Learning to Be Content No Matter What

Learning to be content in a pandemic is both a God-given grace and something we can learn. So is learning to be content in any time of suffering and injustice. Contentment is an inner condition cultivated in humility. We can have a teachable spirit prepared to bend to God’s will.

Rich Nathan, founding pastor at Vineyard Columbus, taught a sermon years ago that offered a three-part plan to develop contentment that I can’t improve on at all.  Here are his three points.

No. 1:  Acknowledge God’s sovereignty over your life. Practice surrender.

The Bible teaches that everything, even our loved one’s illnesses, has to pass through God’s hands before it happens.  As Elisabeth Elliott put it:  “Whatever happens is assigned.” God’s power is unlimited, and he rules all our lives.

Matthew 10:29-30:  Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  The very hairs on your head are all numbered.”

Romans 8:28:  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who live him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  We will never suffer trials unless God allows them and watches over them.

The most important example of a person who trusted God under terrible circumstances was Jesus himself.  Have we ever been in so much agony that we sweat blood over it?  Yes, Jesus understands how we feel.

We learn things from suffering that we probably couldn’t learn anywhere else: reliance on grace, humility, perseverance, quality prayer, faith, trust, and a real relationship with God.

If we can’t accept this for a lifetime, Rich suggested that we accept it “just for today.”

No. 2:  Practice thanksgiving.

Start being grateful for the littlest things:  grass, sky, trees.  Spend a day looking for things to be grateful for.

No. 3: Practice abiding.

This means that you connect with God’s person.  This is the essence of Christian mindfulness. You focus on the present in the felt presence of God. You can do all things through God who strengthens you, but you have to abide in God to do so.

Rich encourages us to welcome the Holy Spirit into areas where we’ve grumbled, where we are discontented, where we are frustrated. Invite the person of the Holy Spirit to come into that part of your life. Contentment will grow where we abide in God.

What Kind of Christian Are You?

Every Christian walks a unique and particular path. I’m finding that 50+ years of (as Eugene Peterson famously said) “a long obedience in the same direction” takes us into various streams of Christianity. In the end, our experience can become sturdy and enriched because we have experienced the faith from multiple perspectives … sometimes all at once.

Two people who would agree with this are Richard Foster and the late Dallas Willard. They founded an organization called Renovare, an excellent source for information, inspiration and community. Foster also wrote Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith. It’s a good book on the various types of Christian experience. A free resource guide for the book is here. And a short article from Renovare summarizing its view of the six streams is here.

Streams that Foster identified include:

  • Contemplative, the prayer-filled life.
  • Holiness, a life of holy habits and integrity.
  • Charismatic, the Spirit-empowered life.
  • Social Justice, a life of compassion to others.
  • Evangelical, Bible-centered living.
  • Sacramental, encountering God in visible things.

Similar to sacramental, but different, is Liturgical, which follows a calendar of living and growing as a Christian with an emphasis on sacred texts.

I consider Christian mindfulness very much across in multiple streams. Its foundation is Contemplative. But I also experience it in my walk as Holiness, Charismatic, Social Justice, real Evangelical (not to be confused with American nationalist idolatry, which is not of Jesus), Sacramental and Liturgical. This can make you feel as if you don’t belong anywhere. But the Lord has corrected that for me by reminding me that a strand of multiple cords is not easily broken.

During a time when some Christians have damaged the church’s integrity and reputation, it’s good to look at where you are and what you believe. Jesus never fails us. If we think He has, maybe we have failed Him.

clock and calendar

End the Work Day With Planning and Prayer

Back in the good old days of 2019, we worried about taking too much work home. How does that compute when work is at home?

Working at home has enormous advantages … no commute, fewer interruptions for office socializing, more time with the family, the ability to run laundry while you run a meeting … and so on.

But it lacks the closure that getting up and coming home causes. Transition time via commuting is also gone.

A 2019 survey by Airtasker, reported in Business News Daily this March, found remote workers actually work 1.4 more days per month than those based in offices. That’s more than three more weeks of work per year. Some of that overage happens in the time once known as “after hours.”

The same survey also found that 29% of remote workers struggle with work-life balance. That’s compared to 23% of office workers. My guess is the figure for remote workers is higher now, more than six months later.

Those who practice Christian mindfulness may find their approach to ending the day has disappeared. The easiest answer is to schedule a prayer or devotional reading time at day’s end. Put it on the calendar. If necessary, call it “planning” or P&P on your public calendar. You’re going to pray over plans during this time.

If you need transition time to quiet down before rejoining your home world, take it. Walk the dog. Change your clothes to music. Breathe deeply.

Having set work hours actually makes you more productive. The day-end prayer time allows you to bring your work of the day before the Lord. Ask His blessing and ask His opinion on what’s ahead.

Then shut down the computer. Sign off from Slack or any other work chat app. Other tips for setting boundaries are in this article from Skillcrush.

