A few more excerpts from and reflections on The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, touching on the peculiar (that was free) way that Christians must go about finding contentment:
IV. “It is not so much the removing of the affliction that is upon us as the changing of the affliction—the metamorphosing of the affliction—so that it is quite turned and changed into something else” (49).
“The way of contentment to an [unbelieving] heart is only the removing of the affliction. O that it may be gone! ‘No,’ says a gracious heart, ‘God has taught me a way to be content though the affliction itself still continues.’ There is a power of grace to turn this affliction into good; it takes away the sting and poison of it.’ …You shall be poor still as to your outward possessions, but this shall be altered; whereas before it was a natural evil to you, it comes now to be turned to a spiritual benefit to you. …You do not find one godly man who came out of an affliction worse than when he went into it. Though for a while he was shaken, yet at last he was better for an affliction. But a great many godly men, you find, have been worse for their prosperity” (49).
This struck me as utterly profound and useful: “You do not find one godly man who came out of an affliction worse than when he went into it.” I hope this will be true in my life; that the afflictions I walk through will serve me well and that I will be all the better, stronger, and holier because of them. In the midst of affliction, particularly some I’ve walked through lately, it is nearly impossible to believe that this will be the case. But I pray, “Lord, I believe—help my unbelief!”
V. “A Christian comes to this contentment not by [meeting] the [needs] of his circumstances, but by the performance of the work of his circumstances” (51).
“A carnal heart thinks, ‘I must have my [desires] made up or else it is impossible that I should be content.’ But a gracious heart says, ‘What is the duty of the circumstances God has put me into? …I am serving the counsels of God in those circumstances where I am; it is the counsel of God that has brought me into these circumstances that I am in, and I desire to serve the counsel of God in these circumstances’” (51-2).
We can’t have everything we want, can we? We shouldn’t have everything we want. Some things I want very badly would likely not be good for me. I believe this because if those things would truly be good for me, the God who works all things together for my good (Rom. 8:28) would surely see to it that I have them. A faithful disciple of Christ, then, faces this reality and seeks to find contentment in being faithful in whatever circumstances he finds himself in, rather than constantly seeking to find his way into ‘better’ circumstances than where God has placed him.
VI. “A gracious heart is contented by the melting of his will and desires into God’s will and desires; by this means he gets contentment” (53).
“You all say that you should submit to God’s will; a Christian has got beyond this. He can make God’s will and his own the same” (53).
Again, this insight struck me as incredibly profound: It is not enough to say, “This is God’s will, so I guess I’ll deal with it.” Anyone can say that. God is sovereign! He does all he pleases (Ps. 115:3)! What else can we say?! The faithful disciple of Christ must not only submit to God’s will, but he must pray, “Lord, even though your desires are not currently my desires, I plead with you: change my mind—make your desires my own, so that I would not only submit to what is good, but would want what is good.” Words fail me in trying to express how crucial this prayer is for me right now.
VII. “The mystery consists not in bringing anything from outside to make my condition more comfortable, but in purging out something that is within” (55).
“The way of contentment is to purge out your lusts and bitter humours ” (55).
In other words, frequently it is our own sinful desires and inclinations that lead us into discontent and hold us there. Therefore, one of the chief means of finding divine contentment is, through prayer, disciplined reflection on God’s word, and the work of the Spirit, to purge ourselves of the sinful desires, wants, inclinations, lusts, and thirsts that steal away our deepest contentment, peace, and satisfaction.