THE VALUE OF CONTENTMENT

COVID-19 has thrown us all into a new world of restrictions, isolation and uncertainty.

We have to stay in our homes.
We cannot enjoy our normal sports and pastimes.
We cannot meet with our friends and extended family.
We cannot join our fellow-believers in worship.
Our supermarket shelves do not have all the items we want to purchase.
Our incomes are threatened or even lost.
We and our loved ones are vulnerable to a potentially fatal virus.
We do not know how long all of this will last.

We do not want this. We did not ask for this. It was not on our agenda. But here it is. We have to live with it.

How we live with it is important.

How are we, as Christians, supposed to respond in this situation? What attitude does God require of us? How can we, confined in our homes, restricted in our contact with others, best live for his glory? How can we best shine his light, in the darkness of this global pandemic, in the solitariness of our social distancing?

The testimony of the apostle Paul is instructive:

‘... I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do anything through him who gives me strength’ (Philippians 4:11-13).

Contentment presents us with a challenge. It does not come easily. Notice that Paul says ‘I have learned’. Contentment was something that he had to learn. He learned to be content. He learned the secret of being content. It was not something he could do by his own strength and effort. It is only because God gave him the strength that he could ‘do anything’, that is, that he could be content in any circumstance.

Philippians contains another instructive passage. In 2:5 Paul instructs us ‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus’, and then describes how Jesus, who is the eternal and infinite God, became one of us – bound in time and space in a human body - putting aside his divine glory and making himself ‘nothing’.

COVID-19 has seriously altered our lives. But these changes, these restrictions, these limitations, are insignificant compared to the changes, restrictions and limitations that Jesus Christ deliberately embraced.

Why did he do it? Why did he so willingly embrace such an altered, restricted life? Why did he deliberately position himself in a place of suffering?

He did it to bring us to glory (Hebrews 2:10).
He did it because this end result of all he endured gives him satisfaction (Isaiah 53:11).
He did it because this end result is joy (Hebrews 12:2; Zephaniah 3:17).

This mindset of Christ is our example, our benchmark.

And here is a challenge within the challenge of contentment that gives us the strength to live in our altered, unwanted circumstances: Jesus’ contentment was an expression of his trust in God:

‘I will put my trust in him’ (Hebrews 2:13).
‘... he entrusted himself to him who judges justly’ (1Peter 2:23).

Here in the context of COVID-19 the challenge of contentment is the challenge to demonstrate our trust in God. The one thing that incurred God’s displeasure with the Hebrews after their redemption from Egypt was their lack of trust in him. That lack of trust expressed itself in a lack of contentment. Repeatedly they grumbled and complained:

They grumbled about the water (Exodus 15:24). They grumbled about food (Exodus 16:2,3). They grumbled about being thirsty (Exodus 17:1-3). They complained about their hardships (Numbers 11:1). They grumbled because of their fear (Numbers 14:2 – 4). They grumbled about God’s appointed leader (Numbers 17:1 – 13).

God’s verdict on all this grumbling and complaining is clear: ‘How long will this wicked community grumble against me? ... everyone of you who ... has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land ...’ (Numbers 14:27,29).

God knows what he is doing. God is working his purpose out. He is the Sovereign, almighty God, and is completely trustworthy. He hates grumbling and complaining because it expresses a lack of trust in him. In our context of coronavirus and the difficult changes it has brought into our lives let us so trust God that we are content, that we do not follow the example of the Israelites, but follow the example of our Lord Jesus and of the apostle Paul.

We may think that no one is looking, that no one is listening. We are confined to our homes, not out and about for all to see, so it’s easy to argue that it doesn’t matter if we grumble and complain. But think again: how we as Christians live even in isolation demonstrates the integrity of our faith, and vindicates the wisdom of God, to all the spiritual beings in the heavenly realms. To the cherubim, seraphim and angels. To the evil spirits. To Satan. (Read Job 1:3-11; 2:1-4; Ephesians 3:10.)

But also, more importantly, our contentment, our trust, brings joy to God our Father.

©Rosemary Bardsley 2020