The Key to Contentment
Updated: Sep 11, 2020
In February we adopted a seven-month-old puppy from a local rescue organization. She came to us having lived all but one week of her life outdoors. Her fosters had housebroken her and taught her to sit, but beyond that she was completely untrained. I immediately enrolled us in a Canine Good Citizen class at a local pet store. In the class we learned a valuable command - "watch me!" It teaches the dog to check in with its owner before launching into an action that could cause it harm or get it into trouble. The idea is to get the dog to physically turn and look to its owner for direction rather than following its impulse into danger, such as chasing a squirrel into traffic.
This reminds me of how God uses anxiety or discomfort to steer us away from doing things that may not be right. The action itself may not be wrong, but perhaps the timing is. At times when I'm facing a decision that I'm not entirely certain about, I'll get an anxious feeling in my stomach, and when that happens, I've learned to stop and pray about the matter. I believe that feeling of uncertainty is God's "watch me" command. It's His way of encouraging me to pause and seek His guidance before proceeding.
As we worked through the training with our dog, I realized that while she is a very intelligent, sweet animal, she also has a slightly stubborn streak and is very independent, much like myself, and like my dog, when I stubbornly pursue my own agenda rather than God's, I often find myself in difficult, unpleasant situations. I have experienced periods of great frustration and stress when I seemingly dealt with constant problems, and in hindsight I can see that I brought those difficulties on myself by rushing into something without giving it adequate thought or praying about it first. Fortunately, the Bible tells us that "..for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28) So, despite my difficulties, God always let everything work out well in the end, and I eventually learned to check with Him first before rushing headlong into new commitments. It doesn't mean I don't still have times of stress or hardship, but I've learned to deal with them differently and not to bring them on myself by being hasty. Studying the lives of the apostles provided me with the insight I lacked.
In Philippians 4:11-13, the apostle Paul teaches, "...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. I can do all things through him who strengthens me." I used to find this scripture perplexing, thinking, "Who could be content with hunger?" But as I studied and learned more about Paul, I realized that he found contentment and peace through obedience, knowing that God would lead him through any situation or circumstance. He had absolute trust in the Lord and His provision. So, he didn't worry. It's not that Paul enjoyed the difficult times, but he knew that God held him in His hands. He simply followed the Lord's guidance, trusting that good would come from every circumstance. Paul's peace was in knowing that he possessed the greatest gift anyone could ever imagine or hope for, God's grace, and he knew that whatever happened to him on earth, he would one day find himself in heaven in the very presence of God. Jesus compared the knowledge of the kingdom of God to a great treasure in Matthew 13:44-46. Paul possessed that treasure, and it's available to us today through the Bible and a relationship with Jesus.
As someone who spent years worrying over every little problem and tying herself in knots trying to find the solutions herself, I can tell you that it's much more pleasant to surrender to God's help and direction. Jesus asks in Matthew 6:27, "And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?" It's safe to say that I've cost myself enough hours of life by worrying. These days when something distressing happens, I say a prayer, asking for God's guidance and intercession on the matter, then I listen to my gut, to that small still voice inside, and proceed down the path of peace.