How to Attain Contentment – Part 1

As these lessons in Learning Christian Contentment draw to a close, our instructions from Jeremiah Burroughs conclude with timely recommendations about “How to Attain Contentment.” He divides his suggestions into what he calls considerations and directions. My next few blog posts divide each of these into two short sections that will bring us to the end of the lessons on contentment and the end of 2021. Watch for the last post in December for a peek at the topic in view for 2022!

In previous lessons, Burroughs showed various reasonings for murmuring and discontented heart. He picks up now with his considerations:

  1. We should consider in all our wants and inclinations to discontentment, the greatness of the mercies that we have, and the meanness of the things we lack. The things we lack, if we are godly, are things of very small moment in comparison to the things we have, and the things we have are things of very great moment. For the most part, the things for the want of which people are discontented or murmur are such things as the unsaved have, or may have. ‘Blessed by God,’ says the Apostle in Ephesians 1:3, ‘who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places.’ The consideration of the greatness of the mercies that we have, and the littleness of the things that God has denied us, is a very powerful consideration to work this grace of contentment.

  1. “The consideration that God is beforehand with us with his mercies – this should content us. I remember reading of a good man who had lived fifty years of age and enjoyed his health for eighth and forty years exceedingly well, and lived in prosperity, but the last two years his body was exceedingly diseased, he had the strangery [a urological condition such as kidney stones or bladder stones] and was in great pain. Cut he reasoned his case with himself thus: ‘Oh Lord, you might have mad all my life of torment and pain, but you have let me have eight and forty years in health. I will praise your mercies for what I have had, and will praise your justice for what now I feel.’ Oh, it is a good consideration for us to think that God is beforehand with us, in a way of mercy. (God will not all us to be test above what we are able to bear…)

  1. “The consideration of the abundance of mercies that God bestows and we enjoy. Name any affliction that is upon you: there is a sea of mercy to wallow it up. So, afflictions considered in themselves, we think are very great, but let them be considered with the vast sea of God’s mercies we enjoy, and then are not so much, they are nothing in comparison.

  1. Consider God’s ways toward all creatures. There is a vicissitude of all things in the world: the sun does not shine always on us here, but darkness comes after light. …there is a mixture of conditions, why should we think it much that there should be a vicissitude of conditions with us, sometimes in a way of prosperity and sometimes in a way of affliction?

  1. Consider that we have but little time in this world. If you are godly [saved] you will never suffer except in this world. Why, do but shut your eyes and soon another life is to come, as that martyr said to his fellow martyr: ‘Do but shut your eyes,’ he said, ‘and the next time they are opened you shall be in another world.’ Consider, we have not long to live, it may be over before our day is at an end. But supposing it should not, death will put an end to all, all afflictions and troubles will soon be at an end.”

 

Excuses for Complaining in Troubles

 

From The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs, 1599-1646, come these helpful thoughts on excuses people can make for being discontent with their circumstances. We’ve all said or thought variations on some of these observations, which are no excuse for not being content with all the rich blessings God has given us in Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 1:1-12)

“A discontented heart may say, ‘I am not so much troubled with my afflictions, but it is for my sin rather than my affliction, and I hope you will give leave that we should be troubled and discontented with our sin. Were it not for sin that I see in myself, I should not be so discontented as I am. Oh! It is sin that is heavy upon me, and it is that which troubles me more than my affliction!

Do not deceive your own heart; there is a very great deceit in this. There are many people wo, when God’s hand is out against them, will say they are troubled for their sin, but the truth is, it is the affliction that troubles them rather than their sin. Their heart greatly deceives them in this very thing.

You were never troubled for your sin before this affliction. But you will say, ‘It is true I was not troubled before, for my prosperity blinded me, but now God has opened my eyes by afflictions.’ Has He? Then your great care now will be rather for the removing of your sin than removal of your afflictions.

If it is your sin that troubles you, then even if God should take away your afflictions, yet unless your sin is taken away also, this would not content you – you would still not be satisfied. We see usually that if God removes their afflictions, people seem to have no more trouble for their sin.

