Friday, May 26, 2017

Book Review: Chasing Contentment

Chasing Contentment. Erik Raymond. 2017. Crossway. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]

From the introduction: If you drive through rural New England towns, you’ll notice an abundance of stone walls. These walls initially served as property markers hundreds of years ago; and because they were well built, many remain to this day. But the art of building stone walls has nearly faded away. The craftsmen who make them, though plentiful in a previous age, are now few. Is contentment a lost art? Is it simply a product of yesterday’s Christianity? Are there only a few “craftsmen” left who practice it? And if so, is this okay with God? I don’t think it is. In fact, I’m certain it’s not. Hebrews 13:5 commands us, “Be content with what you have.” And the apostle Paul demonstrates his own personal contentment in his letter to the Philippian church: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Phil. 4:11–12). We should remember that the writer of Hebrews was addressing a church when he gave his command, and Paul was likewise writing to a local church when he discussed his priority and practice of contentment. In other words, contentment is for the church, and that includes us today. Instead of being something from a bygone age, contentment is to be a priority for all Christians.
Premise/plot: Erik Raymond examines the biblical concept of contentment in his new book. What is contentment? Where is our contentment to be found? Why is contentment NOT to be found in our circumstances? Is it important--essential--to us as believers to learn?

The book is divided into two parts. The first part focuses on defining contentment; the second part focuses on learning contentment.

What is contentment? Raymond defines it clearly and simply, "Contentment is the inward, gracious, quiet spirit that joyfully rests in God’s providence." He goes on to say, "Contentment does not mean ignoring problems or pretending they don’t exist. Quite the opposite! A contented spirit is one that realizes the difficulty but can nevertheless rest in God in the midst of it. Second, contentment does not mean that we don’t voice our complaints to God. The Scriptures are full of prayers from godly people who cry out and complain to God (e.g., Pss. 3:4; 34:6; 55:16–17; 77:1; 142:1–3). In fact, we are commanded to cast our cares upon the Lord (1 Pet. 5:7). The motive for this is that he cares for us. But mark the contrast; there is a difference between complaining to God (“How long, O Lord?”) and complaining about God. The first is supported by an enduring trust that God hears and loves. The second is betrayed by an eroding trust that God hears and loves. It is a privilege for Christians to bring their burdened hearts to their Father for soul medicine."

My thoughts: Raymond has so much to say about contentment and discontentment. I found this one to be a true must-read. Yes, it is about contentment, about grumbling and complaining, but, it is also about GOD'S PROVIDENCE and God's goodness. In fact, God's character is key throughout. Raymond writes, "Any attempt to understand contentment must begin with God." But it isn't just about who God is, but, who we are, which brings us to our greatest need(s). He writes, "The Bible teaches us who God is and who we are. Proper understanding of our sin leads to an abiding gratitude toward God for his mercy."

Favorite quotes:
What is sin? Sin is described in several different ways in the New Testament: missing the mark (Rom. 3:23), stepping across the line (Col. 2:13), trespassing or falling (Matt. 6:14), lawlessness (1 John 3:4), and debt (Matt. 6:12). God has a standard of what is right and acceptable to him. Sin is the rebellious violation of this standard. If that sounds a tad abstract, let’s get personal. Sin is so bad because of who it is against. We come to understand these ways of describing sin when we see them in light of who God is. We are missing God’s mark. We are stepping across God’s line. We are breaking God’s law. While our sin does have horizontal implications, we must remember that sin is, before anything else, against God. Sin is so bad because it is so widespread. Sin impacts every single person every single day. Whether we speak of guilt, shame, fear, mourning, or anxiety—everything comes from a cursed world. Sin is a pervasive and persistent epidemic. It affects all of us. We all know its pain. We have all felt its consequences. And yet we are all responsible. Sin is so bad because its penalty is so certain and severe. The Bible tells us that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). The required payment for sin is death. Because sin is primarily against God, it requires a sufficient judgment. This is one reason why Jesus described hell as “eternal fire” (Matt. 25:41). Sin is an infinite offense against an infinitely glorious God. As a result, hell is the eternal demonstration and execution of God’s infinite justice. In hell God is punishing man’s infinite rebellion with infinite wrath. This severe penalty is packaged as the certain wages of sin (Rom. 6:23). Sin is so bad because we have no way to remedy it ourselves. To make matters worse we have no means to get ourselves out of this predicament. Everywhere we turn to help ourselves, we leave more fingerprints of sin.  
Contentment comes through knowing and loving the truth. It is not enough to simply know theology; we must love the God we are studying. And it is not enough to say we love a God we do not know. Godliness is concerned with both knowing and loving.
Too many of us practice dental-chair devotions. We grab our Bibles, spend some time in them, and then we are done. We promptly put down our Bibles and hurry on to our daily tasks. A few hours later someone could ask, “What did you read in the Word today?” And the answer, too often, would be “I can’t remember.” What has happened? We’ve grabbed a little Bible reading, swished it around in the morning, then spit it out on our way out the door. The treasures of the Word haven’t been swallowed and digested. We haven’t really engaged the mind and heart with the Word. How we read the Bible is pivotal to our pursuit of contentment. After all, contentment is learned by growth in grace. And remember, contentment is the inward, gracious, quiet spirit that joyfully rests in God’s providence. To get there, we can’t simply go through the motions; we need to resist “swish and spit” devotions.
The heart of the matter is that when we ourselves determine what will satisfy, we don’t pursue what brings true satisfaction. The broken compass within us always leads to the dumpster rather than the five-star restaurant. We are painfully off in our calibration. The problem is not that we are seeking satisfaction; it’s the way we naturally seek it. To find true satisfaction, we have to “just say no” to ourselves. Or, to put it biblically, we must deny ourselves.
We should not miss the fact that the call to deny self is also a call to follow Christ. God does not simply call us to repudiate ourselves. Instead, he calls us to repudiate ourselves and to receive him—and with him, our true identity. These are words of conviction and grace that pursue us amid our confusion. Like Adam and Eve clinging to their fig leaves, we cling to our selfishness. And God pursues us in grace and calls us to put aside the folly and look to him. This call of Christ to deny ourselves is a call of faith. It is a call to appraise ourselves based on the scale and measure of God’s Word, and then to apply the same measure to Christ. Such a comparison shows how much we are lacking and how completely Christ supplies our need.
The ultimate medicine for our souls is the cross.
True contentment comes through a true knowledge of Christ. The church is the means by which the gospel goes out and the context by which the gospel is applied.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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