Each Time You Enter a Room

This Christian mindfulness exercise is a simple way to slow down a day. Just breathe and welcome God’s presence every time you enter a new room.

As we know, Christian mindfulness is enjoying the presence of God in the present. When we are approaching a new room, our minds are hurrying ahead to the future, thinking about what we are going to do in that room.

This exercise keeps us grounded in the very present moment, as we move toward the door toward the task. As you approach the door:

  • Feel the bottom of your feet on the floor. If you have to open a door, feel your hand on the doorknob.
  • Take a breath.
  • Invite God to go with you into the room.

One breath is fine. No one will even notice.

You can use the Jesus Prayer or any other short prayer that you use often in practice. You can just say “Jesus” or “Come Holy Spirit.”

Bring the presence of Jesus into the present. It’s the best way to feel the day.

Live Life from a Center

I would suggest that the complexity of our program is an inner one, not an outer one. The outer distractions of our interests reflect an inner lack of integration of our own lives.

Life is meant to be lived from a Center, a divine Center. Each one of us can live such a life of amazing power and peace and serenity on one condition — if we really want to.

There is a holy Infinite Center within us all. John Woolman resolved so to order his outward affairs as to be, at every moment, attentive to that voice. His outward life became simplified on the basis of an inner integration. He surrendered himself, keeping warm and close to the Center.

Thomas R. Kelly, A Testament of Devotion

Love Your Enemies

America is very divided. Republicans gained seats in a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. Control of the Senate has come down to two runoff elections. And, as of the time I write this, one presidential candidate is refusing to concede to the other.

The country seems to be center-right, although it has rejected a leader whose behavior has been unacceptable to most. At the same time, it’s clear that Native Americans and African-Americans face systemic racism in our culture.

We cannot move forward as a nation without ending the hatred felt against each other. It is God’s will that we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Period.

It is time to heal. The demonization needs to end. We are all Americans. It’s time to expect a government focused on serving its people, not seeking political gain for one party.

Today, let’s try to do a traditional Christian mindfulness exercise … Loving-Kindness meditation … focused on those who voted for the other side in the presidential election. Here’s how:

  1. Quiet your mind and invite God’s presence.
  2. Think about yourself. Say: May I be healthy. May I know God’s comfort. May I feel God’s love. May I live in God’s peace.
  3. Think about someone you love. Repeat phrases for them. May they be healthy. May they know God’s comfort. May they feel God’s love. May they live in God’s peace.
  4. Think about people you know who are in the opposite political party. Repeat for them: May they be healthy. May they know God’s comfort. May they feel God’s love. May they live in God’s peace.
  5. Think about the presidential ticket you did not vote for. Repeat: May they be healthy. May they know God’s comfort. May they feel God’s love. May they live in God’s peace.

Let’s do this often until the hatred for opponents has left our hearts.

Hand holding a camera lens

Christian Mindfulness in Just Seven Words

Reading the devotional “Jesus Always” by Sarah Young this morning gave me the easiest way yet to explain Christian mindfulness.

It’s just seven words: Focus on God’s presence in the present.

Today is the fifth day of counting the 2020 election results. I am going weary of checking the AP news app and scrolling my Twitter list of news professionals.

So it was a great day for the Lord to remind us to focus on His presence in the present moment. The presence of God is how Christian mindfulness differs from other forms of mindfulness practice.

As Sarah notes in her subtitle, God brings us joy and purpose … even on days when we are playing a waiting game.

Try This: Vary Your Talks With God

Mindful Christianity is continual prayer. As we invite God to walk with us, we talk with the Trinity.

Today’s practice invites us to intentionally focus on an element of prayer in that ongoing conversation. The seven elements of prayer that Jesus taught are:

Adoration – Acknowledging who God and responding to that reality with praise and worship.

Confession – Talking about the times that you have sinned and fallen short of doing God’s will, as well as the areas in your life where that happens repeatedly and often.

Renewal – Asking for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and God’s power in your life.

Petition – Asking God for help in specific situations.

Intercession – Asking God for help with specific people.

Thanksgiving – Expressing your gratitude for all God has done for you and your family.

We can keep this list of conversation starters with God in our phones. Since there are seven elements, we could concentrate on expanding one of them each day. Or we can look at the list when we feel tapped out in continual prayer.

Let me know how this works for you.

You Have Forever. Literally.

A thought jumped up at me this week: I’m already living an eternal life.

What does that mean? Do I have to try to pack as much as possible into each day? Do I need to hurry through tasks and then worry that I did something wrong?

I think not. Jesus lived what is famously called a “three-mile-an-hour” life because he walked everywhere. Were he in the 21st century, would he be screaming around in a car at 70 miles-per-hour while texting to explain why he’s late?

Today we switch from Daylight Savings Time in the United States. We literally get another hour in the day. And it feels good.

We have more time than we believe. We are living an eternal life with a God of grace at the wheel. Let’s slow down.