If you are trouble for your sin, then it will be your great care not to sin in your trouble, so as not by your trouble to increase your sin. But you are troubled in such a way that, the truth is, you multiply your sin in your trouble, and since you say you were troubled for your sin, you have committed more sin than you did before.

If it is your sin that troubles you, then you have the more need to submit to God’s hand, and to accept the suffering of your iniquity. There is no greater way to take away complaining and murmuring, than to look upon my sin as the cause of my affliction.”

 

My Affliction is Unique!

The word “temptation” often means a solicitation to sin (as in James 1:13 where God cannot be tempted to evil), but this verse can also be speaking about enduring a particular trial or time of adversity. God brings difficulties and sometimes tragedies into our lives to refine us. His goal is not to destroy us, but for us to grow in Christlikeness through the difficulty. It is a comfort that although my personal suffering seems, at the moment, to be unique to me, it is in fact common to endure suffering as part of God’s plan of sanctification. I am drawn to many examples in Scripture where individuals faced problems similar to or much worse than I am facing to find instruction and encouragement.

Jeremiah Burroughs notes that our difficulties or afflictions are not unique when he poses this hypothetical objection: “You will say, ‘Yes, but you do not know what our afflictions are,’ yet I know what your mercies are and I know they are so great that I am sure there can be no afflictions into his world as great as the mercies you have. If it were only this mercy, that you have this day of grace and salvation continued to you  it is a greater mercy than any affliction. Set any affliction beside this mercy and see which would weigh heaviest; this mercy is certainly greater than any affliction.

Burroughs points out two passages of Scripture to encourage us in our afflictions:

Job 2:8-9 “‘What?’ said Job, when his wife would have him curse God and die, which was a degree beyond murmuring. Why, he said, ‘Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh…shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil [calamity or adversity]?’ You see, Job helped himself against all murmuring thoughts against the ways of God with this consideration: that he had received so much good from the Lord. What, though we receive evil, yet do we not receive good as well as evil? Let us set one against thither–that is the way we should go.

Ecclesiastes 7:14 “Here you may see what course is to be taken when the heart rises to murmuring: ‘In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him.’ When you are in prosperity, then indeed every man can be joyful, but what if afflictions befall you, what then? The consider—consider what? That ‘God hath set the one over against the other.’ You have a great deal of afflictions, and you have had a great deal of prosperity, you have many troubles, and you have had many mercies; make one column of mercies and one column of afflictions, and write one against the other and see if God has not filled one column as full as the other. You look altogether upon your afflictions, but look upon your mercies also.”

See the hymn below!

Hymn – Count Your Blessings

 

What better way to dispel a complaining and murmuring attitude than to count the many blessings that God showers on us each day. Sing, hum, or whistle this popular song and we will realize how blessed we are!

Count Your Blessings

by Johnson Oatman, Jr. *

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,

When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,

Count your many blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Refrain

Count your blessings, name them one by one;

Count your blessings, see what God hath done;

Count your blessings, name them one by one;

Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?

Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?

Count your many blessings, ev’ry doubt will fly,

And you will be singing as the days go by. [Refrain]

When you look at others with their lands and gold,

Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;

Count your many blessings, money cannot buy

Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high. [Refrain]

So, amid the conflict, whether great or small,

Do not be discouraged, God is over all;

Count your many blessings, angels will attend,

Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end. [Refrain]

* Johnson Oatman, Jr. (1856-1922)  was age forty-one in 1897 when he wrote what has been regarded as his most popular gospel song. Composer E.O. Excell, set “Count Your Blessings” to music. Of this popular gospel song evangelist Gypsy Smith once said, “Men sing it, boys whistle it, and women rock their babies to sleep to the tune.”

Another of his equally singable gospel songs, “Higher Ground,” begins with this stanza:

I’m pressing on the upward way,

    New heights I’m gaining ev’ry day;

Still praying as I onward bound,

    “Lord plant my feet on higher ground.”

Oatman was never a great singer. He was never a great preacher insofar as pulpit messages were concerned. But he found his talent and made great contributions to the faith. For through his sermons in song he has preached to millions that he could never have reached from the pulpit. He wrote an average of two hundred gospel songs a year for more than a quarter of a century. His total output passed the 5,000 mark. And, when publishers insisted, for business reasons, that he set a price on his work, Oatman stipulated his terms: he would accept one dollar per song. His messages still reach multitudes through such gospel songs as “Count Your Blessings.”

