, but I prayed for strength to suffer with courage, humility, and love. Ah, how sweet is it to suffer with GOD! however great the sufferings may be, receive them with love. ‘Tis paradise to suffer and be with Him; so that if in this life we would enjoy the peace of paradise, we must accustom ourselves to a familiar, humble, affectionate conversation with Him: we must hinder our spirits wandering from Him upon any occasion: we must make our heart a spiritual temple, wherein to adore Him incessantly: we must watch continually over ourselves, that we may not do, nor say, nor think anything that may displease Him. When our minds are thus employed about GOD, suffering will become full of unction and consolation…I know that to arrive at this state, the beginning is very difficult; for we must act purely in faith. But though it is difficult, we know also that we can do all things with the grace of GOD, which He never refuses to them who ask it earnestly. Knock, persevere in knocking, and I answer for it that He will open to you in His due time, and grant you all at once what He has deferred during many years.’ – Brother Lawrence
And so, with the right perspective, striving and suffering become stillness and contentment. Our perspective is a vital thing to control because it is so fickle. Holding the right perspectives makes an incredible difference in how well we are able to cope with and respond to the pleasantries or sometimes not-so-pleasantries of life, the world, and others around us. On the other hand, even the best perspectives can become warped quickly by our internal or external struggles.
I believe God highlights the problems in our perspectives through our sufferings and through others, thereby demonstrating the need for compassion and mercy with others. We are to comfort others as God comforts us, forgive others as God forgives us, do unto others as we would have done to us. At the same time, we must stop striving also specifically in trying to make unhealthy relationships work. People should complement us, not complete us…relationships should be born out of mutual love and respect, not out of loneliness or desperation. We all want to know someone cares…that it is a two-way street in people thinking about, reaching out to, and spending time with each other. There is nothing like the feeling of contentment you get when someone cared enough to say hello.
Still, without anyone or anything else, God’s plan for us is to be complete in Him (Acts 17:28, 2 Corinthians 12:9). His perfect will/way for us includes health, wellbeing, good, order, a building up of abundance and greatness. Our will/way for ourselves seeks God’s best for us, but often results in rebellion, sickness, chaos, confusion, destruction. The body’s stress response is a perfect example. We were created with this innate “fight or flight” stress response so that our bodies could heighten their strength and ability to defend against, or run away from, a real threat (e.g., lion, bear, an attacking enemy, a woman scorned). However, in these modern days where most of us are trying to cram a week’s worth of work into 24 hours, our bodies end up in a state of chronic stress response to perceived threats (e.g., deadline at work, traffic while running late, a child nagging, a husband watching football instead of helping). God designed the body to have a stress response (i.e., significant changes in digestion [slowed], sweating, pupil dilation, blood pressure, pulse, blood sugar, blood fats, respiration, etc) when it was needed, for our overall health and survival. He also gave us commands that we are to obey for abundant health and life (e.g., do not be anxious and lift everything up to Him in prayer, take each thought captive and think on good things, forgive, let Him avenge, get enough rest, do not overindulge in food or drink, etc). We should be seeking God’s will moment to moment, staying connected to Him throughout the day, and following His best for us. Instead, we fill our days with what we think is best, rely on our own strength, and destroy ourselves with chronic worry and stress. Remember, there is more than enough time in your day to do the work God has prepared in advance for you to do. Question is are you prioritizing your time and tasks on His work or yours? When we invest our time and resources in God’s will for our lives and then enjoy what He has given for us to enjoy with temperance and wisdom, we can avoid the extremes of all or nothing and avoid becoming a slave to sin and addictions.
Look for “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme…I Need, I Need, Part 6: Self-Esteem vs. Slavery” to be posted soon! Enter your email address on the left to follow this blog and be notified of new postings.