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We have been studying the life of Paul forever it seems because we take only one day of Beth Moore's study per week.* We have such good discussions we couldn't handle more than that!
The lesson was "A Rare Gem," revolving around one of my favorite chapters in the Bible: Philippians 4. And the gem was one we all seek: contentment.
Now just what is that? Formulate a definition in your mind. So many terms like this are so familiar that we have to grapple for words to express them. My concordance defines it as "an uncomplaining acceptance of one's life."** "Wait a minute!" I cry out. "That's do defeatist, so negative!"
I checked that dictionary. No help there: "the quality or state of being contented." I go to the thesaurus on my computer. Synonyms include happiness, satisfaction, gratification, pleasure, serenity, comfort, content, ease, peace. The antonyms are these: misery, regret, sadness, dissent.
If I have to be satisfied with this list, I would choose serenity for my definition. The contrast of that would be an underlying misery to life.
Now to PADRI. This acronym, which can be pronounced any way that strikes your fancy, contains what Beth Moore presents as the thieves of contentment: pettiness, anxiety, destructive thoughts, resistance to learning, and independence.***
She pointed out something we all know: The Devil loves counterfeits. He uses them at every opportunity to disguise his real goals. Pettiness is one of them, the other side of the coin of sensitivity, she contends. "We tend to get our feelings hurt easily and take things personally. We can pick out imperfections with mind-blowing velocity." We laughed and sighed at the same time as we considered how vulnerable we are to this thief.
We were all familiar with anxiety: "agitation of mind produced by real or imagined fears," my concordance says. Real or imagined fears. That covers it all. It's a powerful thief.
Destructive thinking revolves around what's in our hearts. Where does destructive thinking fit in? we asked, knowing the answer.
Resistance to learning is one that I have encountered in the classroom. When I taught 11th grade American lit, I always encountered a certain "attitude." "I hate poetry. I have always hated poetry, and I'm always going to hate poetry. Now teach me!"
Well, obviously I wasn't going to have success with those students, although I kept trying. It is the same way the Lord does with us when we jut out jaws, clench our teeth, and slam our fists against our hips in defiance during one of private lessons with Him.
Finally, independence. This is powerdul thief in this age where we are told we are number one and everything in this world is supposed to revolve around us: you, me! Yet of all people, Christians know that they cannot be independent in their own minds and hearts and be dependent on the Lord at the same time. "Oh, yes, Lord," we sometimes say, "pour on the blessings, answer my prayers, but stay out of everything else unless you're invited."
Doesn't work that way, does it?
Since this lesson, I have tried to monitor my state of contentment. I've looked at the ripples on my horizon and applied those five thieves to them with some clarifying of my thoughts, attitudes and actions.
But there is something else here. Who is our model? Against whom do we measure ourselves to see if we are content?
I think I often set myself up for that underlying misery I mentioned earlier. For example, if I insist on perfectionism, I will never be content. If I refuse to take control of my schedule and insist on making myself a martyr because of all I am trying to do, I am not going to be content. If I insist on nurturing bad habits, I destroy my chance for contentment. This is written from a "been there, done that" perspective.
There is an even more basic problem in my quest for contentment: who or what is my goal? Usually it is someone I admire and want to emulate. There's no success in that. Whoever it is, he or she is as human and faulty as I with those feet of clay.
And I think I have unrealistic expectations about what contentment is. It's not about me. It's not about what happens in this crazy generation in which I live. It's about Christ. It's about the sense of purpose and fulfillment He gives me.
My circumstances can never be my source contentment. What I own or accomplish can never make the grade. The source comes from within. It comes from my Christ-given ability to go with the flow, to walk on the water of this turbulent generation.
When did Peter sink? When He took his eyes off the Lord.
Do I really think I am any different?
* Moore, Beth. To Live Is Christ: The Life and ministry of Paul. Nashville, Tennessee: LifeWay Press, 1997.
*** Moore, Beth. "Rare Gem," op.cit.
For Further Consideration