 

Aggravations of the Sin of Murmuring

 

Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646) in his book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment,

points out that the sin of discontent is further aggravated by the sin of murmuring against our circumstances (actually against God who is the author of our circumstances) especially when we have been blessed by Him with such abundant mercies. Murmuring aggravates, amplifies, compounds our sin of discontent.

“Because it is very hard to work upon a murmuring spirit, there are many aggravations which we must consider for the further setting out of the greatness of this sin.

To murmur when we enjoy an abundance of mercy; the greater and the more abundant the mercy we enjoy, the greater and the viler is the sin of murmuring. For example, when God had newly delivered the [Israelites] out of the house of bondage, for them to murmur because they lacked some few things they desired, Oh, the sin against God after such a great mercy, is a great aggravation, and the most abominable thing (Exodus 15:22-24ff).

“Has God given to you the contentment of your hearts? Take heed of being the cause of any grief to your brethren. Do not think that because God has been gracious to you, that therefore he has given you liberty to bring your brethren into bondage by your murmuring. Nothing is more grievous to the heart of God than the abuse of mercy, as, for example, if any way that is hard and rigid should be taken towards our brethren, and those especially whom God has made such special instruments of good to us; if now, when we have our turns served, we let God and his people and servants who helped to save us shift for themselves as well as they can. This is great aggravation of our sin, to sin against the mercies of God.

 

“For men and women to be discontented in the midst of mercies, in enjoyment of an abundance of mercies, aggravates the sin of discontent and murmuring. To be discontented when we are in the midst of God’s mercies, when we are not able to count the mercies of God, still to be discontented because we have not got all we would have, this is greater evil.

 

Hymn: Holy, Holy, Holy

“And one [angel] cried unto another, and said,

Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts:

the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Isaiah 6:3 (KJV)

 

Holy, Holy, Holy

Lyrics by Reginald Heber, Music by John Dykes *

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty!

Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.

Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty!

God in three persons, blessed trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee,

casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;

cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,

which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee,

though the eye of sinfulness thy glory may not see,

only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,

perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty!

All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth, and sky, and sea.

Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty!

God in three persons, blessed trinity!

 

* Reginald Heber (1783-1826) was born into a wealthy, educated family. He was a bright youth, translating a Latin classic into English verse by the time he was seven, entering Oxford at seventeen. After his graduation he became rector of his father’s church in the village of Hodnet near Shrewsbury in the west of England where he remained for sixteen years. His denomination appointed him Bishop of Calcutta in 1823 and he worked tirelessly in India for three years until the weather and travel took its toll on his health and he died of a stroke.

Thirty-five years after his death, Heber’s widow found a roll of his hymns in a trunk and had them published as poems. A London publisher and his staff were studying the poems when they came across a masterpiece! Composer John Dykes was called in. Dykes, with 300 fine compositions to his credit, could compose music almost anywhere and quite rapidly. When he left the publisher’s office, he left behind a group of startled men and one of the finest hymn tunes ever composed. Reginald Heber wrote 57 hymns in his lifetime. Holy, Holy, Holy, his greatest, was written especially for his congregation in Hodnet.

 

Murmuring is Against Our Standing as Christians

Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646), in his book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, explains in a lengthy passage how murmuring and complaining is contrary to our standing as Christians.

“Murmuring and discontent is exceedingly below a Christian. Oh, it is too mean and base a disorder for a Christian to give place to it. Now it is below a Christian in many respects…”

Burroughs reminds us of many ways that our Christian position makes murmuring and complaining unfitting. Here are some examples:

1.  Our position as a child of God our Father – “Are you the King’s son, the son, the daughter of the King of Heaven, and yet so disquieted and troubled, and vexed at every little thing that happens? As if a King’s son were to cry out that he is undone for losing a toy? What an unworthy thing would this be! So do you cry out as if you were undone and yet you are a King’s son, you who stand in such relation to God, as to a father, you dishonor your father in this: as if either he had not wisdom, or power, or mercy enough to provide for you.” Galatians 3:26

2.  Our relation to Jesus Christ – “You are espoused to Christ. What! One is married to Jesus Christ and yet is troubled and discontented?” (II Corinthians 11:2). Christ is in believers (Colossians 1:27) and yet believers murmur and complain about every trouble as if Christ was absent and unmindful of us!

3.  Our relation to the Holy Spirit – “…He dwells within you and yet for all that you murmur over every little thing?” I Corinthians 6:19-20

4.  Our relation to the Body of Christ – We are members of His Body; Jesus Christ is the Head of the Body, the Church. Do we complain against the head of the body to which we belong? Colossians 1:18, Ephesians 1:22-23

5.  Our relation to the saints of God – As members of one another in the Body, we suffer with one another and rejoice with one another. Murmuring in our trials seems unthinkable when we consider what other saints have suffered over the centuries. Romans 12:5; I Corinthians 12:26; Ephesians 3:6

6.  Our relation to the dignity that God has placed on Christians – Believers are made kings and priest to God; we are a royal priesthood; we are blessed with all heavenly blessings in Christ. What can kings and royalty have to complain about? Revelation 1:6; I Peter 2:9; Ephesians 1:3

7.  Murmuring is contrary to a Christ-like spirit – The mind of Christ means that He did not complain wen He went to the cross to pay for our sins. Philippians 2:5-8

 

He Was Wounded For Our Transgressions

 

There have been many hymns written over the years based on Isaiah chapter 53. He Was Wounded For Our Transgressions is appropriate to be sung at communion services as a memorial hymn and draws our attention to the infinite sacrifice of Jesus Christ that paid the price for our sin. Take time to meditate on these words which share the great sacrifice that was made for our salvation. And don’t forget the final verse of victory, “Millions, dead, now live again, myriads follow in His train!  Victorious Lord, victorious Lord, Victorious Lord and coming King!”  Hallelujah!

 

He Was Wounded For Our Transgressions

by Thomas Obediah Chisholm *

He was wounded for our transgressions,

He bore our sins in His body on the tree;

For our guilt He gave us peace,

From our bondage gave release,

And with His stripes, and with His stripes,

And with His stripes our souls are healed.

He was numbered among transgressors,

We did esteem Him forsaken by His God;

As our sacrifice He died,

That the law be satisfied,

And all our sin, and all our sin,

And all our sin was laid on Him.

We had wandered, we all had wandered

Far from the fold of “the Shepherd of the sheep”;

But He sought us where we were,

On the mountains bleak and bare,

And bro’t us home, and bro’t us home,

And bro’t us safely home to God.

Who can number His generation?

Who shall declare all the triumphs of His Cross?

Millions, dead, now live again,

Myriads follow in His train!

Victorious Lord, victorious Lord,

Victorious Lord and coming King!

 

* Thomas Obediah Chisholm (1866-1960) drew inspiration from Isaiah 53:5 to pen the words to this great hymn in 1941. Chisholm was born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky. He received his education in a rural schoolhouse in the area and he never got past an elementary school education. However, by the age of sixteen he was a teacher. Five years later, at the age of twenty-one, he was the associate editor of his hometown weekly newspaper, The Franklin Advocate.

In 1893, at a revival meeting in Franklin, Chisholm accepted Jesus Christ into his heart and life. Later, Chisholm moved to Louisville, Kentucky and became an editor for the Pentecostal Herald. In 1903, he became an ordained Methodist Minister and married Katherine Hambright Vandevere.  Due to ill health, Chisholm was only able to serve one year in the ministry. After leaving his ministry in Scottsville, Kentucky he and his wife relocated to Winona Lake, Indiana for the open air.

After a time in Indiana, he moved to Vineland, New Jersey where he sold insurance. He suffered from health issues the rest of his life and had periods of time when he was confined to bed and unable to work. But over the years more than eight hundred of his poems were published, and a number of these were set to music and have found their way into our hymn books. Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Living for Jesus, O to be Like Thee! are a few of the hymns we sing today. His aim in writing poems and hymns was to incorporate as much Scripture as possible and to avoid flippant or sentimental themes.

 

The Evils of a Complaining Spirit

Our teacher, Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646) has three observations about learning to be content. This first lesson focuses on an uncomfortable subject: the evils of a complaining (murmuring) spirit. We like to minimize our complaining so much that we don’t notice it when we grumble and snap at the slightest provocation. Trust me, loved ones notice our whining and are often hurt by it.

Maybe you’ve experienced something like this: a child is given a simple chore like taking out the trash or maybe putting away his toys. The rebellious child throws a tantrum, yelling, crying and stomping around the house. He finally does the chore and then gripes, complains, and sulks for an hour more while the household is thrown into turmoil. Adults do this too and it causes “much vexation of spirit” in homes, workplaces, and schools. It tarnishes our testimony for Christ if we become known as a “complainer.” Where’s our Christian contentment then?

Let’s admit with Dr. Burroughs that complaining is a major hindrance to learning Christian contentment. Until men, women, and children get victory over the habitual sin of complaining (Yes, it’s a sin!) we will have a difficult time being content. As he points out, the evil of murmuring is worse than the affliction that prompts it.

Part 1 – There is more evil in a murmuring heart than you are aware of.

“This murmuring and discontentedness of yours reveals much corruption in the soul. As contentment argues much grace, and strong grace, and beautiful grace, so murmuring argues much corruption, and strong corruption, and very vile corruptions in your heart. So is murmuring in your heart, if every little trouble and affliction makes you discontented, and makes you murmur, and even causes your spirit within you to rankle.

“So it is, just for all the world, in the souls of men: it may be that there is some affliction upon them, which I compare to a wound; now they think that the greatness of the wound is what makes their condition most miserable. Oh no, there is a fretting humour [bodily infection; bacterial contamination], and inflammation of the heart, a murmuring spirit that is within you, and that is the misery of your condition, and it must be purged out of you before you can be healed. Let God do with you what he will. Until he purges out that fretting humour, your wound will not be healed.

“A murmuring heart is a very sinful heart; so when you are troubled by a physical affliction you had need to turn your thoughts rather to be troubled for the murmuring of your heart within that is much more grievous.

“Oh, that we could but convince men and women that a murmuring spirit is a greater evil than any affliction, whatever the affliction… a murmuring spirit is the evil of the evil, and the misery of the misery.”

Living in the Spirit (Watchman Nee)

 

Living in the Spirit

from The Normal Christian Life, by Watchman Nee

“Living in the Spirit means that I trust the Holy Spirit to do in me what I cannot do myself. This life is completely different from the life I would naturally live myself. Each time I am faced with a new demand from the Lord, I look to him to do in me what he requires of me. It is not a case of trying but trusting; not of struggling but of resting in him. If I have a hasty temper, impure thoughts, a quick tongue or a critical spirit, I shall not set out with a determined effort to change myself, but instead, reckoning myself dead in Christ to these things, I shall look to the Spirit of God to produce in me the needed purity of humility or meekness, confident that he will do so. This is what it means to “stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you” (Exodus 14:13).

 

Watchman Nee (1903-1972) From the day in 1920 when, as a college student, Nee To-sheng found the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior during the visit of a Chinese evangelist to his native city of Foochow, he gave himself without reserve to God for work among his own people. Over the years he became widely known in China as a gifted preacher of the Gospel and an original expositor of the Word whose ministry bore remarkable fruit in individuals and in many groups of spiritually vital Christians.

Nee is remembered for his leadership of an indigenous church movement in China as well as for the books that continue to enrich Christians throughout the world. Beginning in the 1930s, Nee helped establish local churches in China that were completely independent of foreign missionary organizations and were used to bring many to saving faith in Jesus Christ. From them came many of the house churches that continued a faithful witness when Western missionaries were forced to leave the country.

The Normal Christian Life was first published in 1957 in Bombay, India and was at once accorded a widespread welcome. It is based on a series of addresses originally given by Mr. Nee during and shortly after a visit to Europe in 1938-39.

Arrested in 1952 and found guilty of a large number of false charges, Watchman Nee was imprisoned until his death in 1972.